The Issue of Language Barriers

One morning, an immigrant male, arrives at a Chicago jail for admission after committing a felony. A corrections officer is to take her through the facility’s regulations. She is also to use a standardized form to record his background information and any need for special psychological and medical requirements. The intake officer realizes that the detainee does not understand English. The officer herself could not understand the language he was speaking. Nobody in the facility, including the other inmates, spoke the new inmate’s language. The form, though a requirement by the federal law, has to be filled later. That was an instance of language barriers; a rampant setback for communication and very many other activities in life.

The 21st century has seen many departures from the past especially with the rapid technological advances and administration regulations. Notably, the immigration policies allow people to move into new countries and settle in cities, their suburbs and rural areas. From 1990 to 2000, for instance, the number of immigrant US citizens increased by about 57 percent. This has resulted in the existence of many dialects within the same localities and the emergence of language barriers.

The problem of language barriers is a setback in international businesses. The need to address the problem of language barriers is particularly urgent in the New York city, where according to a study published by the Vera Institute of Justice in 2007, there were estimated 130 different dialects spoken and over 13 percent of the city’s population was “limited English proficient”(LEP).

The police are among those who commonly encounter this problem, necessitating the inclusion of a bilingual colleague for interpretation when they need to assist LEP people. However, it is the mandate of all police agencies funded by the federal government to provide, meaningful services to people who do not speak English well. But language barrier has brought a heavy burden into the force in regards to time and manpower spent on translation activities,

Technology has invented the one-way handheld communication devices and the remote simultaneous interpreting technology to help reduce the language barrier problems. “One-way” language assistance technologies are handheld devices programmed with prerecorded phrases in many languages. It matches the phrase to the English version of the phrase and utters it through a speaker. They are, however, not ideal for extended conversations, so they are useful mainly in law enforcement agencies.

Kate Berardo, a specialist in cross-cultural awareness says that ‘sometimes it is not really the accent of the native speakers but their way of speaking that is confusing’. Many times people find themselves in language barrier situations where there is no bilingual interpreter. The following tips may help.

Firstly, speak slowly and clearly even if you do not have enough time. This will avoid misunderstanding or miscommunication and the need for more time for clarification.  Secondly, politely request for clarification if there has been a misunderstanding or a miscommunication.

It is also polite to avoid the use of professional jargon, idioms and abbreviations. One can otherwise clarifying their meaning if they have to use them.

Most importantly, be specific about your expectations for the business. You can choose a method of method of communication that will help simplify the message. For instance, using a sketch or a map to give directions would simplify communication. Finally, if possible list the requirements in advance for those working in their nonnative language. This accords them enough time to understand the business, before meeting to per take it. Finally, it is good to be patient; one certainly would not expect the communication to occur as fast as one with an English speaker.


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