Breaking Down Cultural Barriers with Language Training

More companies rely on a global workforce to meet the needs of today’s international economy. This means employees are dispersed in key markets around the globe, and bring diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds to the job.

But when you’re managing a global team, effective communication can be derailed by differences in language and culture. The solution is language training. It helps facilitate collaboration, foster inclusion and cultural understanding amongst team members, and streamline the flow of idea sharing and collaboration.

Language Training Decreases Social Distance

For global team managers, one impediment to success is social distance: the degree to which employees feel connected to their colleagues. Regardless of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, when employees work in the same office space it is easy for them to connect. This results in low social distance and high camaraderie. Conversely, for remote teams, social distance is often high. This can result in a breakdown of effective communication, misunderstandings, or even delays in response times.

Dr. Tsedal Neeley devised the SPLIT Framework, which outlines how Structure, Process, Language, Identity, and Technology coalesce to impact the social distance of a team. Language, specifically the breakdown of effective communication due to language, is a key area that can result in social distance. It is important that managers strategically plan for this.

Offering language training to help your staff communicate more efficiently is one way to avoid this common pitfall and ensure you build a collaborative, cohesive team.

Language Training Increases Inclusion and Promotes Diversity

A diverse workforce is an asset. Diversity leads to a team that better understands local markets and customers. Beyond client-facing relations, diversity also has a positive impact on team success. Not only does diversity foster understanding and cultural sensitivity, but it has been shown to increase creativity in teams.

However, supporting a multicultural team can be challenging when not everyone speaks the same language. To make sure different branches can work effectively together and understand each other’s objectives, employees need to be able to communicate effectively. Language training is a great way to mitigate language barriers, increase understanding, and build and support the needs of global employees.

Language Training Increases Effective Knowledge Sharing

Power differentials among teammates arise when there is variance among each person’s mastery of the language in which business is conducted. Often the more fluent among the group will dominate the conversations, leading to small factions of the group making key decisions, while the less fluent fade into the background.

This unbalanced dynamic doesn’t ensure that the best ideas are being shared or deployed. A good way to improve this situation is to provide language training to less proficient speakers. It will enable them to gain confidence and be better able to idea share, articulate their insights and ask key questions to guide the conversation. Building up the language skills of your staff ensures that everyone’s ideas are being heard and implemented.

This education can even be customized to focus on specific industries (such as the automotive or pharmaceutical industries) to ensure your team has the vocabulary they need to be successful when communicating with customers.

Key Takeaway

Language training is much more than just a perk you can offer to employees. Building strong language skills across your international teams unifies branches and helps your company work together as a whole.

Want to learn more about improving communications in your team? Download our whitepaper on managing top talent.

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Photo: William Perugini /