How to overcome language barriers in manufacturing factories

Joe Miller, Pocketalk general manager of the Americas and Europe, explores how technology can help on the factory floor to support overseas workers

For an employee joining a new manufacturing team in a new country, it’s possible for them to feel daunted and disconnected - from the new technology, Health and Safety rules and language barriers. For many of us, being able to chat with a colleague about last night’s TV or the game or share stories about family and friends helps us bond and build relationships. 

Recent research by the UK health and safety executive shows that more overseas workers are being employed in Britain’s manufacturing sector. Often these international colleagues will have English as an additional language (EAL) which can cause issues with safety, bonding and workplace satisfaction. 

Joe Miller, Pocketalk general manager of the Americas and Europe

Language barriers in manufacturing can cause loneliness for employees

Overseas workers can be at risk due to their limited knowledge and experience of Health and Safety systems. Teamed with an inability to fluently communicate with colleagues and supervisors, limited Health and Safety training and sometimes a lack of skills and experience in the sector can create challenges.  

For workers with EAL, these interactions can be difficult and create feelings of isolation and loneliness. Facilitating better interpersonal communications will also aid higher levels of motivation, productivity and satisfaction. 

Traditionally we see organisations rely on expensive in person interpreters who are often not available 24/7, which limits their effectiveness within many sites. 

Alternatively, there are language lines where users can have translations performed over the phone. These can work well as they offer 24/7 services and are more affordable. However, they require a working telephone with signal and a quiet environment, which can be challenging.

Some companies will pay for their staff to take English learning courses too, which will benefit them in the long term, but doesn’t always address the immediate need.

Technology can help support overseas employees in the manufacturing industry

There are numerous technology-based translation solutions available, such as Google Translate. These work well as they’re instant, simply requiring an internet connection on a smart device to operate. However, they often have limited languages and often don’t cover the likes of slang and regional dialects. 

There are digital translation devices available like Pocketalk that can instantly translate many languages. Pocketalk just needs WiFi or mobile data. These devices have high accuracy rates and have a wider range of languages and dialects compared to online offerings. The standalone nature means that unlike a smart device, team members won’t be competing for its use for other purposes. 

Each company will have their own requirements based on their individual workforces and environments as well as budgets. Whatever you choose to use, assisting workers with EAL with translation services will aid better safety, productivity and happiness across the entire team. 


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