Expats who choose to start businesses abroad often have to overcome a lot of challenges, starting from citizenship down to the nitty-gritty details of business legality for a foreigner. But perhaps one of the biggest hurdles to this endeavor is the language barrier, especially in a country where most citizens speak little to no English.
Communication is an important factor in running a business. That said, how can you improve communication in your business if there is a language barrier between you, your employees, and your clients? Here are some strategies that you can apply.
Learn the local language
Learning the local language is one of the hardest parts of assimilating into a foreign country. Still, it can open up a whole new world of opportunities for you, especially when it comes to business. While you may not need to be at a native-speaking level before you start a business, it helps to know how to speak and understand basic phrases so that you can interact freely with both employees and customers.
There are two ways you can go about learning the local language. First, you can enroll in a language school and spend a few months working on your skills. The second option is to self-study, be it through books, online tutorials, or holding up conversations with the locals. Either way, it is extremely beneficial to know how to speak and understand the language at a basic level before you start a business.
Help employees learn English
If your business is in an English-speaking country, but some of your employees are not very proficient in the language, help them learn by providing private English teaching services done by professional ESL tutors.
On the other hand, if your business is in a non-English-speaking country and the clientele consists mostly of foreign customers that can speak English, it can also be very beneficial to help native employees learn English at least at the basic level. Not only that but doing so can also make the communication between you and your workers more effective and efficient.
Hire a translator or interpreter
When doing business dealings with clients that do not speak much English, it’s best to hire an independent translator that can help connect you in conversation. This way, the risk of miscommunication is far less compared to attempting to overcome the language barrier on your own. Furthermore, working with a translator can also help you pick up the local language much faster. They can also provide insight into the local culture when it comes to business conversations.
Translate important documents
For every important document written in the native language, it is always a good idea to translate it into English by a professional text translator. Even if you can speak at a basic level, there is only so much that elementary skills can do for you when reading documents like contracts, lease agreements, and legal documents. There is also a huge risk of misunderstanding something on the document if it is not in a language you clearly understand.
However, keep in mind that there may be incidences that the meaning of the translated word does not always correspond to the meaning that you or the other party is trying to convey. To avoid miscommunication through this caveat, seek help from an interpreter or a colleague that is fluent in both languages.
Avoid jargon, idioms, slang
Avoid using jargon, idioms, and slang words in English conversations with local staff, clients, and business partners. You would always want to make the conversation as easy as possible to avoid miscommunication or confusion, so be sure to stick to formal English unless you speak with a fluent speaker.
Hire a fluent English speaker
When hiring local staff for a business, consider having at least one member who can fluently speak English and the local language. They can help you relay messages to staff and avoid confusion from both parties. Moreover, they can save you money in translator fees by acting as your in-house translator or interpreter. Of course, you may have to pay them extra for this type of additional responsibility.
Language barriers shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams abroad. While getting familiar with the local language may be the most difficult part of starting a business in the locale, it is certainly a necessary step. But while you are learning, it pays to apply the other strategies mentioned here, such as hiring an interpreter, translating documents, and hiring an English speaker in-house.