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Translation Best Practices for a Healthy Multilingual Workplace

Written by Traduality

Traduality helps organizations protect and get closer to its customers, employees, and partners in their native language.

March 12, 2023

Translation Best Practices for a Healthy Multicultural Workplace


When onboarding new employees, every business aims to create a training program that quickly and effectively teaches new hires the ins and outs of your workplace while outlining the goals you wish to achieve. Employee handbooks, instruction manuals, and training videos are vital to achieving this end, as are resources for answering employee questions. New hires that don’t primarily speak your language are just as important as any other employee, yet they receive fewer training resources than native speakers. 

To circumvent this major problem, using professional document translation services to localize employee training materials is vital– here are the best ways to do so:


What Should I Translate?

Before you start translating onboarding materials, it’s important to ask yourself: what do I need to translate, and what is an extra expense? Ideally, you’d want to translate everything your company has available for employees, but professional translation services take time, and you’re not going to receive a project the day after you send it out. Start by prioritizing what needs to be translated the most, and work from there.

Employee Handbooks and Instruction Manuals

Instruction manuals for operating equipment and employee handbooks regarding codes of conduct, work hours, break regulations, and other information that isn’t legally binding but necessary to know. Your employee handbook contains everything a new employee needs to adjust to the workplace and stay aware of their rights and responsibilities within the job. If this isn’t translated correctly, your employees that aren’t native English speakers might encounter problems down the line because the information you’ve presented to them isn’t accessible.

Onboarding Documents

Whether it’s with digital onboarding documents or plain old paper, you’ll still need to translate your other onboarding resources. New hires in different departments of your business require different onboarding documents for their specific roles: a bakery clerk wouldn’t need information on running the deli at a supermarket! 

Legal Documents

Documents like work contracts, will-to-work forms, harassment or discrimination policy sheets and reasonable accommodations forms should all be provided in multiple languages so that employees who speak languages other than your own understand what they are signing. Other “must-translate” legal documents include medical leave, pregnancy, and disability leave documents. When you translate legal documents, you’ll need the services of a notarized translator.

Instructional Videos

Some training materials may need translation immediately but cannot be refined right away. Employee training videos are a major example of this since it can be difficult and costly to dub over training audio in a believable manner. For smaller businesses, ensuring your videos have correct, understandable subtitles is a vital first step.


Why Should I Use Professional Translation Services?

Even if your company is stationed in the middle of nowhere and you doubt your workplace will ever become multilingual, it’s still important to consider professional translation services for your onboarding materials. After all, even fluent non-native English speakers deserve to have a guaranteed complete understanding of your company’s policies, legal documents, and technical materials.

There are four main reasons why using a professional translation service to translate employee onboarding materials is necessary:

Improve Worker Safety

Workplace safety is vital. The best way to prevent accidents on-site is through education and training. If your company utilizes heavy machinery or specialized equipment, your employees will need specific training for that equipment. If one of your employees can’t understand operation instructions or safety protocol outlined in their safety manuals, accidents are bound to happen– ensure all of your workers receive the same level of training to ensure they stay safe with technical translations on your equipment.

Set Employees up for Success:

An employee with no idea what they’re doing is bound to fail. That’s why providing onboarding and training materials in a language they understand is so important! When your employees clearly understand your company’s policies, benefits, and expectations, they can better meet them.

On a similar note, translating employee benefits and workers’ rights documents gives employees clear knowledge of what they deserve as workers. It can prevent legal action and abuse down the line.

Make Employees Feel Welcome

Companies nowadays look for diverse employees, and language is part of diversity! Creating a welcoming workplace for people of all backgrounds requires a bit of effort on the employer’s end but pays off with increased employee engagement and a healthier workplace overall. Plus, your employees will feel connected with you as an employer and know that you care about their needs, despite potential language barriers.

Decrease Workplace Disputes and Misunderstandings

Language barriers are a significant cause of misunderstandings– a compliment in one language may mean something completely different in another! To keep your employees feeling welcome, safe, and confident in the workplace. Translating employee handbooks and legal documents is the best way to avoid legal disputes and workplace arguments based on scheduling and overtime.

In addition, employees who understand their rights as individuals and how their workplace handles harassment (and discrimination) from other employees are more likely to stand up for themselves. If all parties understand the rights and ramifications of breaking the employee code of conduct, Human Resources can better protect targeted employees and punish harassers. 


Language and Discrimination

Some employers may ask: do I have to translate employee handbooks and legal documents for my non-native-speaking employees?

This is where we get into language discrimination.

What is Language Discrimination?

Language discrimination is best defined as discrimination based on the language someone speaks. Similar to other forms of discrimination, someone facing language discrimination may feel that they are not welcome in their workplace because they aren’t as fluent in a native language as their coworkers.

Some common types of language discrimination in the workplace include companies with an “English-only” policy for hiring, which forces employees to speak English while at work and penalizes employees for speaking in their native language. Harassment by coworkers or employers for having an accent is another form of language discrimination, as is the denial of access to business or government resources based on accent or language fluency.

