3 Tips to Improve Multilingual WorkPlace Communication

Effi is a tech startup company looking to break into the global market. Therefore we have seen our fair share of international interns. With such a diverse workplace so much can be shared about how other cultures interact, work, and live. Its fascinating. There are numerous positives to hiring international interns especially in a global startup (check out the article Top 5 Positives to Hiring International Interns), however these positives can be hindered by one giant hurdle: multilingual workplace communication.

Below I will list my top 3 tips on how to avoid missing a great opportunity just because of a tiny language barrier. It takes some time and it can be frustrating, but once those fears are faced a world of opportunity awaits you and your company.


International intern involvement

The biggest problem that arises from confusion in language is disengagement on both ends. Often times the company will start out strong and try to involve the intern, but as the intern gets more and more confused and makes a slightly different product then the one assigned, the assignments starts to become less and less. The company thinks that the end product is not worth the hassle of communication and the intern realizes this as well. The intern then can become withdraw and end up just sitting at their desk strolling through social media wishing to be back home and feeling worthless. This is exactly where you do not want to end up. Not only are you not gaining the knowledge you wished to but wasting your money on an intern that is not doing anything.

By constantly involving your intern you can avoid this rapidly-moving cycle of events. Even if you are having a meeting in your native language, invite you intern to it. Even if the document is in your native language, share it with your intern. Even if you everyone goes out for drinks or dinner after work and your afraid the intern will be left our because no one speaks his or her language, invite them. Chances are your intern applied for a job in your company or country because they are interested in learning the language or being surrounded by it. Don’t shut them out. They will not feel uncomfortable being surrounded by their foreign language. More than likely its the type of situation they would want to be in.

Let Them Have Control

International interns taking control.

An aspect of having multilingual workplace communication that is often seen as a negative that can actually be a positive is the different expected outcomes of a product. Often times when a product turns out to be different in design and focus then what was assigned, people are quick to blame communication and fail to see the value of the differentiated product.

This in its round about way is actually what you hired foreign interns to do in the first place – to give you insight into their home markets. For example, a marketing manager assigns a foreign content creator intern to make an advertisement that explains a feature and then the manager lists off other technical requirements like ratio or minimum and maximum font sizes. The manager was expecting an advertisement much like an article with a lot of words and a small picture off to the side. The intern then presents three advertisement options, all of which are pictures with few words. The manager becomes frustrated and thinks the inter does not understand. The intern feels frustrated and wonders what part he or she missed in the instructions.

What really happened here was not miscommunication but a look into a foreign sales culture. To the manager’s country an eye-catching effective advertisement might be all words and to the intern all pictures. An intern’s design instincts often correlate with the market needs in their country. Giving them freedom to create an explain their designs in terms of their home target markets will help you understand what plan and tactic is needed to break out in that country.

Take a break

Taking a break from International Interns.

Now I know this may seem contradictory to the first tip but it is important to understand a break is not a withdrawal. Communication across languages and cultures is draining on the mind. When people feel drained they often feel stressed and are easily frustrated. Agitated workers is the last problem any company wants. Knowing when to give yourself and your interns a little space takes a lot of practice. Finding that balance between individual and group work needs to be reevaluated when multilingual workplace communication is presented.

Assigning bigger individual tasks to the intern can help narrow down meetings and communication needs. Giving them freedom to create content in their host language and trusting them in their language skills will help them feel like a part of the workplace family without putting to much extra strain on you.

So there are my top 3 tips on being able to communicate across languages in our ever growing global business culture. The most important aspect you can take out of this article is to not fall into the withdrawal spiral many companies find themselves in. Stay positive, happy, and eager to improve and in turn your communication will come naturally.

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