Language Differences

by Anonymous

Language Barrier

Language Barrier

What to do when there is a communication gap with boss because of language differences?

I have a Chinese boss who understands English but misunderstands many words. He often misinterprets my e-mails and we land into trouble unnecessarily. I end up having to give explanations so he can understand what I'm saying.

This also leaves me in a situation where either I quit my job or else he improves his English drastically. Is there any other way by which we can remove our communication gaps and work better toward organization goals? Is it worth to continue in my current job in such situation? Do we need a translator to helps us better understand things?


Your email didn't say what main language is spoken in your company, so I assume is English. Therefore, the fact that your boss has been promoted (or hired) into his position means he's competent despite his poor command of English. So give him that much.

You sound frustrated and ready to take matters in your own hands. However, you're not in a position to send (or even ask) your boss to improve his English drastically. He's likely to take offense to that, mainly because the request is coming from a subordinate (Upward Communication). It'd be different coming from his boss or a peer.

Don't lose hope, you can still discuss the matter with him. One way he may open up to listen to your request is if you first tell him how is affecting your work.

You can start the discussion about language differences by asking him for ideas on how you could work more effectively together. He may open up to discuss with you his own communication issues. Ask him what he thinks are possible solutions for the misunderstandings that you're having due to language differences.

He may tell you that he'd like you to learn Chinese, or that perhaps a translator would be of help. Or he may share with you that he's working on improving his English skills and that he needs your help. He may ask you to write really basic and clear emails (no jargon, no idioms, no fancy words) to help him understand you better.

Don't quit your job over this. Instead take it as an opportunity to learn how to overcome language differences in communication. I realize this is slowing you down, but if you quit and search for a job where everyone speaks English fluently, you may not find it that easily. So stay put and figure out how to work with your boss despite a language barrier.

Look at the bright side of taking on this challenge. Once you figure how to communicate with a non native English speaking professional at work, you can include it in your resume, it's a skill worth highlighting in our global workplace.

I hope this helps,


P.S. Don't hire a translator for everyday communication. It would slow you both down even more.

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Sep 22, 2015
by: Donna

We are all different in your own way. Thanks for the answer.
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