How to Help Non-English Speakers Speak English in the Workplace



The modern business environment has transformed drastically, as competition and diversity in consumer demands continue to characterize the supply and demand forces in various industries. As such, organizations have resorted to capitalizing on globalization through internationalization of their activities and processes. Besides, Ordóñez de Pablos and Tennyson (2017) explain that globalization has enhanced the movement of labor across the vast geography of the world. As such, diversity is an inevitable feature in the workforce of majority of the competitive organizations. 

The outline above asserts the role of communication in the workforce. This paper attains its course from the outline, hence analyzing the strategies that organizations can employ to ensure that the non-English speakers can communicate in English in the workforce. While at it, the discussion includes the challenges faced by organizations in promoting the integration of non-English speakers in the workforce, further providing recommendations to enable organizations overcome these challenges. Despite the unique challenges presented by non-English speaking employees in the workforce, organizations that harness these challenges to their advantage through implementing strategies for ensuring that these employees speak English stand a better chance of realizing a competitive advantage in their respective markets. 


The face of successful businesses in the modern business world is denoted by the diversity of its workforce. Diversity in the workplace reflects the current dynamics of the global social outlook in which different cultures have intermingled, and multiple languages are spoken. Diversity, Mujtaba (2010) elucidates, has made it an interesting time to be in business. Despite this, the author warns that this diversity can be a pitfall for many managers, who are required to demonstrate their ability to lead employees drawn from diverse backgrounds.

Having established that many organizations are global and multicultural in nature, Thomas (2008) posits that it is impossible to expect all employees to speak a common language, such as English. In validating this claim, the author adds that the expectation pegged on employees to speak one language identifiable by the company marginalizes the potential impact of the international talent available at the organization. Besides, Christiansen and Chandan (2017) echo these sentiments by arguing that organizations that insist on one common language limits the mono-lingual staff, as they are left ill-equipped to express their capabilities in order to assist the organization compete effectively in the globalised environment

In the increasingly global economy, many companies that hire individuals who can communicate in foreign languages often perform better. To ascertain this observation, Gardenswartz (2009) cited a survey by Forbes Insight whose findings established that foreign language skills have become more vital in the business platform. In addition, Lieberman, Simons and Berardo (2004) postulate that language abilities are integral tools in enabling employees and executives advance their careers. With multi-lingual foundations present in the organization, MacRae and Furnham (2017) guarantee speedy overseas expansion as well as heightened boost of the personal and corporate success.

The significance of language proficiency in the organization has been underscored by the Information Resources Management Association (2017), which demonstrated that high degrees of multilingualism in the organization reduces the prevalence of mistakes, thus enhancing the efficiency, quality and productivity of the organizations. In addition, the effectiveness of the employees in the modern workplace is determined by the safety that characterizes the work environment subjected to these employees. Language proficiency is essential in promoting safer work environments, which is a core topic of discussion for many firms that have operate manufacturing facilities in which foreign born workers are employed. 

Whereas the better part of this discussion has focused on the benefits of multilingualism in the workforce, it is significant to highlight the challenges encountered by the minority language speakers in the workplace. According to Alhaysony (2016), English has been positioned as the most important language for international exchange. For employees in many global organizations, English remains the primary language to communicate with colleagues and customers drawn from the diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Inasmuch as multilingualism is significant for the organization, Hughes (2015) explains that having a common language that can be used to communicate improves the efficiency of the organization and limits the possibilities of uncoordinated flow of information. This is the premise upon which English has been described as the universal language for international exchange. 

Despite the recognition of English as the universal language, Sicola (2014) explains that not all people have the ability to speak English. The author further argues that the inability of a person to speak English does not translate to inadequacy of skill or talent, rather the limitation in language proficiency. Language barrier is the most unique and visible challenge that employees who cannot speak English bring to the workplace. The language barrier can generate a situation in which team members have difficulties in communicating. Besides, the language barrier can lead to the misinterpretation of the employee’s tone or intent of communication by the customer. 

Cultural miscues are expected and inevitable for people who are non-English speakers (Alhaysony, 2016). While analyzing organizations that adopt English as the primary language, Sicola (2014) concluded that many employees of these organizations exhibit inadequate knowledge in cultural and linguistic differences, hence assuming that all employees should consider English as a common thing in the work environment. This mindset adopted by many English speaking employees limits the efforts made by the non-English speakers to communicate in the workplace. 

As evidenced, English is spoken by many people across the world. However, it is equally evidenced that many employees have limited proficiency of English. The stereotyping of the non-English speakers in the workplace has heightened language barrier, which Christiansen and Chandan (2017) linked to increased lapses in employee productivity. Despite the ability of an employee to perform well in completing individual tasks, the inability of the employee to communicate with the managers and co-workers when a problem arises can significantly affect the productivity of the worker. Employee productivity, Hughes (2015) adds, borders on the remuneration aspect, which contributes to the employee morale. Therefore, language proficiency has a long chain that is intertwined with productivity, compensation and morale, which the MacRae and Furnham (2017) listed as elements of employee retention of employee turnover. 

It is imperative, therefore, for organizations to understand the difficulties that highly-skilled and valuable non-English speaking employees encounter in their bid to communicate with their colleagues, customers and managers in the organization. Besides, it is important for the organization to balance between the employee retention and employee turnover through adopting employee development programs that target the improvement of language proficiency among the employees who are identified as non-English speakers. There are practical solutions to these problems, most of which are embedded in the theories of how to overcome language barriers in the organization. On one hand, the organization must ensure that the non-English speaking employees are accommodated within the workforce amidst the challenge they encounter in speaking English. On the other hand, the organization must ensure that the non-English speaking employees gradually improve their language proficiency to communicate effectively in English in order to minimize the risk of prevalence of mistakes owing to communication challenges. 

