Effective Communication For When There’s A Language Barrier

June 17, 2019 Ananda Bose

Over the past 10 years, one of the major things I’ve heard from colleagues and clients is that it is often challenging to effectively interact with and clearly communicate a message to audiences who speak a different language than you do when delivering a presentation or a workshop. Given the right amount of patience, experience, and empathy, I have found that you can effectively communicate information and in the process learn about new environments and cultures.

As someone who has been traveling and speaking with clients all across Asia, Pacific and Japan for the past 10 years (I run architecture or customer journey workshops for business and technology teams) here is what I’ve found works when communicating over language barriers. 

  1. Credibility is very important. Audiences usually evaluate whether you really understand the topic of your discussion and don’t just stand up to deliver fixed content.
  2. It’s important to be patient and listen intently even when you don’t follow the conversation. In due time, you might be able to pick up and follow the context of the conversation quite well.
  3. Preparation is vital in this process. Working with your translator (your colleagues or a professional translator) beforehand ensures that they know your roles and handoffs.
  4. Visuals help when language is not the same. Whiteboards and slides are great for communicating really driving points home.
  5. Let the conversation happen in the local language by being a facilitator rather than trying to control the meeting. 
  6. Learn how to be able to imbibe the message through a summary. Rarely will you get word to word translation. It’s a skill which takes time to pick up but allows for contextuality when you are getting information through a third party.
  7. Listen, listen, and listen.
  8. Check the body language. Subtle hints are always available. It will show you if the audience is confused, interested, etc.
  9. Finally, be patient and remain engaged. If the audience realizes that you are not in the conversation, they will also lose interest.
  10. And by the way, there is always “Google Translate”. 

These are some things which have helped me in my work with clients If you have your own advice on this matter, be sure to comment below.

About the Author

Ananda Bose

Ananda Bose works with the Office of the CTO at Pivotal APJ and is based out of Singapore. He works with financial institutions and helps them modernize legacy applications and also adopt newer digital business models. The thoughts shared in this blog are his own and based on experiences accumulated over the last 10 years of work in the Asia Pacific and Japan region.

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