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Don’t get lost in translation!


Why is it important to make yourself easily understood? Because Aotearoa New Zealand is a richly diverse country with over 200 ethnicities around the motu.

With English often our common language in the workplace, here are some hot takes to ensure your messages won’t get lost in translation.

1. Think visual 

Whenever you can, think visually about how to support your comms.  

Diagrams on the whiteboard, pointing to a calendar, maps, photos, videos, memes – all these visuals can back up your message. 

2. Grade your language  

Keep language simple!  Don’t assume everyone is familiar with the high-brow language.  For example, use ‘add’ instead of ‘accrue, ‘easy’ instead of ‘straightforward’ and ‘show’ instead of ‘indicate’. The US Government has a great plain language guide.

3. Planning is everything 

We’ve all been there – you start talking on a topic at a weekly meeting and can’t stop rambling. Plan and stick to the agenda when it comes to formal comms. Less is more. 

4. Use a set structure  

Related to the above, use a simple format with which everyone is familiar.  Keep the language, topic headings and vocab consistent.  

5. Yeah, nah 

As a nation, we love our Kiwi slang but save expressions like ‘chuck a sickie’ and ‘spitting the dummy’ if you’re talking to someone who speaks English as an additional language.  Or better yet, teach them the common idioms and invite them to share an expression from their first language. 

6. Paraphrase or say it another way + repetition 

Repeat your message another way to make it easily understood.  Always sum up key actions at the end of your conversation or meeting.   

7. Create a culture of inclusion  

Ensure employees know they can ask if they don’t understand, or speak up if they need something repeated or said another way.  Be available and open to this.  Create connections by asking about their language and culture.   

8. What was that? 

Use repeat-back strategies to ask people to tell you what they’ve understood from your communication. Concept check the key ideas – ask open-ended questions to ensure people have understood the main points.   

9. Put it in writing 

This can be in the form of brief meeting minutes, emails, or even written notes to confirm the key messages of the communication. 

Read more

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English as a second language for migrant staff

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