How does LangWork find practices and tools that bridge the gap between people's mismatched language skills? As a team of experts in language studies, career guidance and training, we are aware of different language needs and we've tested several methods already. This said, we are also interested in the potential of digital technology. So, obviously we've asked ChatGPT how to organize a productive meeting for people who do not share a common language. The Internet's new favorite toy prepared a list of 6 tips. But are they any good? Let's find out!
Will AI end language barriers?
ChatGPT has become quite the talk of the town. Among its many uses, it can compile a list of tips. Is Artificial Intelligence ready to end language barriers? We'll reflect on the list, and we'll check it for biases or other shortcomings.
ChatGPT uses a specific template when it is asked about tips, recommendations or advice. In the opening paragraph, it rephrases the question, adding a short commentary. Second, it presents the findings as a list. The closing paragraph recalls the opening. Overall, the answer is easy to follow. If you want to read it in full, we've added a screenshot at the end of this post.
Tip 1: Hire a translator or interpreter
In the opening paragraph, ChatGPT acknowledged that running bilingual meetings is a real challenge. The first recommendation was to hire a professional translator or interpreter. Since we asked about a situation when people do not share a language, involving a language professional may indeed be the best (if not only) option. However, it may be hard to find the right professional for an ad hoc meeting. Plus, the organization would of course need a dedicated budget for language services.
Lesson to learn: the key word here is professional. Often bilingual colleagues take on the role of translators/interpreters. The role comes with extra responsibility and effort. Organizations must support such employees adequately.
Tip 2: Use visual aids
Because not all communication is language-based! Plus, graphic elements are easy to make, and display during a meeting. As an added bonus, pictures, videos and graphs will make the meeting more interesting for all attendees. While, pictures may not always convey complex ideas, there are certain tools that will. LangWork uses a variety of innovative multisensory tools, such as walks, comics Lego Serious Play. to name just a few. We think that active use of non-verbal communication is a very good idea.
Lesson to learn: don't limit yourself to pictures, graphs or videos.
Tip 3: Simplify your language
Easy language is a well known strategy for crafting communication that is easy to understand. Does eliminating idiom and metaphors help? Idioms and metaphors are natural in everyday speech. In fact, some idiomatic expressions are so common we don't even notice them. Luckily, language is designed in a way that you don't have to understand every single word to get the point. Plus, there are strategies that help you understand words that you don't consciously know, as long as the message is not overloaded with new fancy expressions.
Lesson to learn: some meetings are better learning opportunities than others. Plan what you're going to say and listen to what you're saying. *smiley face*
Tip 4: Provide materials in advance
We like this tip because it expresses care for all team members. It also creates a language aware culture where any interaction is a learning opportunity. At the same time, it acknowledges that learning requires time. The recommendation is easy to adapt if the meeting is organized ad hoc. In that case, materials should be shared afterwards, and time for discussion extended sufficiently.
Lesson to learn: paper trail improves access to information.
Tip 5: Encourage participation
This sounds like a great idea, but it might be easier said than done. That is, for organizations that have not developed a culture of inclusiveness. Also, unlike other cases, AI doesn't give any specific hints how to encourage participation. This is one of the areas that people still have to work hard on! So, this little tip should be its own blog post...
Lesson to learn: how does your organization understand participation?
Tip 6: Allow for extra time
We are not sure why AI listed this as the last point. This is actually the most important tip. All of the above recommendations require extra time. However, time invested in planning will help you and your colleagues become better communicators, in any language. In the end, the entire organization wins.
Lesson to learn: time is the most important resource needed to bridge language barriers successfully.
Should you follow AI's recommendations?
Technology, like AI, has potential to solve many today's challenges (and create new ones - but that's another story). It is certainly a bonus that ChatGPT can provide some communication tips. As we've shown, the tips bring up several useful insights, but they don't otherwise formulate a comprehensive multilingual policy.
It's a well known fact that AI algorithms can be 'biased'. The tips indeed reveal what linguists call a 'monolingual mindset' - a belief that using a single language for communication is the normal. Also, the tips indirectly point the finger at non-native speakers. Successful communication, however, is a collective effort. Our tip is to recognize that our ideas about communication are shaped by certain ideologies. Understanding them will help design better policies.
Let's move on to the tip that, in our opinion, should be listed but wasn't. Interestingly, we've received no advice about the use of technology in multilingual settings. While they are not perfect, tools like machine translation or automatically generated captions can be extremely useful. Plus, you might find it interesting that ChatGPT also supports languages other than English. These are not the only handy applications, but we'll save that topic for another day.
In this blog post we've reviewed the methods that ChatGPT recommends to run a productive meeting for people who do not share a language. We've highlighted valuable insights, and we've pointed out some shortcomings. Because of these shortcomings, we've continued the 'conversation', asking about more specific linguistic concepts. So, ChatGPT is surely capable of generating good ideas to support your multilingual team. But at the end of the day, these ideas still need to be refined and implemented.