How to support staff whose first language isn’t English

There are many businesses and organisations who are having to look abroad to find suitable staff for their roles. Employing someone from abroad can be fantastic, offering different insights and opinions to the business and broaden diversity across the company. But what happens when someone has all the skills necessary to do the job, but doesn’t have a command of English that is as strong as you would like?

There are many individuals who may have a functional command of English – allowing them to get by in most situations, but in a working environment this can be more difficult, especially if the work involves complicated technical issues or areas that require great clarity. Here we take a look at how businesses can support staff for whom English is not their first language.

Offer access to learning to improve language skills

First things first; if you have a member of staff who struggles with their English skills you need to make it as easy as possible for them to develop their abilities. It is a great idea to encourage them to take lessons in English – either in the classroom or, perhaps more effectively, through online training sessions.

There are many courses that are designed for individuals who may have a working understanding or a decent grasp of English, but who could benefit from a more advanced and in-depth knowledge in order to be more effective in their role. It is worth researching different options and then offering access to those learning materials to staff members who wish to improve their English.

Be practical and demonstrate

Of course, in the meantime it is essential that your staff are able to make themselves understood. In many roles it is vital that the correct information is passed on and there is no room for misunderstandings. But trying to explain in broken English, or understand complex instructions if you are not a native speaker, can be very challenging.

This is why it is so important to be practical and demonstrate what needs to be done any time that it is appropriate to do so. Words and sentences can be misunderstood, but showing physical actions and walking the person through the task may be ideal. This may not be effective in all situations, but it may well be useful.

Don’t let the language barrier become a social barrier

A major issue for people joining a company for whom their first language is different to the majority of staff is that the whole process can be quite alienating. If you are entering a company where your command of English is not perfect it can be difficult for you to communicate – this is something that businesses need to bear in mind.

It is important that staff still socialise with and treat the individual as a member of the team like any other. If an employee feels that they are not included or being left out of things it can lead to a drop in morale, which may see them leave.

Make use of online software

Modern technology is constantly evolving and helping us to find ways to deal with our problems. In this case there are many different types of software available that can help non-active English speakers to make themselves understood more clearly – or for others to make themselves better understood.

Using tools and software like Google Translate can actually really help to breakdown communication barriers and allow individuals to feel understood. Once again this may not be a completely comprehensive solution to the issue, but it certainly helps.

Be understanding and supportive

Finally, it is important to say that one of the best things that a business can do to help a member of staff whose understanding of English isn’t perfect, is to be simply be understanding and supportive. It will almost certainly be the case that the individual will improve their understanding of English over time, so it is most helpful to make them feel welcome and appreciated.

It will be just as frustrating for them as it for other staff, but in the long term, having their skills and experience will be hugely beneficial for the team.

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