With foreign-born employees making up nearly 17% of the workforce – and up to nearly 25% in service industries – chances are good that you have some LEP (Limited English Proficiency) employees on your staff. Communication barriers exist, and it’s up to you as a manager to find ways to minimize these challenges. Follow these five strategies to improve communication with LEP employees:
#1: Talk Slowly
English is a tricky language. Your LEP employees want to be able to understand you. They want to learn English words and phrases that will help them be successful at work. You can improve their English comprehension when you slow down your speech. Be careful, though. People have a tendency to raise the volume of their voice when they slow down their speech. Being louder is not going to help your LEP employees and may come off as condescending or disrespectful instead.
#2: Be Aware of Your Intonation
The intonation of your voice is not about the words you say, it’s about how you say them. Intonation is easier to learn than vocabulary, so make sure you’re using it right with your LEP employees. As you change the pitch of your voice, you’re changing your intonation. Intonation is most important with asking questions, expressing feelings, communicating lists or steps, contrasting between two things, and stressing importance.
#3: Keep it Simple
This may seem obvious, but it’s something all managers of LEP workers need to pay special attention to. Use common words and short sentences to help your LEP employees keep up with you. Avoid slang, acronyms, and colloquialisms. Not only are they confusing, they won’t help you get your point across. Develop basic language skills first.
#4: Talk with Your Hands
Body language is universal. Don’t overdo it, but use hand gestures to help LEP employees follow along with the context of your communication. Demonstrate tasks rather than just explain them. Look at people when you’re talking to them and avoid negative expressions. Smile – it’s a universal expression!
#5: Use Language Tools
Use vocabulary lists and language cheat sheets to help you quickly communicate with LEP employees. These work best when they are in multiple languages, based on the language needs of your staff, and customized for your business.