Ten top tips for working with multi-language groups

Image by  LoggaWiggler  from  Pixabay

Image by LoggaWiggler from Pixabay

Sometimes the groups we facilitate include people who speak the majority language or dialect well enough to not need an interpreter, but not as fast, fluently or idiomatically as the rest of the group. Here are some practical tips to make sure they are included.

  1. Before the event, try to find a way of checking in with second-language speakers about their confidence and the help they need, in a private conversation so they feel able to be honest. Not with their manager listening in!

  2. Working in a second language is tiring. Keep the days shorter and the breaks longer. Allow more time for thinking, as well as for activities and break-outs.

  3. Organise some of the conversation in pairs or small groups, allowing second-language speakers to buddy up with someone who can repeat or paraphrase what others have said. Pairs conversation also helps the bilingual person practise what they plan to say to the whole group.

  4. Design staged processes within discussions, which include a sequence of ‘think – write or draw – share’ to give people more time to prepare and find the way to express what they mean.

  5. Use a talking stick or other talking object to slow down the conversation and give people enough time to finish what they want to say without being interrupted or corrected!

  6. Keep checking in on the language – too idiomatic? Too fast?

  7. Repeat things using different vocabulary or constructions, so people working in their second-language can check their understanding.

  8. For key instructions, questions or tasks, ensure they are written up clearly and in plain language, for people to refer back to.

  9. When ‘ground rules’ or the equivalent are negotiated, ensure the group takes account of those who may find the majority language harder work.

  10. If in doubt, ask: what would make it easier for you to fully take part in this conversation?

Thank you to the IAF London and South East meet-up group, which included two people who spoke (brilliant) English as a second language, and who helped me put this list of tips together.

Some groups need professional interpretation. There’s more on working with interpreters here and here.

Making the Path by Walking

This post was first published in my Making the Path by Walking newsletter, July 2019. For practical tips on facilitation, organisational change and sustainability to your inbox each month, scroll down to the footer to subscribe.