Breaking down language barriers in construction

Depending on your location, language barriers might be an occasional or even daily issue for you.

They make giving instructions difficult and can jeopardize safety. Construction workers, contractors and supervisors caught in such a situation can experience chronic misunderstanding. In turn, they can become less productive and even mistrustful of each other. It can affect team moral and damage the work atmosphere.

Non-bilingual GCs can find themselves having to rely heavily on demonstration, extended explanations and closer supervision, all of which eats into their time. Workers can find themselves making huge mental efforts to understand and being in a constant state of ‘catching up’ with others. Because of this constant stress, they are also more likely to make mistakes.

Both parties involved have to realize that status quo won’t cut it and that they need to make an effort to understand each other. There are rewards for both:

For Spanish workers learning English

  • It helps them integrate into American culture. This will help them both professionally and personally, as they will be in a better position to take advantage of what their new life has to offer them.
  • It makes them more likely to obtain leadership positions or management jobs. They can also be seen as mentors to other Spanish workers.

For English GCs or supervisors learning Spanish

  • As many Spanish workers come from uneducated backgrounds and their ability to learn can be limited, you learning Spanish is the fastest way you have resolve the issue.
  • You get to resolve the problem yourself, without waiting on others
  • You are setting an example for your employees, which can in turn motivate them.

Many ways to learn

For both Spanish workers and unilingual GCs or supervisors there are many ways to learn a new language.

  • Check with unions or workers associations for leaning kits. For example, the Hispanic Contractors Association of Minnesota gives its members an excellent leaning kit (Sed de Saber construction edition) for free! Check in with your local associations.
  • Check with community associations for free classes, or with members of extended family who are bilingual and with whom you can converse
  • Find bilingual co-workers you can converse with. Try out your new words, phrases and expressions with them
  • There are many free online learning resources and you can even learn from google translate if you use it.
  • For those who have smart phones some live speech translation apps have appeared on the app store and on google play. You speak into them and they will repeat what you said in another language. The comments on these apps appear to be good.
  • Depending on your availability you can of course also enroll in high school or college classes.

Finally a few extra tips: set up clearly visible safety instructions in Spanish on your site. Make sure they have simple phrases accompanied with illustrations. When conversing in Spanish or English, make sure your phrases are short and simple.

As always, genuine efforts will always be appreciated and will help motivate everyone to make himself or herself better understood.

Triforce Education

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