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What are language barriers?

Updated July 20, 2017

"It's Greek to me" is a well-known phrase. For communication to work, a message must be understood by the receiver. When two people cannot understand one another, they experience a language barrier. Language barriers occur when a breakdown in language and communication happens at either the sender side or the receiver side of a message. A language barrier can occur within a language or between speakers of different languages.

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Language Learners

Language barriers always exist between speakers of different languages. So language learners experience language barriers often as they acquire a new language. The language barrier occurs at both the sender and receiver levels. The unfamiliar vocabulary as well as idioms used in a language present language difficulties for new speakers of all languages.


While two people may technically speak the same language, dialectal differences can make communication between them difficult. Examples of dialectical language barriers exist worldwide. Chinese, for example, has a variety of dialects that are commonly spoken, including Cantonese and Mandarin. Speakers of Cantonese and speakers of Mandarin may find communication between each other difficult and often impossible. English also has a variety of dialects that create language barriers. Speakers of non-standard dialects of English face breakdowns in communication with speakers of other English dialects. For example, speakers of Ebonics often find their messages lost on speakers of Standard American English. The barrier often occurs at the sender level, however, dialect speakers may understand the other person.


Dyslexia is a learning disability that creates a language barrier at the receiver level. Dyslexia affects activity in the left hemisphere of the brain, which translates print to sound. People with dyslexia find reading difficult, and often the message of the printed message is lost on the receiver. Dyslexic people must be taught coping mechanisms to overcome this language barrier.

Language Disabilities

Language disabilities are physical impediments to language. Physical language disabilities that cause language barriers include stuttering, dysphonia or an articulation disorder and hearing loss. All of these disabilities cause the person with the disability to be difficult to understand or entirely unintelligible. Stuttering and dysphonia create barriers at the sender level of a message. People with hearing loss often experience a language barrier at both the receiver and the sender level of a message.

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About the Author

Britni Dial began freelance writing in 2010. Her articles appear on various websites, where she specializes in education, grants and literacy. She also wrote for the "Aggie Conservative Journal" at her alma mater. Dial earned a Master of Arts in rhetoric at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi.

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