Want a proven morale booster to use at your company? Have your supervisors learn to thank their workers for jobs well done in the workers’ native languages. Not just a simple “thank you,” mind you, but a few phrases addressing the specific task and how it was done. How about giving your managers the communication tools to explain procedures and safety rules and the ability to know they are being understood? What better way to improve safety and to retain happy, productive workers? Everyone benefits. But who has time to implement these changes?
Let’s face it, most general managers and owners are burdened with a time crunch, to say the least. They are too busy to send their supervisors or employees out to lengthy and expensive language courses off site. On the other hand, most managers and supervisors are aware of a communication gap affecting their industry that they can no longer afford to ignore.
This influx is no longer limited to the coasts. In Minnesota, where I live and teach workplace-specific language skills to managers and employees, the majority of my contracts involve Spanish-speaking employees. But immigrants by the thousands are settling in Minnesota from India, Pakistan, Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Asia, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, Eurasia, Africa, Guyana, Latin America, the Caribbean, South America and Mexico. I’ve learned that the growth of immigrant workers now is affecting all 50 states and will have a great impact on future economic conditions for everyone.
Each population arrives not only speaking different languages but also bringing amazing diversity of cultural history and practices, all of which influence how those workers will approach their new jobs. Of course, that often results in confusion and miscommunication. Fortunately, however, there are solutions to addressing the communication gaps involving the growing number of hospitality workers with limited-English proficiency, or LEP, skills.
In fact, I believe any industry can take what might be perceived as a huge problem and transform it into a valuable resource. That resource is a group of workers who will stay at their jobs and potentially could work their way up in the organization as their skills and language proficiency grow.
When I first started teaching Spanish to English-speaking corporate supervisors, I used the methods provided to me, traditional language instruction emphasizing grammar and writing skills. It became clear to me that these programs weren’t cost-effective or efficient. They didn’t do much to help either the workers or managers solve the problems that arose in their workplaces without a long-term commitment that most people didn’t have the resources or time to invest.
To deal with workplace language problems, I realized that the answers were not traditional English as a Second Language, or ESL, courses or grammar-based language courses. What was needed were programs that addressed the needs of the specific workplace, whether teaching managers the language and cultures of their workers or in teaching LEP workers English language skills and American expectations in the workplace. I found that teaching managers basic phrases in Spanish or other languages that were specific to their needs not only helped to get the jobs done, but resulted in workers who felt more respected and motivated. For the LEP workers learning job-specific English not only allowed them to improve their productivity, but also gave them the hope for future advancement. In all cases relationships improved and there was less stress in the workplace.
My advice, then, is this:
First, take stock of your needs:
- What language barriers exist at your company? What cultural groups are you dealing with?
- What are your job-specific communication goals? What are your specific problem areas? If you are looking to improve communications with your LEP workers, seek instruction that addresses the needs of your workplace. There are a growing number of organizations and companies that specialize in tailoring language and cultural instruction to the specific needs of the work environment. Look for resources that can construct a program to meet the specific needs of your company. Some companies even offer on-site preliminary research so they can tailor instruction specifically to your workplace. With the appropriate training program, managers can learn enough language and cultural diversity tips in a one-day seminar to get them started in bridging the communication gaps at their workplaces.
Depending on your needs, programs can last a day, a few days or a few weeks. Remember this: You don’t have to spend months and years of time and expense to communicate better with your LEP workers.
Here are some effective communication tips for improving relations with your LEP workers:
- Take the time to understand your workers’ cultural and social backgrounds and the lives they lead. Showing that you have an interest in their lives and want to know more about their cultures can go a long way in fostering motivation and loyalty.
- Take the time to learn a few phrases that tell your employees that you’ve noticed and value their good work. It’s amazing what showing appreciation for a job well done in a worker’s own language can do.
- Do not interpret a lack of English proficiency as a lack of intelligence. Do not believe an inability to express thoughts clearly means LEP workers can’t understand you.
- Ask yourself if you are doing all you can to be understood.
- Keep phrases and sentences as simple as possible. Don’t use broken English. Think of at least one other way to rephrase what you want. Check to make sure you were understood.
- Avoid asking yes or no questions such as, “Do you understand?” Instead, ask open-ended questions. For example, instead of asking, “Did you talk to your supervisor?” ask “Who did you talk to?” In place of “Do you work tomorrow?” ask “When are you off this week?” The point is to ask a question that calls for a specific response instead of a yes or no answer.
When your LEP workers are speaking to you, invite them to speak slowly and give them time to communicate. Successful communication always has been the key to good management. Now the growing need to connect with workers from other cultures means both managers and employees must learn how to better communicate. The rewards can be great if the educational methods are appropriate. Success doesn’t necessarily take a great deal of time; it just takes the right training.
When you have set an appointment with a company to discuss online or onsite language training, these are some of the types of questions which you may expect. They make for good discussion points and can be the basis for planning. Developing clear answers to these questions ahead of time will help you further define your program and present yourself as a credible education and training vendor.
1) How much will a workplace Spanish or ESL program cost?
2) How long does the training take?
3) What can the company expect as outcomes?
4) What specific results will you guarantee?
5) What involvement will be required from the company?
6) What is the return on investment for the company?
7) Will on-site workplace Spanish or ESL help worker retention?
8) Is there curriculum already developed?
WHAT A COMPANY CAN EXPECT FROM YOU AS AN EDUCATION CONSULTANT
1) Help in formulating realistic measurement of program results. Results might include test score improvement, willingness of students to be cross-trained, better attendance on the job, speaking up at meetings, reduction in time spent answering questions, reduction in turnover.
2) Suggestions for how the company can reinforce what is being taught in class.
3) An invitation to visit the classroom. For the program to be successful, the company must be involved.
4) Regular information throughout the life of the program about progress and issues
Learn more at http://www.workplacelanguages.com/online_onsite.html
When it comes to workplace communication, many companies want their employees to learn industry specific words and phrases without spending time learning material they may never use. That’s why we developed our programs addressing the needs of specific industries by teaching managers the language and cultures of their workers. The formula is the more effective you communicate with your employees the more effective they’ll become in their jobs.
Whether it’s taking online language lessons or using bilingual training products to facilitate learning, I found that teaching managers basic phrases in Spanish or other languages that were specific to their needs not only helps get jobs done but resulted in workers who felt more respected and motivated. Bottom line: companies retain better employees. This can be achieved in a fraction of the time of traditional language learning programs. After all, time is money……..
I often get questions from clients about how to effectively engage Spanish speaking employees. Sometimes those with limited English proficiency get left behind in fully understanding workplace directives, safety instructions or training methods.
We’ve come up with a few helpful suggestions for managers who work with those with Spanish speaking employees.
- State job instructions clearly and be careful about being too impatient with language barriers.
- Give employees with Limited English Proficiency time to respond.
Show employees what you need. “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
- Don’t be shy about praising a job well done. Praise good work publicly and if there are any issues with an employee’s work – you need to talk to individual privately. “Saving face” is big in every culture.
- Encourage employees to take a greater role in decisions and management tasks and providing them the necessary tools to communicate more effectively with fellow employees and customers.