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The first step to ensure that non-English speakers speak English at the workplace is to build communication bridges that enable these employees to attain their optimal potential. Training with the aim of improving oral communication should be systematic and targeted. This approach focuses on working on the elements of vice projection, pacing and problem sound. The intensity of language training programs should incorporate a focus on the specific oral presentation skills and the sound issues presented to the non-English speaking employees. As Mujtaba (2010) explains, organizational training programs aimed at improving cultural awareness should envisage a non-intrusive and highly effective structure. 

The traditional methods for teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) have been implemented by many organizations. According to this traditional system, employees would attend English classes during the evening hours that accommodate the working students. This is one of the most effective methods of ensuring that the English literacy levels of employees are enhanced. Considering its effectiveness, organizations should invest in systematic adoption of ESL for employees. There are different methods of training that can be used to facilitate the learning of English by non-English speakers.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Pilati (2015) writes, there was a large wave of immigrants arriving into the US from developing countries. Majority of these immigrants lacked the employability skills owing to their inadequate proficiency in English. This was the platform upon which vocational English training was adopted, as it was a strategy to enhance the vocational skills of the immigrants in a bid to expedite their readiness for employment. Organizations can adopt vocational English training, which is taught on a need-be basis by vocational instructors or a team of ESL. There are several modern applications of vocational English learning. For organizations, fostering partnerships with community colleges could help in bridging the gaps in communication among the non-English speakers. Vocational English learning features a shift from the sequential learning towards integrated learning. A core advantage of vocational learning of English is that it is more efficient, as the instructions are provided by bilingual teachers in the native language of the non-English speaking employees. 

Other than vocational learning, organizations can adopt the immersion method to ensure that non-English speakers speak English in the workforce. This is a method that is based on the manner in which children learn language, which is through listening and imitation. Vocational learning has been adopted in many public elementary and secondary schools to teach foreign languages. In the organizational context, the non-English speaking employees can be taught English through listening and imitating. However, this method consumes time, and limits the ability of the employees to fully express themselves. Besides, there is no bilingual instructor to provide guidance on the imitations by the non-English speaking employees. 

Work-based literacy programs are language training methods that teach literacy tailored to the needs of specific employers of group of employers (Sicola, 2014). This method of language training differs from the traditional ESL methods, as it occurs in the workplace. As such, the learning objectives of the non-English speakers are organized around the needs of the employer. This method particularly focuses on imparting the employee with the basic ways of communicating with colleagues, customers and the management. The employers can use the integrated work-based methods of English learning to ameliorate a particular problem, which mostly borders on the employee productivity, coordination of the workforce activities and elimination of the possible barriers to effective interaction among the employees.

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Above are some of the universal strategies employed by companies to ensure that the non-English speakers acquire knowledge that guarantees their progression towards language proficiency. More specifically, organizations can offer on-site English courses during workdays and enroll the employees in these programs. It is necessary that the human resource professionals inquire from the employees how they want their lessons to be conducted rather than impose a teaching method on them. The inclusion of the employees in such decisions is essential in promoting the connection that the employees have with the organization, as it limits the barriers of expression that often hinders the interaction of the minority in the workplace.

Lesson plans directed towards improving the language proficiency of non-English speakers in the workplace should envisage simple phonics, phrasal verbs, idioms and common sentences. One main challenge of adopting on-site English courses is that it is costly to the organization. This program requires the organization to recruit and hire a private tutor for each employee of a foreign language. This means that if an organization has ten non-English speakers, it has to recruit and hire ten private tutors to conduct the on-site English courses for these employees. Organizations should overcome the cost barriers by looking at the overall benefits that accrue from an organization that has effective communication. These processes, regardless of their cost, should improve the employee productivity and enhance the overall efficiency of the organization.

The diversity that distinguishes the modern day working environments is often depicted in the team-work and group exercises within the workforce. Training, being the most effective method of ensuring that non-English speakers speak English, is anchored more on the technical aspects of language development. The emotional and environmental aspects play an equally vital role in ensuring that non-English speakers are incorporated in the workforce. Therefore, organizations must strive to ensure that employees are aware of the diverse cultural backgrounds that align colleagues to certain linguistic challenges. 

As Thomas (2008) elucidates, organizational learning is one way through which employees can understand these diversities. Human resource managers should develop more activities that improve the interactions among the employees, as this will negate the stereotypical mindset that labels non-English speakers in the workplace as less-intelligent or unskilled. Besides, organizations should consider hiring leaders and managers with emotional intelligence, which enables them to identify and mitigate any issues that arise from the challenges encountered by the minorities within the organization. 


Human resource professionals are presented with the challenge of integrating the multi-ethnic nature of employees to deliver the optimal performance of the workforce. One of the biggest challenges in this integration process is language barrier. According to Mujtaba (2010), the challenge of language barrier in the workforce is often not articulated, as majority of the human resource professionals have directed their focus on other aspects of diversity such as gender, culture, religion and ethnicity. Even more, Scott and Byrd (2012) add that many organizations grapple with the underlying shortcomings of oral communication with workers for whom English is a second language. in conclusion, this discussion reaffirms the position that despite the unique challenges presented by non-English speaking employees in the workforce, organizations that harness these challenges to their advantage through implementing strategies for ensuring that these employees speak English stand a better chance of realizing a competitive advantage in their respective markets. 

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