Language Barriers in the Workplace
If it was possible for human beings to live without communication, there would be no need for creating languages, but as it seems, people couldn’t live in any kind of community without communicating, especially when they are targeted to achieve a common goal; like in business contexts.
So communication is a must in the workplace, and language is its first and most basic way, with all language’s potentials, capabilities and barriers, employees are expected to use all the opportunities and overcome all the obstacles in order to communicate effectively for their business and personal benefits.
If language is transmitted as part of culture, it is no less true that culture as a whole is transmitted very largely through language, insofar as it is explicitly taught.1
A language barrier is a significant setback in a business firm. It makes them use massive resources to ensure that there is proper communication in the workplaces. To better understand how to overcome language barrier in communication, let’s first discuss the most common causes of language barriers in communication:2
1. No Clear Speech
Though speaking common language, people might have difficulty understanding the meaning of the message and the feedback because of people who speak in soft or small voice that cannot be understood (heard). This might also be a cause of obstacle in communication.
2. Use of Jargons and Slang
Jargons are the technical words used in communication. It might be different according to different professions, specialty and technical field of a person.
3. Word Choice
The choice of word used in describing anything must be considered before communicating. The words used by a particular person to show their agreement on something can be taken as sarcasm which is negative in nature.
Words with two meanings, homonyms, homographs, homophones should be used carefully as it doesn’t send the proper meaning and can be interpreted in any way. So, the message might not be sent as intended which acts as a type of language barrier in communication.
4. Literacy and Linguistic Ability
Some people have low vocabulary in a particular language whereas some very high. Though literacy and education increase the need to learn new words, it might not be the only reason. People can increase their vocabulary by reading and with their own interest too. Vocabulary is also less if a person uses the language as their unofficial language.
Likewise, linguistic ability is the capability of a person in a particular language. If a person with high vocabulary and linguistic ability talks with another with low ability, the second person will not understand the words used, and that leads to miscommunication or misunderstanding of the whole message.
5. Grammar and Spelling
Grammar and spelling become a barrier in communication as people from different parts of the world can be using it differently even in a particular word. Similarly, grammar and spelling mistakes create a huge communication barrier in written communication. For example, a person makes a mistake of typing done as don. The spelling and grammar checker of the computer does not label it as wrong as don is also a correct word. However, the word can change the whole meaning of the sentence or make the sentence not understandable.
There are many other causes like language disabilities, noise, distance or use of metaphors or similes which can add more difficulty to the communication among coworkers.
Some language barriers can be overcome with practice or other ways like translation, interpreter, language classes, visual methods, etc. whereas some barriers act as problems in a the teams’ cohesiveness and effectiveness, and organizations should exsert planned efforts to overcome these barriers and enhance communication.
1Robert Henry Robinss 2020, Britanica, accessed 15th of January 2021,
2Businesstopia 2018,accessed 15th of January 2021,
For more about this topic, download our latest book "Cultural and Language Barriers of Communication in the Workplace" for FREE: