Tips for Running a Multilingual Small Business

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As more and more people join the ranks of small business owners in the US, the diversity of languages and cultures in business continues to increase. Depending on your business, you may also have employees who speak a different first language than English, or English may be your second language yourself. The presence of multiple languages in a work environment can be a great thing, allowing you to serve more customers with stronger support and allow non-native speakers to feel more at home, but if there is a language barrier between employees at times is can create some complications. Luckily, it’s fairly simple to keep your employees on the same page regardless of a language barrier if you take the time to create some HR strategies.

Post written materials in both languages. This seemingly obvious piece of advice unfortunately gets overlooked all too often. If you have two or more different languages in your work environment, why would you only post notices in one of these languages? It’s inviting trouble, and even if your employees don’t need to read the notices posted, it’s easy and courteous to allow them to read all the materials relevant to the business. You may also wish to have a website with multiple language options. Generally, a savvy web developer should be able to do this for you fairly easily provided you can give them translated copy to put up.

Include some key phrases in training for new hires. If you are going to have employees interacting with little overlapping language, then briefing new hires on key phrases related to the business is a good idea. You don’t need to give them a crash course in the language, but identifying job related phrases and including them in training literature will allow new hires to jump right in to the office environment with a minimum of confusion. This goes both ways, and the more overlap in communication ability, the better.

Advertise your multilingual status. If you’ve got it, flaunt it! The fact that your business serves multiple language demographics can be a draw, since it’s something different and allows you to serve  a broader range of clients. If your business is based around a specialty that comes along with your multicultural status, the fact that you speak more than one language can help reinforce a sense of authenticity in the minds of your customers as well.

Photo Credit to John Krupsky on Flickr

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