Reducing Language and Cultural Barriers

Before You Go

For companies to effectively operate in today’s highly globalized environment, it is vital that language and culture barriers be minimized to help improve the workplace, according to Sharlene Vichness, president and founder of Language Directions, a full-service language training company that focuses on language and cultural education throughout various businesses and industries. 

Vichness, who in the past, was a French and Spanish teacher and worked in the professional sales industry for many years, saw a need for the type of services her company supplies.

“I decided I wanted to fill in the gap between language and culture in order to break down those walls,” Vichness says. “For instance, I saw many companies that had huge communication issues between their workers and management. The management could not communicate with their workers and it would cause problems. I said, ‘I want to help management and employees effectively communicate,’ and therefore, make a company more efficient while improving the moral of the employees.”

Language Directions uses qualified instructors whose native speaking languages range from Spanish, and Chinese, to Korean and Mandarin, in industries such as healthcare, food and hospitality, and government. The company not only teaches individuals to better understand a language, but focuses on cultural awareness training, which includes proper body language, language issues, tonality and voice projection, eye contact, and educational or religious factors affecting employee behavior and productivity, as well as classes in accent reduction, among others.

Providing an example, Vichness says, “In working in a hospital setting, we can have instructors teaching Spanish, for instance. One instructor may teach people who do not speak Spanish how to communicate directly with Spanish speaking patients and their families. And, in the same hospital, we may also have another instructor teaching basic English as a second language. We may have a third instructor teaching what we call More Americanized Pronunciation and Speaking. It could be for foreign doctors and nurses who speak English, but they are just so heavily accented that coworkers and patients may not be able to understand them. We can also have a fourth instructor teaching a course called Intercultural Communication, which is about how everyone can play in that ‘sand box’ together. We have cultures from all over the world and we all have to understand a little bit about each other and respect each other.”

Vichness stresses the importance of understanding each other in the workplace not only as a tool for business vitality, but as a tool for safety.

“It is important for workers to properly understand how to use machinery in a factory setting, for instance, or how to properly handle food in the food and service industry. It is all part of what we are trying to do here at Language Directions.”

Vichness concludes, “There are little cultural differences that we, being in a diverse workplace, need to understand and learn from. Diversity is here to stay and it is up to us – as a society, as a state, as a country, as a business owner, etc. – to not only to teach the people we work with, but to also learn from it ourselves.”