How to Improve Teamwork with ESL Employees

by | Communication, Language Training

Improving teamwork starts with good communication, and that’s hard to accomplish if there are language barriers. Imagine being one of your employees with limited English and being bombarded on a daily basis with slang such as: “let’s get something on the books,” “give me a hand,” “you’re driving me crazy” or that’s “cheesy.” And think of all of the words and phrases that have more than one meaning. How about, “The farm was used to produce produce” or “I was too close to the door to close it?” Let’s face it – English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, no ham in hamburger; neither pine nor apple in pineapple. It just isn’t easy if English isn’t your native tongue.

When we learn English we have the distinct advantage of being completely immersed in it from birth. Every day we’re learning and perfecting the language that we will use on a daily basis in every type of situation. The world is our “language lab.” And we are able to learn all of the grammar rules and nuances of the language little by little over years of schooling. For most of we are afforded the luxury of learning English over a lifetime.

In the workplace, we just don’t have that kind of time. Expectations are high and results are measured in weeks and months, not years. To close the communication gap at your company, you need to change your mindset. Instead of thinking it’s solely the employee’s responsibility to learn your language, meet them half-way. Learn a few phrases in their language, and invest in resources to help them learn English. The rationale behind teaching employees English is the same as when we teach Spanish or another language to management. Other reasons include increased productivity, safer conditions, improved morale. Everything begins and ends with communication. Without it you can’t have an efficient work environment.

Managers are only as good as their weakest employees. Investing in language training for your employees whose first language isn’t English is an investment in your entire team, which means it’s an investment in your future success as well. Offering online & onsite English classes to employees with limited English proficiency speeds up the timeline for effective communication and improved teamwork. Look for classes that offer:

  • Needs analysis up front to ensure the classes close your communication gap. One size does not fit all in language training.
  • Focused curriculum that is customized for your specific industry. You want your employees to learn the English they need on a daily basis at their jobs.
  • Instruction on “small talk” to build rapport between employees. For those whose language is not English they can often feel isolated and not part of the team. Learning friendly small talk can fix this.

When you’re talking about online and onsite work-specific language training the bottom line is that companies retain better employees. Results can be achieved in a fraction of the time of traditional language learning programs. After all, time is money…

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