The world of work is cross-cultural. Language, sometimes, is not. 

While immigrants and refugees often arrive in North America with the skills, qualifications and work ethic employers need, business leaders and hiring managers may be hesitant to hire those who don’t speak English as a first language. 

“If you’re willing to embrace that next wave of workers, those are the companies that are going to get ahead,” says Mark Reimann, Joblio U.S. country manager & VP of government affairs. 

Businesses that have used Joblio’s recruitment services have come to understand that speaking with New Americans starts with a willingness to understand and patient trust building. But once the foundation of that relationship has been set, they often find that language is a barrier that can be overcome with the use of technology and a few mindful solutions. 

Here are five ways Joblio employers have overcome language barriers in the workplace: 

1. Online tools

Linita Design & Manufacturing Corp. COO Sean Greenhouse recently hired a Ukrainian refugee whose biggest barrier the first couple weeks was language. His colleagues bridged the communication gap with the help of online translators that can be spoken or written into. 

“He really, really picked up on the processes and procedures quickly,” Sean says. “Within a month of onboarding, he knew any one of them.” 

Google Translate and DeepL provide free translation services for dozens of languages. 

2. Speak simply

Use basic English terms and phrases while avoiding idioms, slang, jargon and acronyms that may get lost in cultural translation. It also may be necessary to repeat sentences while enunciating slowly and carefully. 

3. Visual cues

For some manual types of work, such as maintenance or landscaping, New Americans may be able to communicate and learn about processes or techniques through gesturing or visual aids such as pictures, videos or illustrations. 

“While the language barrier has been the biggest challenge so far, it hasn’t precluded the new employees from doing what they’re asked due to the hands-on nature of the work, which is generally easy to explain via non-verbal communication,” says Mike Attea, director of property management at real estate development company Good Carbon Community. “It’s easy to point to a tool like a weed whacker or show an example of what needs to be done.” 

Supervisors should be mindful of body language and facial expressions as well. If they look unsure or confused, seek their feedback or ask if they need further clarification.

4. Learn their language

To help make an immigrant or refugee feel welcome in their new environment, learn the essential words or phrases in their native language. 

Direct supervisors should also translate any important signage or visual aids to their native language, which will help with workplace safety and efficiency.

5. A helping hand

Joblio provides a translator throughout pre-employment to alleviate any language barriers, and it also provides 24/7 ongoing support to employees through its Applicant Concierge Experience (ACE) program. 

“When I do the interview process, the fact I have a translator means I can ask questions like I was doing an interview here,” says Linita’s Sean Greenhouse. “That service really, really helps because I can get answers in that moment.” 

Some employer partners, such as security products manufacturer McGard, also offer professional assistance on-site in the form of EAL/ESL classes for employees to help close language gaps. 

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