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Multilingual Internal Corporate Communication During a Pandemic Tips on How Companies Can Communicate with Employees Across the Language and Social Distance Divide

Multilingual Internal Corporate Communication During a Pandemic: Tips on How Companies Can Communicate with Employees Across the Language and Social Distance Divide

When a pandemic occurs, like the Coronavirus, social distancing protocols are put in place to mitigate risk. Mandated travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders create a new kind of work environment where working from home becomes the norm. One challenge that some organizations face (particularly multinational companies, as well as domestic companies with Limited English Proficient (LEP) staff) is the ability to make the work-at-home model accessible to different language speakers within their organization. Multilingual Corporate Communication, by way of professional translation, can increase buy-in while also reducing misunderstanding among all employees. This makes remote work more accessible, productive and successful in both the short and long term.

Who is a person with limited English proficiency (LEP)?

A person who does not speak English as their primary language and who has a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English well is considered Limited English Proficient.1

Limited English proficiency (LEP) in the US Workforce

An analysis of the labor market characteristics of the working-age limited English proficient (LEP) population in the United States and its largest metropolitan areas reveals that nearly one in ten working-age adults, 19.2 million persons aged 16 to 64, is considered limited English proficient.2

Multilingual Internal Corporate Communication

Multilingual internal corporate communication is the proprietary means by which an organization communicates with all its employees, regardless of language or location.

Tips for Improving Communication with Employees Across the Language and Social Distance Divide

Here are tips for communicating with employees during a pandemic.

1. Identify the Most Common Languages and Dialects Spoken by Employees

The first step is to identify the languages most commonly spoken by your employees. For companies that are decentralized across multiple locations, languages will vary, which means you will want to account for each location. For those that do not have data readily available on languages spoken by personnel, there are resources available. These include the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as the interactive map created by the Department of Education. Both are useful resources for understanding languages likely to be spoken outside of English in the locations in which you operate. For companies that operate internationally, you can consult a number of resources, such as the CIA World Fact Book, to determine which languages are most likely spoken in the cities and countries where you operate.

2. Prioritize Which Corporate Communications Pieces Need to be Translated First

During a pandemic, determining the most mission-critical content to translate should be the first step, and this process may seem a bit overwhelming. Appointing a team to choose which communications are most vital is a good place to start. Always begin with mission-critical content. Then translate it into the core group of languages spoken by the majority of employees. These can include employee handbooks, training materials, eLearning content, safety guidelines and onboarding materials. Then proceed to the next level of content and additional languages. By providing language options for all your employees, you ensure your message is understood by all employees, regardless of language they speak, and that they know that they are acknowledged and valued.

3. Communicate with Employees by Using a Professional Linguist

Successfully transitioning employees to a remote work environment requires effective communication at every step of the process. Trained bilingual staff, on-staff translators and contract translators are all ideal to have in place, but not all companies have the financial resources to staff linguists across multiple languages. Therefore, a growing number partner with language service providers like Language Link to get access to linguists on an as-needed basis. Such partnerships provide for access to hundreds of languages that even the largest companies could never staff for. While partnering with a language service provider well in advance of a pandemic is preferred, if you do need language services in a pinch for the very first time, language service providers that have capacity to quickly scale up their operations like Language Link can happily  accommodate your needs.

4. Make Quality Integral to Your Translation Process

Having formal quality control measures in place will ensure that your communications resonate with your employees across all languages. If you don’t have internal resources to dedicate to quality assurance, you can turn to a language services company to meet your needs. If you go this route, you’ll want to set up a workflow wherein files can be handed off for translation, and after an efficient and rigorous quality control process, you can receive back fully translated, formatted and localized documents. And because time is of the essence during a pandemic, you’ll want to work with your translation vendor to be sure that they are sensitive to deadlines and can expedite orders, so that you are able to publish communications in a timely manner. Whether you handle your quality control in-house or by way of a language services company, make sure that quality is central to your translation process.

5. Create a Translation Glossary of Corporate Terminology

Consistency is key for the success of any type of communication. This also extends to multilingual communication in remote work scenarios. One way to ensure consistency across translations is to create a glossary. A translation glossary is an index of specific terminology with approved translations in all target languages. Glossaries aid the translation process by ensuring each time a defined term appears in a document, it is translated consistently. You’ll want to identify specific words and phrases that you use often in your documents, and want translated the same way every time they are used; these can be found where company culture and values are present. Examples include company mission statements, core values, company biographies, company handbooks, and training content. Creating a translation glossary ensures that employees across all languages define and understand key words in the same way.

References

“Language Access at the Department of Homeland Security,” The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), last modified April 14, 2020, https://www.dhs.gov/language-access

“Census Bureau Reports at Least 350 Languages Spoken in U.S. Homes,” U.S. Census Bureau, last modified November 3, 2015, https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2015/cb15-185.html

“Investing in English Skills: The Limited English Proficient Workforce in U.S. Metropolitan Areas,” The Brookings Institution, last modified Wednesday, September 24, 2014, https://www.brookings.edu/research/investing-in-english-skills-the-limited-english-proficient-workforce-in-u-s-metropolitan-areas/

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