4 Ways to Tackle Multilingual Learning

portrait gemma collins doyle


EHS Consultant


2021 Note from the Editor:

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a huge increase in the demand for multilingual training, particularly for sites that are now working remotely or with limited staff onsite. The below is a blog post written prior to the pandemic, but the message remains true today – ensuring your safety message is understood by your workers is crucial. Online learning enables our clients to translate online courses for onboarding new hires remotely, with the added benefit of making the course engaging and auditable. For advice on multilingual training for your site, please get in touch.

As we know, education and training are important tools for informing employees about workplace hazards and procedures, so they can work as safely as possible. Another role of education and training, however, is to provide employees with a greater understanding of the safety and health system itself, so that they can contribute to its implantation and success. All this important information, however, can be become diluted down, if the training is not given in an employee’s native language.

Employees learn, understand and remember information better if it is taught to them in their native language. We all know what it’s like to be abroad, where you don’t speak or speak very little of their language, it can be so confusing!

As our workplaces become more diverse, language can become more of an obstacle for many companies. Employees who do not speak English as their first language may find it difficult to understand workplace procedures and safety guidance.

Seeing as health and safety training could save your life, I am sure you would agree that it would be best carried out in an employee’s native language.


The importance of full comprehension

When it comes to safety training, understanding increases when students can give their complete attention to the subject without first having to mentally convert the information into their first language. From the start, the student will be fully focussed on the main content and not fixated on trying to translate and interpret the information.

When training is given in an employee’s native language, it will allow the employee to get to grips with the terminology and other jargon in their own language first, making they feel more confident and comfortable to complete their training. This will result in quicker and more reliable reports for administrators and employers.

The misinterpretation of this vital information can lead to lower productivity, lost revenue and worse still injury and fatal accidents. This is even more relevant to employees working in high risk jobs.


Translating the meaning, not just the words!

Having a translator on hand to help with health and safety training would be wonderful, but not realistic for most companies. A way around this could be online training courses that are already translated into the employee’s native language and translating important documents like work procedures and risk assessments. It is important to note, that many learners can comprehend spoken English better than they can understand written English, so having written documents in their own language will make a difference in their full comprehension of your important safety rules and standards.

Obviously, it is important that the message and content that you are trying to get across is fully accurate in English first and then translate to the desired language, unclear messaging in the original language will only get more unclear after it is translated. It is important to test out this material fist with a native speaker before releasing them into the workplace. Inaccurate translations or variations in dialect can lead to confusion.

Training needs to be more than just a simple translation. It is not enough to simply translate from English into another language, this is a bare minimum approach and will reduce training efficacy and does not go far enough to enhance employee understanding. The format, content and messages should be customised for the target audience. Consider including multi-media content, such as sound, imagery, video and interactive sections. These are all proven to improve the overall learning experience and retention of information. Hands on exercises, interactive training scenarios and reference documents, all provided in the employee’s native language and in terminology that can be easily understood.


Language Learning

Of course, a company cannot insist that an employee learn English outside of the workplace, they can, however, encourage employees to learn words/phrases that are relevant to the work at hand. Learning job-related vocabulary will help employees with limited English to feel more confident at work. It is important to stick to the most relevant terminology though, so as not to overwhelm employees.

Teaching employees to understand basic English concepts, such as the meaning of warning signs and common safety phrases is also incredibly important. Also, it can be hugely beneficial to teach supervisors some basic occupational related phrases in the employee’s native language, so they can better communicate with them.


Mobile Learning 

Courses carried out online, have been shown to have significant advantages in many areas, especially when it comes to health and safety training in the native language of the employee. As long as the training provider understands the needs of the employees and is equipped to rise to the challenge.

Elearning make it easy (eazy!) to have the same training available in multiple languages. When done the right way, online multilingual training can provide the employee with access to experts who can answer their questions and can be more easily kept up to date as legislation changes.


For EHS Support, please get in touch.

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