Among the distinctive features of Canadian work culture, one of the most highly valued is cultural diversity in Canadian offices. The country thrives on the richness of its ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity, and benefits from the influx of talent from around the world.
However, it can be difficult for newcomers in the Canadian workplace to navigate professional challenges in their second (and sometimes even third or fourth) language.
This post aims to identify effective and practical strategies for overcoming language barriers in the workplace.
1. Immerse Yourself at Work
Any art requires practice to perfect, and language is no different. Workplace language immersion — participating in workplace conversations, professional or casual — is key to fluency. Engage with your colleagues, join team meetings, and contribute your ideas. Familiarize yourself with common phrases and expressions used around the workplace.
It is also important to acknowledge how difficult this can be – it’s normal to feel shy when trying to speak a new language. Start by having conversations with just a small group of people you trust. Ask them for feedback, ask questions, and take note of new words and/or phrases. Once you are comfortable, you can branch into using English and/or French with a larger group of people.
2. Listen to Professional Podcasts
Professional podcasts offer a low-stress way to expose yourself to natural, conversational speech. Begin with what language teachers call “listening for gist,” only focusing on understanding the general idea of the episode (and enjoying it!). Later, revisit parts that intrigued you to note new sentence structures or vocabulary. Bonus tip! Try a language learning technique called shadowing – when you try to imitate someone’s exact pronunciation and intonation. This is a great way to improve your fluency!
Check out My Great Canada – a podcast hosted by industry-renowned immigration lawyer Colin Singer — that explores all things immigration and how newcomers navigate the challenges of migrating to and settling in Canada.
3. Work with a Language Tutor
Consider enrolling in language courses, either online or in-person, to strengthen your vocabulary, grammar, and overall communication abilities. One of the benefits of working with a tutor is that they can target your specific needs, teach grammatical terms, and give pronunciation tips — which can better equip you to absorb language in your day-to-day interactions and improve your self-study.
4. Keep a Language Journal
A language journal serves various valuable purposes. Firstly, it provides an effective means to monitor and document your language-learning progress. Secondly, it serves as a handy tool for quickly jotting down new words and sentence structures as you encounter them.
However, one of the most potent yet often underutilized methods of leveraging a language journal is stream-of-consciousness language writing (in your target language, be it English or French) ideally lasting around 10 minutes. Strive to fill at least a page during this exercise. This approach is particularly beneficial as it enables you to identify gaps in your vocabulary. Moreover, it helps you formulate specific questions to discuss with your language tutor, fostering a more targeted and efficient learning experience.
Effectively overcoming language barriers in the Canadian workplace demands dedication and strategic efforts. Improving proficiency in both English and French is crucial for positioning yourself successfully in your professional endeavors.