Problems with Communication in Other Language

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Communication and Skills > Best Practices > Problems with Communication in Other Language

Problems with Communication in Other Language
Hans Havelaar, Switzerland, Member
Hi there, I'm in a team of 4 with one manager. 3 out of the 4 members plus the manager are French speaking guys. I am the only one non-French speaking, so I use only English. My team members always talk in French, which makes me feel isolated. We communicate in English in 2 situations: during meetings or when they interact with me (low verbal interaction). Also they send me emails in English.
The company official languages are English and French.
Now my questions: did anyone face a similar issue? Any tips on how I can deal with this?

Language Problems in Communications
Johan Bergstroem, HR Consultant, Sweden, Member
It sounds far from an ideal situation. We recently had a Polish man here (in Sweden) that spoke slightly below average Swedish. It's far from same situation, but I really tried to make him feel at home, by explaining most of the quaint jokes and odd bits and things in Swedish, that always comes up during regular coffee breaks and whatnot, so he could relate.
In your situation it is harder though. As I imagine that you speak no French at all. I can also think that because you are one and they are many, it is on their responsibility to make you feel welcome, and not the other way around.
Also in a situation like this, nonverbal communications and gestures becomes more important, care and consideration, asking if you want to join for lunch or coffee.
With unwelcome feelings (brought from language-exclusion) they cannot expect very high results from you, I gather? Also, they really miss out when they let the chance slip them by to meet someone from another country, I learned very much from my now polish friend.

Problems in Communication: the Language Barrier
Herschtal Maurice, Consultant, France, Member
@Johan Bergstroem: I had a similar experience when I was working for a Swiss company. Most of my colleagues could speak French quite well. All meetings were in English, which was OK for all of us; but there were times when the discussion slipped into Swiss-German and I felt totally excluded; also during informal breaks, or dinners they would start talking between them, forgetting that I could not follow...
Very frustrating, indeed!
I would add that it is not only a matter of language, it relates also to differences in culture. see Wikipedia: Anglo-Saxon cuture vs Latin culture...
And I must say that for me, as a French guy, it was not always easy to cope with the rigidity, seriousness and lack of humor of some Finnish guy as far as I remember.
I would suggest that you start learning some French (Dutch people are gifted for foreign languages) and try using it when confronted to such situation; it will show your goodwill, and willingness to better integrate the group.
Also try talk informally to the boss..

Language Barrier--within a Team
Hans Havelaar, Switzerland, Member
@Herschtal Maurice: Thanks for your answer. The bad thing is that even the boss is French. In the beginning, when we were 2 employees (1 French guy and me) and our boss (French guy), things were by far better. But now, when the team started to grow and the newcomers were always French nationals, things got worse.

Language Barriers: my Experience and Opinion
marco alfieri, Italy, Member
During my 40 years of professional life, I always worked in teams composed of people of various nationalities. I am convinced that the imprint is given by education of the team coordinator.
The team can only work well if the experiences of all members is put together.
We must make sure that all team members can understand the experiences of othersbr>
The main task of managers is to convert the numerous into one.

The Language Barrier - my Experiences
Bergen, Manager, Netherlands, Member
Hi All, I work in a Taiwanese company. We use English as our main language, which works. But my colleagues mostly speak Chinese, which make me feel isolated. I always speak in English to avoid excluding anyone.

The Language Barrier - my Experiences
Adri Albertyn, Manager, South Africa, Member
I work in a multi-lingual environment and usually observe body language and tone in interactions if I don't understand the language used. In many general and informal situations you don't need to understand word for word and it is quite easy to get the gist of what is going on if you are observant. You can also learn a bit of a new language and that is always appreciated. Fortunately in my situation, many interactions and all meetings and other formal conversations are conducted in English.

Multi-cultural Language Barriers
Brita Singh, Professor, India, Member
I think that it is very important that you try to communicate with your colleagues in French!
They will certainly respect the fact that your French is perhaps weak or nonexistent (but you are trying!) so they are definitely doing their best by conducting meetings and by emailing you in English. You have to now reciprocate by trying to understand French.
Learning a language definitely adds to your skill sets and therefore your employability. What better way to learn the language than by taking advantage of the situation that you are in.
Best of luck.

Language Barriers in Communication are High
Abbas Bilgrami, Management Consultant, Saudi Arabia, Member
@Brita Singh: I don't think that will work, because I have tried this already.. I am in KSA and though the official language is English, but none of them are using it, they always speak in Arabic.

Barriers in Communication
shahid imran, Student (University), Pakistan, Member
@Hans Havelaar: it is a common barrier in an effective communication. The only solution is to learn French language. I will hardly take 6 months to be fluent if you pay full attention / concentration.

Language Barrier in a Team
Abraham Lagarde, Student (MBA), Philippines, Member
@ Hans.....I'm not sure what your situation is in your company when you said "... The newcomers were always French nationals, things got worse." But as a suggestion, try to adapt by learning French, in this way the negative situation becomes favorably positive for you. I was in the Navy and we had lots of service members that have English as their second language. So imagine some people grouped separately according to their speaking language during R&R. It wouldn't be right if we were at war. However, I learned that to tear down the barrier, I mingled with them and tried to learn their language by picking simple words like good morning or ugly or good food. Every now and then conversational words or phrase and it worked, I gained their friendship which was great.

Opportunity to Learn a Second Language
Tettevi, Student (University), Ghana, Member
You can also view this as an opportunity to learn another language for a future task or challenge. Who knows, one day you will be asked to head the same organization...

Communication in Other Language: don't Forget Culture!
Herschtal Maurice, Consultant, France, Member
Hans, I need to add another point: language is important, but it is only a tool; cultural awareness is as important, if not more.
Knowing the cultural codes will be critical for efficient communication...
And there are some differences between Dutch and French social behaviour...

Professional Recommendation :)
pinar Basaran, Turkey, Member
My recommendation is not so professionally but I guess it might work. Try to look like a cool guy who doesn't need them and watch them how they are trying to talk with you.
If they are not professional as well, you can be like them also. I believe that this will create more balance in your team.

Communication in Other Languages
ADEOYE BABATUNDE, Career Consultant, Nigeria, Member
Hmm this is so serious and also such a challenge.
I work with a telecommunication company as a front desk customer care representative. I remember a colleague that spent time learning Hausa language so he would be able to communicate with ease with customers. Because he was unable to do so he did not enjoy the job. So he took it upon himself for a good 2 months to learn the language and believe me he speaks that language better than those were there before him. Nothing is impossible when you are determined to do so. You have no option than to learn the language so that you can enjoy your job or work.
Buy books written in French, go to cinemas where they show French films, attend French gatherings, speak correct and bad sentneces so that you will be corrected, and ask many questions on how to say what you want to say in French.

Communication with a Difference
Jozelle Steenkamp, Director, South Africa, Member
I have been in teaching and training for most of my adult life and being in a country with 11 official languages, I have learnt three phrases (in 6 six languages) "Hello", "Thank you" and "I do not understand what you are saying".
Using this during the informal discussions during tea and lunch breaks have changed the general attitude of non-English speaking learners and colleagues towards me. They started to converse in English around me and I have even been taught others phrases by them.
I think that people switch to their mother tongue when they realize it is accepted by the majority. If you make a conscious decision to change that by pointing out that you do not follow a conversation, most people would or at least should try to accommodate you.
And in the mean time - tape conversations, transfer it onto your computer and translate them on Google translate :). You might learn the language a lot quicker if you realize that there are interesting similarities between the languages.

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