Skip to main content

Julia Bronson

SFU Co-op Student
Communication, Art + Technology › Communication

empty
Julia smiling
Sometimes the language obstacles can be fairly comical and lighten up my work environment... I can appreciate the language difference as a fun and quirky aspect to my job that I wouldn’t otherwise get to experience.

Great WallLearning how to effectively communicate in a new work environment can be difficult enough, but add a language barrier and things get even more complicated.  After working 9 months as an ESL co-op teacher in China, I feel I have a good handle on the skills required to teach, and I continue to develop in this environment. In many of my classes I’m able to instruct the students and connect with them, only knowing very basic Mandarin Chinese. Due to this lack of Chinese speaking-skills, I often run into miscommunications and confusing scenarios in the office.

Sometimes the language obstacles can be fairly comical and lighten up my work environment. The other week I asked my supervisor if I could bring Joe, a fellow English teacher, to our company dinner. Puzzled, she looked at me and asked, “You mean you want to bring your own wine to dinner?” I answered, rather puzzled as well, “No, I mean my friend Joe?” We both laughed because she had confused the Chinese word for wine, “jiu”, for my friend’s name, “Joe”.  In instances like this, I can appreciate the language difference as a fun and quirky aspect to my job that I wouldn’t otherwise get to experience. However, sometimes the arising complications are less amusing. Whether it’s a misunderstanding about words used in emails or confusion over work delegations, the resulting problems can be frustrating. But after nine months, I’ve learned a few methods to help with these issues.

Here are some techniques I’ve found helpful for communicating around a language barrier:

1. Face-to-Face Communication is Best

If further clarification is needed. Sometimes emails can be confusing or phone calls difficult to understand. Every time I needed to understand more I would approach my supervisor directly at a time convenient for him. Speaking in-person can make up for misunderstandings through silent forms of communication, such as body language, and can also help your employer to better understand your intentions.

2. Ask a Co-Worker for Help

Even if a work notice is written in your language, there may be expressions or words used that don’t seem to make sense in the context. In my experience, these are cultural uses of English or direct translations. Usually a person who speaks English and knows the local uses of the language can help explain.

3. Utilize Time

If you misunderstand a task asked of you, don’t wait for clarification. Act right away to seek understanding or it may be too late and will reflect poorly on your work.

4. Learn the Language

This seems like a no-brainer, and a lot of effort especially in a 4-month co-op. However, even the slightest bit of study can help bridge the gap when communicating with your employers. They’ll also find it impressive that you’re trying to learn their language!

Beyond the Blog

About the Author

Julia Bronson

SFU Co-op Student
Communication, Art + Technology › Communication
Jien Hilario photo
What’s in a Name? Coming to Terms With Labelling Myself as a Person With a Disability

If you were to see Jien on campus, you wouldn’t know that she had a disability. She does not use a wheelchair nor does she have a seeing eye dog. She has an invisible disability. In this article, Jien shares her journey on how she came to terms with labeling herself as a person with a disability. 

Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere
Why Doesn’t Canada Have a Disabilities Act?

It is 2018 and Canada has not yet implemented adequate protection and legislation for people with disabilities. When it comes to equality for all, Canada is falling far behind. In this article, Jien discusses the research and reality of why Canada needs a Disabilities Act.

We Can Do It!
How to Satisfy Your Inner Activist

When people think about social justice, they think of things like protests or hunger strikes, but the options don’t end there. These volunteer organizations can help you satisfy your inner activist.

You Might Like These... International, Life Experience, Co-operative Education

Korea
International Spotlight: Korea

Bordered by China, Russia, and separated from Japan by the Korea Strait, Korea makes for a strong international hub of Asia.

California
International Spotlight: California

Sunny California is not only one of the favorite tourist destinations but also a state with a variety of opportunities.

Kaleigh sitting on a cliff staring out to the wilderness
My Co-op Work Term in Gaborone | Part Two

In Part 2 of her series, Health Sciences Co-op student Kaleigh Banister gets into the local Gabarone culture and takes a bit of time to explore the natural wonders she’s surrounded by.

You Might Like These... Academic Success

Monica smiling on the sands of a beach
Studying Down Under

Monica Hartanto spent a semester studying at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.  Read about here experience here, and get tips on how you can study abroad too!

aerial view of Swakopmund, Namibia
Exploring Namibia

SFU Kinesiology student Kayla Donnawell is in Botswana, Africa volunteering with the Students Without Borders program (SWB).  In this article, the eighth in the series, Kayla explores Namibia and gets stuck several times in the sand dunes.

View of Hong Kong
Pursuing an International Co-op in Hong Kong: HSBC Global Banking and Markets

Mario Fong travelled to Hong Kong to join the HSBC trainee program through International Co-op. Dropping everything to live in a new country provided him with personal and professional experiences he won't soon forget.