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Skills for Bridging the Language Diversity Gap

Skills for Bridging the Language Diversity Gap

By Sondra Thiederman, Monster Contributing Writer

Although linguistic diversity can make life interesting, there are times when we need help to communicate across accent and language barriers. Because diverse workplaces are rapidly becoming more the rule than the exception, it is likely that at some point you will find yourself working with someone who is less than fluent in English or has an accent that is difficult to understand. These differences can be frustrating, but there is much you can do to bridge the gap:

Be Optimistic

Because we have become accustomed to encountering language differences, we sometimes see a communication problem when there is none. When we hear a foreign accent, for example, we assume the speaker cannot understand us, does not know English vocabulary and cannot read or write English.

In fact, many immigrants read, write, understand and fully grasp the English vocabulary but still possess heavy accents. This is because many languages do not share English’s Latin and Germanic roots. Russian, Vietnamese and Mandarin are good examples. Because these roots are different, the fundamental sounds used to create words are also different and very difficult to grasp. It is not, therefore, unusual to meet someone whose grasp of English vocabulary and grammar is perfect – even better than many native-born Americans’ — but who still has difficulty with pronunciation. Those of you who have ever attempted to pronounce Cantonese or Japanese, languages completely unrelated to English, have experienced this firsthand.

Go Slow

When you find yourself having difficulty understanding a colleague’s spoken English, try speaking a bit more slowly yourself. This may seem strange, but what you are trying to accomplish is to change the pace of the entire exchange. The slower you go, the slower the other person will go, and, in turn, the easier it will be for you to understand what he or she is saying. If you are a non-native English speaker yourself, remember that stress and excitement can tempt you to talk faster, and your accent will get heavier.


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