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Linguistic wellbeing at the workplace

The LangWork Partners looked at linguistic setbacks at education institutions and found that people struggle with 2 kinds of challenges.

a funny welcome sign photographed through a fence
International talents face various communication obstacles at the workplace

The Erasmus+ project LangWork Partners held a workshop to look closely at setbacks that international talents struggle with at education institutions. International talents are people with experience of living, working or studying in another country. However, their experiences sometimes overlap with what members of linguistic minorities can be going through. The workshop was based on a brainstorming technique. While brainstorming can generate a large number of potential problems, the workshop included a follow-up session to propose bold solutions to as many problems as possible.

While our case study countries value multilingualism ‘on paper’, the examples from everyday life reveal setbacks and difficulties that can be traced to peoples’ linguistic needs. And these needs include learning new language skills and maintaining heritage languages.

While the list of challenges was long, we noticed that the examples belonged to two main categories.

INFORMATION One of language’s most basic functions is to convey information about facts. However, international talents often have difficulties accessing information in a language they can understand. This setback comes in 2 variants: either the information is not translated at all, or it is only translated into specific mainstream languages, following a specific hierarchical order.

For international talents, the cost of not knowing means missing out on opportunities. As job seekers, international talents already face discriminatory practices. Having less access to information means that job search becomes even harder.

BELONGING Sharing information is not the only important function of language. It is also used to connect with other people. Language barrier hinders the connection, leading to persisting loneliness and feeling that one does not belong in a community. This takes a toll on one’s wellbeing and emotional health. A person’s everyday relations with other people suffer. One must live without friends, but also without random chats with strangers, which are an essential part of life in a community.

But belonging extends beyond conversations in the society’s dominant language. Mother tongues and heritage languages are also elements of the person’s linguistic identity. The pressure to leave certain languages behind can damage one’s sense of wholeness. Meanwhile, these languages can also be a resource to restore wellbeing.

Going forward, the LangWork Partnership will continue working to alleviate these two linguistic challenges. While our focus is on education as a workplace, we hope that our methods will spark a wider interest in building linguistically cohesive workplaces without oppression.

This post was originally published here.

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