Tips for Training Employees with a Language Barrier

Language barriers shouldn't affect quality employee training

Language barriers, like any other barrier to communication, can be challenging for employee training. Here are a few tips to help you break down language barriers with your cleaners and effectively train them.

Twenty-seven million immigrants.

That’s about 17 percent of the total U.S. workforce, according to a 2014 estimate by the Pew Research Center. Certain industries have a high concentration of immigrant workers, including the maid and house cleaning industry at about 50 percent, and these numbers are projected to only increase.

Many of these immigrants already speak English, but if you are a BSC in the U.S. or another English-speaking country, you will likely have to manage and train some immigrant employees who do not speak English well or even at all. Here are a few tips to help you breach the language barrier with non-English–speaking employees.

Make It Visual

Color coding can help with employee training

When training staff members who don’t speak English, try to communicate more visually than verbally. Use pictures, videos, and/or physical demonstrations to teach them about how to properly use equipment, software and cleaning techniques. This is really important as well when they are being trained on safety in the workplace.

One industry that communicates very well, for example, is the airlines, whose flight attendants give safety instructions to passengers before a plane takes off. If you’ve seen this, you probably remember their hand gestures.

A common method in our industry is color coding. You can use colors on equipment, signs, and bottles or containers of cleaning supplies or chemicals to show danger (red), a lesser degree of hazard (yellow), caution (orange), and safe/good to go (green).


You will need to provide your employees with training and safety information in a language they can understand, or you’ll run a greater chance of them not understanding and doing the job wrong — or worse, getting injured.

Translate your training information into multiple languages

You have a few options here, such as having a translator on-site to help communicate information and answer questions when you hold trainings. This person could be either someone from outside of your company, or a bilingual employee, if you’re fortunate enough to have one. Always give your translator extra training to make sure he or she communicates what you need to the others.

Another option, in addition to providing a translator, is to translate your training and safety materials (e.g., pamphlets, forms, signs, etc.) into the languages your employees speak.


Simplify the way you train. Instead of having your cleaners come in to read a bunch of papers with instructions, bring them out to have hands-on practice with equipment and cleaning techniques.

Show them what you want and need, and then have them do it themselves as you observe their performance. Demonstrate it again as often as needed until they can do it successfully. Repetition is key.

Language Learning

In addition to extra training, provide ESL classes for your employees who are learning English

If you have the means to do so, you could also provide your employees with opportunities to attend English as a Second Language (ESL) classes outside of work. If that isn’t possible, there are still a few things you can do, like encouraging your employees to learn vocabulary relevant to the tasks they’ll be completing, like the names of cleaning solutions they’re using.

Learning vocabulary related to their tasks will help your employees who speak different languages communicate with others and help them feel more confident working for you.

Invest in Your Workers

As a business owner, building service contractor, or manager, one of your primary responsibilities is to make sure your employees feel safe at work and confident in completing their tasks. Part of that means accommodating cleaners who may not be proficient English speakers. It will not only benefit your employees, but your business as well. They will appreciate the extra help and their performance will reflect it.

Remember that just because some of your employees may face a language barrier, it doesn’t mean they are any less hard-working or dedicated.

Even if your team has a language barrier, CleanTelligent can help improve your communication and productivity! Learn more about our janitorial software on our solutions page.


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