The Effects of Language Barriers

Updated April 17, 2017

When people speak different languages and are unable to understand each other, communication is understandably difficult. With such factors as rising globalisation and immigration to the United States, problematic effects due to language barriers are far-reaching, ranging from cultural to economic issues.

Language Barriers in the Classroom

A study undertaken by Hispanic U.S.A. Inc. reveals that the number of people for whom Spanish is the dominant language will continue to rise. By 2025, Spanish will be the primary language for more than 40 million Americans, which sets the stage for an increase in language barriers between teachers and students. A 2010 Associated Press-Univision poll found substantial evidence that language barriers are also being felt in students' homes, as non-English-speaking parents have significant difficulty helping their children with homework or communicating with teachers.

Language Barriers in the Workplace

As the American workplace becomes more multicultural, the potential for workers to encounter language barriers increases, Kelly Services says. Interaction between co-workers who speak different languages can result in fear, confusion and misinterpretation. Depending upon the particular nature of the industry, miscommunication can have dangerous or even deadly results, especially if heavy machinery is involved. In these case, the onus is on both parties to use simple, uncomplicated language to effectively communicate with one another on the job.

Language Barriers in Health Care

In a health care setting, language barriers adversely affect doctors and patients. According to an article in the "New England Journal of Medicine," many non-English-speaking patients who enter a hospital have no access to an interpreter. The article further points out that 46 per cent of emergency room patients with a limited proficiency in English were treated without the services of an interpreter, a situation that presents potential hazards ranging from misdiagnosis to mistreatment.

Language Barriers in Advertising

American companies venturing into foreign markets often have to overcome language barriers when advertising their products to a country's indigenous population. Often, the problem lies with simple translation. This was certainly the case, Huffington Post shares, when Pepsi introduced its "Come alive with the Pepsi generation" campaign in Taiwan, which was unfortunately translated into Taiwanese as "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead." A foreign company attempting to crack the American market can run into similar problems, which is what happened when Denmark-based Electrolux unleashed an ad campaign to sell its line of vacuum cleaners to Americans, who had a far different interpretation of the slogan, "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux."

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