Three Tips to Help Global Associations Overcome Language Barriers


As associations grow globally, one of the big challenges they face are language barriers. Fortunately, with a little preparation this is a challenge that can be overcome even for the most diverse associations.

We put together three tips to help volunteer committees, boards and association management professionals who work with non-English speaking members or members who speak English as a second language.

1. Be patient

We all want to be prepared for a big discussion but sometimes it takes a face-to-face meeting or call for everyone to understand the materials. Try not to rush the conversation, even if it seems like everyone is on the same page. Some may need more time to process what they are hearing and articulate their thoughts. Take extra care to ensure everyone understands the information before making decisions based on that information.

2. Be thorough

Some may have a better understanding of English when it is in writing, while others may not read English well but understand when it is verbalized. Provide as much written information as you can in advance, review the information verbally and allow those in the group to ask questions. Try not to introduce unanticipated information during a meeting.

3. Be kind

Imagine if you were the only person in a group who isn’t proficient in a common language. You may not feel comfortable admitting you don’t understand everything that is being discussed. Help your volunteers be sensitive to this. Consider how to help those who are not fluent in the language by using audio/visual materials like video or speaking more slowly and clearly.

The rewards of a diverse, global perspective far outweigh the challenges of language barriers and using these tips will help you get the most out of your international members.