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Tips for Interacting with Non-English Speakers

Aug 30, 2013

Currently, one out of every eight Americans is foreign-born and 9% of the population is Limited English Proficient (LEP). Inevitably, you and your staff members will interact with Limited English speakers.

What kind of LEP training should your staff receive? The Diversity Council suggests the following for communicating effectively with LEP individuals, with or without a Phone Interpreter:

When speaking to an LEP person:

  • Slow down a little, but not too much. Your natural inflection and intonation helps the listener understand your meaning.
  • Do not raise your voice.
  • Enunciate.

Chose your words carefully with LEP individuals:

  • Use small, ordinary words. Avoid business jargon, cultural references (I need your John Hancock), slang, and idioms (We need to wrap this up).
  • Omit extra words (Why don’t you try putting this there? Vs. Put this there.)
  • Repeat what you are trying to say in different words.
  • Avoid sarcasm or irony.

Avoid negative questions:

When you ask someone, “You don’t mind if I sit here, do you?” you expect the answer to be “No.” However, an LEP person will frequently answer “Yes,” meaning, “I agree with you; I don’t mind if you sit here.

When LEP people respond:

  • Wait for an answer when you ask a question. It may take some time for an LEP individual to mentally compose a response.
  • To check comprehension, ask the LEP person to repeat back to you or demonstrate what you have explained.

Act sensitively and respectfully to LEP individuals. The Golden Rule – treat others as you would like to be treated – remains the best tip for human interaction, regardless of native language or culture.



Voiance Language Services provides multilingual support in over 200 languages to business and government. Our employee interpreters receive 120 hours of training, including language testing and instruction in listening and recall. Organizations use Voiance’s telephone interpretation to facilitate communication with customers. Voiance is a subsidiary of CyraCom International, Inc., the largest provider of Phone Interpretation that operates solely in the United States.