21 March 2023

How To Avoid The 4 Common Language Barriers That Will Hold You Back at Work

Effective communication is essential for any workplace to function smoothly, particularly when working towards a common goal. Language is the most fundamental way of communication, yet language barriers can pose significant challenges for businesses, affecting workplace safety and employee efficiency. In this blog, we will discuss common language barriers in the workplace and provide practical tips on how to overcome them, allowing for improved communication and better business outcomes. 

Let’s first talk about the most typical reasons why language and communication barriers occur at work so that you can better understand how to overcome them.


What is a language barrier?

Language shapes everything we do – especially in the workplace. 

Any linguistic restriction that causes misunderstanding or restricts knowledge is considered a language barrier. National or cultural differences might be a barrier, but it might also be specialised knowledge or speech problems. 

Regardless of the root of the issue, language barriers in the workplace must be identified and removed. When people don’t share the same language, they need to be given ways to communicate their ideas and make sure everyone is on the same page. 

No matter what communication techniques we use, our biggest problem is the capacity (or lack thereof) to understand what others are saying.  

Any conversation, email, report, or conference will be ineffective if you cannot understand what someone is saying. You won’t be able to effectively implement ideas as a team if there isn’t a clear understanding of what needs to be done or how to do it. 


4 examples of language barriers in the workplace

1. Different and other languages

If neither speaker speaks the other’s native language, communication between speakers from various countries can be challenging. 

Even though learning foreign languages is a common practice, some languages remain difficult for people to acquire and communicate in. The internet is filled with translation tools, but they are ineffective when conveying culturally unique language usage like idioms, phrases, proverbs, and allusions.

2. Dialects

Because of the impact of other languages or over time, a language’s pronunciation changes, people in various regions of a state or nation create and use a regional variety of the official language. 

Even though they share the same basic language, dialects are distinct from one another. In the UK, 37 different varieties of English are used! Dialects are spoken in specific regions, so using them in places like the workplace or elsewhere could lead to misunderstandings.

3. Jargon and Slang

Jargon is terminology used only by members of a particular industry. 

Jargon is often used excessively in workplace conversation, which can make understanding challenging. For instance, a doctor’s prescription, the findings of a medical test, and financial and legal papers all require expert interpretation for the general public.

Words or expressions that are peculiar to a group of people who are acquainted with them are referred to as slang. It is a colloquial phrase used by members of a close-knit group to denote a common feeling or experience. People who are unfamiliar with it might find it insulting, which could cause friction in a workplace.

A corporate language training program can be an excellent way for a workforce to overcome language barriers when it comes to business jargon, as it will ultimately improve communication amongst your employees and language learning can improve your business performance overall.

4. Literacy and Vocabulary

The degree to which language consumers are literate affects how effectively they communicate. 

Far Eastern nations like Japan, Korea, and others prefer their primary language to English and seek formal education in Mandarin or Hangul. As a result, they only have restricted access to or exposure to the English language.

Trying to speak English at a global workplace makes speakers aware of their linguistic limitations and how they can act as a barrier to dialogue. Some businesses may choose to invest in translators and translation services, but this method can be costly and slow things down from a business perspective.


Tips to Overcome Language and Cultural Barriers

  1. If you need to upskill quickly to maintain your career progression, consider immersive language training. 
  • Sign up for an online or face to face business language course. Look for courses that emphasise practical communication skills and offer plenty of opportunities for conversation practice, you can do so here.
  • Consider 1:1 language training so lessons can be tailored to your specific business needs and learning style.

Learning the words and phrases of a foreign language can be daunting, but here are some tips to make it more manageable: 

  • Start with the most commonly used words and phrases, like greetings, introductions, and basic questions. 
  • Use flashcards or an app like Quizlet to help you memorise new vocabulary. 
  • Practice speaking with native speakers or language partners.

Understanding jargon, slang, idioms, and phrases in a foreign language can be challenging, but here are some tools that can help: 

  • Use a bilingual dictionary or an online translation tool to look up unfamiliar words and phrases. 
  • Consider investing in a good thesaurus or idiom dictionary to help you understand more nuanced meanings. 
  • Practice using idioms and phrases in context by writing short stories or dialogues that incorporate them. 
  • Keep your language simple and straightforward. Avoid using overly complex vocabulary or convoluted – sentence structures.
  • Use concrete examples and specific details to illustrate your points. 

Ask for feedback and clarification if you’re not sure that you’re being understood, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

Watching films in a foreign language is a great way to improve your comprehension skills and expose yourself to different accents and dialects. Here are some tips to make the most of this practice: 

  • Choose films that are appropriate for your level of language proficiency. If you’re a beginner, start with films that have simple language and a clear plot. 
  • Turn on subtitles in the target language, and pause the film to look up unfamiliar words or phrases. 
  • After watching the film, take some time to reflect on what you’ve learned. Write down any new vocabulary or phrases that you want to remember, and try to summarise the plot in your own words. 

Looking for Intensive English courses online?

If you require professional linguistic assistance with the business English proficiency of your employees, we can help. From private coaching to group tuition, we offer a range of language services and training approaches.

Members of your team can enhance their English in a professional environment with the aid of SIMON & SIMON’s Business English training

From fundamental grammar and vocabulary to more intricate business English professional language skills, we cover a broad variety of topics in our classes. Additionally, we can tailor our instruction to the unique requirements and objectives of your business.

For more information about our Professional Business Language Courses, please contact us today!

Examples of language barriers in the workplace FAQs

What are language barriers to communication?

When two speakers of different languages are unable to fully understand one another, there is a breakdown in both language and communication.

Why is language barrier a problem in business?

Language and cultural differences can cause fear, poor communication, and business risk as a consequence. According to surveys, the majority of businesses that don’t export cited linguistic barriers as the main deterrent to doing business abroad.

How language barriers can hinder successful communication at the workplace?

The written, verbal, and physical cues that are used to communicate a message are examples of linguistic barriers to conversation. Communication problems can arise when people who speak different languages use new jargon, ambiguous body language, or different dialects.

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