The language barrier in the workplace
Over 60% of non-native English speakers working in Ireland say they need to work harder than their Irish peers to progress in the workplace, according to research published by AllTalk Training.
AllTalk Training is a training provider that specialises in communication and collaboration for multicultural workplaces.
It conducted focus group research with 80 non-native English speakers from across 24 countries, including Brazil, Spain, Germany and India. The vast majority of participants (81%) have advanced or a ‘near-native’ level of English. Despite this, the research shows non-native speakers believe they face challenges within Irish workplaces.
43% claim they feel excluded at work due to language or cultural differences, and 42% feel their native English-speaking colleagues don’t take their opinions and ideas as seriously as those of fellow native English speakers.
The same proportion (42%) feel their colleagues regularly make incorrect assumptions about them due to their cultural background.
Brigid Farrell, Director of AllTalk Training, said there are clear areas for improvement. “In Ireland, we’re proud to have such a diverse workforce and to attract highly-skilled workers from across the world, so it’s important to address the serious concerns raised in this report,” she said. “How non-native speakers are treated in the workplace – and their own perceptions about their levels of fluency and integration – can really impact on their career.
“Our research shows, for example, that not only are people holding back from tasks they’re well qualified to do, but they’re also less likely to approach topics like pay rises or to speak to their manager if they have a problem at work. The barriers here are not solely language-related; they come down to confidence and cultural differences.”
Ms Farrell said in multicultural workplaces with one official working language, the burden to improve communications often falls on the non-native speaker. Native-speaking workers and employers need to do more to address this issue.
“There is a recurring issue of colleagues making assumptions about non-native English speakers based on their accent, rather than their performance or their grasp of the English language.
“When we disregard or overlook someone’s ability to contribute to a project – or perhaps their willingness to get involved in a social activity – we don’t just fail that colleague; we miss an opportunity for the whole team and the wider business to do better. Nobody wants to see a member of their team demotivated or missing their potential. Apart from the personal and social consequences, it makes no business sense.”
AllTalk Training advises employers and employees looking to improve their communication with colleagues from diverse backgrounds by practice active listening to ensure you are focused on the message being communicated and avoid breakdowns in communication.
“When a non-native colleague has near perfect English, it can be easy to forget just how hard they might be working to translate questions before they can formulate answers,” Ms Farrel said. “Colloquialisms or unfamiliar reference points add further complications. Keep it simple and straightforward by avoiding idioms.”