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Addressing a Language Barrier in Training

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Written by Andy Trainer– Wed 01 May 2013

At some point during a career in training you'll have to train somebody for whom English isn't a first language. In this situation, it can be difficult to stick to your established learning methods and activities.

On our 2-day Train the Trainer course, we explain in detail how to cater for different levels and learning styles, and teaching non-native English speakers comes under a similar bracket.

With all that in mind, we decided to put together a guide to help you deal with this challenge. So what's the first you can do to make things easier for you and your delegates?

Limit the Jargon

For someone who has just learnt, is still learning, or who rarely speaks English, technical jargon can be a bit of a stumbling block. Words that have little meaning without deep context can be confusing to native speakers, let alone those with English as a second language.

Try to minimise the jargon. Most subjects have their own acronyms and technical speak, often key in many ways, so make sure you explain them in plain English with a clear interpretation.

If it's really necessary, make sure your delegates fully grasp the concept behind the jargon and don't assume they'll 'get it' from the context of your session.

Use Visuals

"A picture's worth a thousand words." Visuals provide engaging and stimulating sources that stand out in contrast to sessions laden with spoken and written words. Pictures are your best tool for breaking down language barriers as they present universal ideas understood by all.

For non-native English speaking delegates, visuals are a great way to engage on a universal, non-verbal level. Concepts that can be difficult to explain using simple English, can be understood instantly from an appropriate image.

Don't think that visuals can replace your verbal communication with your delegates, but used in the right way, they can enhance their understanding of the topic.

Don't forget body language either; with 55% of communication being non-verbal, reading body language is a useful skill for trainers to have - regardless of the verbal language involved.

Avoid Colloquialisms

Similar to my point about jargon, colloquialisms are tough to understand outside of a cultural context. Imagine going to Russia, for example. Even if you spoke the language, do you think you'd fully understand the jokes they make or the 'tone' of the conversation?

This is by far the hardest thing about learning a language; it's not what is said but how it's said.

So reign in the old proverbs and modern pop-culture references. When using humour, don't go overboard and if your delegates don't understand the joke, don't feel offended or worse, try to explain it to them. Accept that there are just some things that don't translate.

Speak Slowly and Clearly

This may sound like it comes straight out of a 1970s comedy sketch, but it's serious advice and not intended to sound patronising in any way.

Slow and clear, well-enunciated speech is easier to understand than that which is fast-paced and slurred.

Don't rush to get out what you want to say and make sure not to mumble or speak too quietly.

Breathe, think and talk calmly and assuredly.

Asking questions in this way is also important so that you make sure you are being understood, both when imparting knowledge and when reaffirming it.

Go Beyond Google Translate

It may be the case that there will be some need for occasionally using the first language of your delegate to explain things. Google and other online translations are useful tools but don't limit yourself to just that.

If it's an ambiguous term, try to find a friend or peer with some knowledge of the language who can help.

If the training you'll be doing is going to make frequent use of the delegate's native language, it's worth investing in a professional translator, so you can be sure you are being fully understood.

Don't let Language be a Barrier to Learning

There's no reason for differences in language to cause irrevocable issues in training. Some common sense and bit of forethought can make any session engaging and applicable to all, regardless of culture or language.

Of course, if you're struggling with getting yourself heard in sessions, it's worth coming on our Assertiveness Training which will help you to be more confident in your delivery.

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