Is Language Discrimination Legal?

Language discrimination doesn’t just occur in the United States; it can happen anywhere, with any language. In many European countries, language discrimination is completely illegal, but in the United States, it is a form of National Origin Discrimination. National Origin Discrimination is illegal.

The EEOC’s Stance

National Origin Discrimination, as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, is the unfair treatment of employees “because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not).” This is a direct violation of Title VII in the 1974 Civil Rights Act and is thus punishable by law.

In the case of “English-only” rules, a business can become exempt if and only if it can prove that fluency with the English language is required for the business’ safe and efficient operation and that employers can prove their policy isn’t included for discriminatory purposes. This policy does not include the refusal to hire individuals based on their accent or dialect. 


Translation for Global Companies

For a global company, professional document translation services are even more important. After all, the world is filled with billions of people who speak different languages and hold different beliefs. In addition to the four reasons why national companies should include professional translation services, international companies should also consider:

Keeping Everyone on Board

When working with a major company, it’s vital for everyone at every location to be on the same page regarding company policies and safety procedures. Corporate updates will need clear, professional translation into various languages for each branch location in a different country so that branch leaders can relegate necessary changes to employees.

For example, if an international company updates its backend software, the IT team will have to relay this information along with a new user guide to other branches worldwide.

Avoid Legal Action

Another primary reason document translation services are vital to international businesses is legal reasons. While notarized translation services can prevent legal disputes on a local or national level, this goes tenfold for international companies. Some legal policies in one country may be illegal in others, and discrepancies in international labor laws create room for workplace violations. 

Recently, Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter resulted in the termination of roughly 50% of its employees worldwide. However, other countries like Ireland, Spain, and Germany have labor laws that require employers to provide employees with a notice of termination several weeks before their last day at a company. Since Musk didn’t read through these labor laws or issue localized, legally compliant versions of termination for international employees, he’s now met with lawsuits from several countries for violating their labor regulations. 


Tips for Translating Employee Resources

So, it’s time to translate your onboarding materials. When working with a professional translation service, you’ll have a team of translators who will translate and edit your content to fit the target language best and convey your message effectively.

When translating, things won’t always be a 1:1 translation. Here are some key details to remember when translating your employee materials:

Remember to Localize

Localizing resources to fit a language’s conventions is necessary to provide native speakers with the same level of context that your original document presents. As language experts, a translator will assist with localization to ensure that no information is lost or without context. Idioms, common phrases, and specific pronouns or suffixes are easily lost in translation and can change the meaning of a sentence if translated literally. 

A simple example of mistranslating would be with the French phrase, “c’est simple comme bonjour.” A literal translation to English would say, “it’s as simple as hello,” which is neither grammatically correct nor understandable to the average English speaker. A better translation would be, “it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3.”

Another example is the use of the word “eonni” in the Korean language. The honorific directly translates to “older sister” in English but is often used in casual conversation when speaking to a slightly older woman the speaker is close to– the term isn’t just for siblings!

Avoid Machine Translation

If you’ve ever run something through Google translate, then you’ve seen how 1:1 translation doesn’t quite cut it. To ensure sufficient translation quality in all of your materials, use a professional translation service to localize projects instead. Grammar conventions are essential to any language, and many languages use different word orders as a key convention. Some languages even use prefixes and suffixes to modify nouns and verbs in a sentence! You wouldn’t call it “rice white” in English, so don’t call it “blanco arroz” in Spanish!

Include Subject Matter Experts

A subject matter expert isn’t just for localization. A subject matter expert in your translation team  also provides you with technical phrases and terms relevant to your industry. Knowledge of your target language’s relevant jargon is essential to keeping employees on the same page with instruction manuals. 

For example, in American English, “attorney” is a commonly used term, but in the United Kingdom, they use “solicitor.”


Tips for Onboarding Non-English-Native Employees

When onboarding non-English-native employees, it’s also important to provide them with the same social resources you provide native-speaking employees. 

Provide a Way to Ask Questions

To start, everyone’s bound to have a question or need clarification for some aspect of their job training. Having an employee ready to answer new hires’ questions in their most proficient language can help clear any confusion during the training and onboarding process. Plus, it lets your employees know that you care about their concerns. 

If you can’t find a bilingual employee who can effectively translate questions and answers between you and an employee, consider using a language service that provides real-time translations as needed. 

Check-in With Employees Frequently

Another way to ensure your new hires are meshing well with your company is to check on them frequently and ask if they have any questions or concerns. Some employees may not feel comfortable asking questions in front of a crowd, and personally answering questions or simply making sure they’re doing okay is a great way to show you care. For multilingual employees, especially those who do not speak your language, make sure you have a team member who can check in on them and report to you.


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If you’re interested in diversifying your workforce and overcoming language barriers, give us a call today!

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