Breaking Down Language Barriers


For many people, when they think about language barriers, they typically think about differences in spoken language based on cultural heritage and geographical location. Around the world, there are hundreds of different languages used on a daily basis.

However, there are many more situations and circumstances where there could be barriers to understanding other people. People living with a disability and ageing individuals can also experience difficulties communicating. This may be due to intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, issues with hearing loss, vision impairment, differences in socio economic environments or cultural backgrounds.

1. Take your time

Differences in language and styles of communicating can mean that conversations take a longer time. As a society, it is essential that we are capable of investing time when communicating with elderly people, people living with disabilities, people from a different cultural background, and other vulnerable persons.

By demonstrating a willingness to take the time to engage in conversation, one shows that they care and that they consider all people within the conversation to be equal.

2. Be flexible

Some people may prefer communicating verbally, whereas others might find that written communications are easier. Identifying the best method of communication may take time, but can help to make everyone feel more comfortable and capable of communicating.

3. Take notice of non-verbal communication

Remember that not all conversation occurs verbally. If you are communicating with someone who may have an intellectual disability or speech impediments, it’s likely that a degree of communication will occur in other ways, such as body language. Reading body language is common sense for most of us – but you do have to pay attention.

When looking for body language, you should pay attention to facial expressions, body movement and posture, gestures, eye contact, touch and space. Also consider how your own body language may be being interpreted by the other person.

4. Accept that things might not run smoothly

Conversations don’t always run smooth, and when people have different styles of communication, there are bound to be some ‘awkward’ moments. Don’t let this deter you from conversing at all, and don’t be afraid to politely ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. Communicating and adapting your language to suit others is a way to show their voice is important.

5. Be respectful

Always be respectful and show interest in what the other person is communicating. Encourage shared cultural understanding and open questions. Listen and respond. Most importantly, be open to learning something new and place value in what the other person is saying.

6. Keep your language simple

Some people who find communication difficult may prefer if you keep your own language simple. Use short and simple phrases, and try to avoid overly long sentences. Colloquial sayings may be interpreted incorrectly, so it could be best to avoid them too. Talking slowly and clearly (without being patronising or shouting) might also assist with understanding.

Once you’ve been communicating with the person for a while, you’ll start to understand how the both of you can most effectively communicate.

You may also wish to seek support through the community care services of St John’s Community Care. Our activity groups, supported accommodation and multicultural social support groups can facilitate connection and communication.

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