Home Ergonomics Training Through Language Barriers Ergonomics Done Right®

Written by: Daniel Munoz on December 12th, 2017

Training a group that does not understand your native language can be very difficult, but it can also be rewarding.  Aside from the obvious language differences, there are often cultural dynamics, including body postures, hand gestures, and mannerisms to consider.  Here are some tips and examples to help you connect with your audience and overcome language barriers:

  • Know the cultural background of your audience. For example, in most Asian cultures a business card is an extension of what the employee represents. Folding it, writing on it, or just shoving it into your pocket without looking at it is considered disrespectful.
  • Understand common practices when meeting/greeting people. Kissing on the cheek as a way of greeting or saying goodbye is a common practice in a lot of countries, although it may catch North Americans off guard. For example, in Brazil women will kiss twice (once on each cheek) if they are married, whereas single women add a third kiss to greet you.
  • Ensure postures are not offensive. For example, pointing with your feet is considered and insult in the Middle and Far East, especially when pointing to a person.  In addition, your seated posture will affect the conversation with a Venezuelan; slouching and placing the feet on furniture is considered rude.
  • Understand the meaning of hand gestures. The “okay” sign used in North America has different meanings than some other parts of the world. For example, in Germany and most of South America it is the equivalent to “giving someone the finger”. (We figured this tip out the hard way!)
  • Engage the audience as often as possible. Prompt the audience for more feedback than usual given that a “head nod” is considered being polite in some cultures; ask questions that require verbal feedback to understand the learning progression of your audience.
  • Take plenty of breaks. This will allow participants the opportunity to ask you questions one-on-one, as they may feel uncomfortable speaking English in front of the class.  It seems that no matter how clearly people speak English, they tend to be quite sensitive about it.
  • Get hands-on. Use a lot of case studies/floor activities to break up the class and give participants an opportunity to try using the tools and equipment. No matter what the language, practice makes perfect.
  • Extend the class. Anticipate the added class time due to breaks, speaking slowly, hands-on activities and questions. Prepare by extending typical training classes by 0.5 to 1 day.

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