Lost in translation: how to overcome language barriers in the IT industry

Overcoming language barriers is now a real technology challenge for business leaders in the UK’s IT industry as it increasingly relies on foreign workers who speak English as an additional language (EAL).

For instance, in terms of the employment market, a broad range of IT roles are on the UK government’s skilled worker shortage occupation list. These high-demand roles include programmers and software developers, web designers and developers, plus IT business analysts, architects and systems designers.

Currently one in four workers in the UK Information & Communication industry (including IT) were born outside the UK, while in London this figure rises to nearly 50 per cent.

Due to demand, the posts mentioned above are eligible for UK working visas as the IT industry relies on attracting high-skilled foreign workers, who already make up a large proportion of the workforce.

Lost in translation 

Many existing and future IT professionals don’t speak English as their first language and research shows that language barriers in the workplace contribute to inefficiency, stifle collaboration and lower productivity. Also, it’s reported that of all UK industries, IT and telecoms professionals are the most likely to work from home full-time.

This means that as remote workers, they can become frustrated and isolated, as collaboration and communication based around face-to-face communication is easier in the workplace for most people.

IT organisations must now work hard to attract and retain more foreign workers to help fill roles. Using the right digital technology to overcome language barriers can improve productivity, reduce mistakes, build trust, boost morale, and improve relationships.

Current translation solutions 

Although there is a need for translation in IT, it comes with significant costs, plus it is not always quick and easy to implement. For on-site IT workers, having an interpreter present is a handy solution but it also comes with a relatively high cost. In addition, this option doesn’t help to foster a relationship between IT workers who speak EAL and their colleagues as there is always a middle person each communication must pass through. That said, employing bilingual staff can help with on-site communication.

However, these translation solutions can be impractical for IT workers who move around through different large sites, which is often required for companies delivering large government contracts, for example.

There are various software solutions available that can help and each of these options comes with its own pros and cons. For instance, whilst they’re relatively quick and low-cost many of them aren’t GDPR compliant, lack accuracy and rely on users having access to a smart device. This isn’t possible in many workplace settings, especially when security is a major issue.

Leveraging digital technology 

Digital translators offer an effective way to communicate and help build relationships. They can help to overcome language barriers by providing instant two-way translation, both verbally and by translating photos of words on documents instantly, with a very high degree of accuracy.

These digital devices offer a higher level of accuracy and speed than many software solutions while also being GDPR compliant. They also tend to cover more languages including the less widely spoken ones. For example, the Pocketalk device covers 82 languages and removes the need for a smart device.

Ultimately, there is no faultless way to provide language translation in IT and every company will have different needs. IT companies that get the best out of digital technology will be well-positioned to attract and retain more foreign workers by improving communication, which is key for their future success.

About the Author

Joe Miller is the general manager of the Americas and Europe at Pocketalk. Pocketalk is a multi-sensory two-way translation device. It utilises the best translation engines around the world to provide a consistently accurate experience across 82 languages, including localised dialects and slang.

Featured image: Adobe Stock