Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Language Barriers: How Do You Handle Them?

I attended a panel session on how to serve populations whose first language is not English. The panel included two librarians from TCCL (Louis Escobar-Matute & Sara Martinez) and one from OSU (Joa-Ming Huang).

They had some really good basic tips for librarians to keep in mind when interacting with non-native English speakers.

Common Points

  • Use simple words
  • Be patient and don't interrupt
  • Avoid colloquial terms
  • Don't comment on clothing or "costumes"
  • Don't use compass directions -- use left and right
  • Avoid humor
  • Avoid closed body language
  • Write down numbers
  • Avoid touching
  • In some cultures nodding means "No"
  • Use positive sentences
  • Check for understanding frequently (Is that clear?)
  • Don't assume they don't know how to use computers (chances are they do)
  • Once you show them how to locate something in the catalog show them how to locate it on the shelf
  • Don't explain the differences between Fiction and Non-fiction
  • Ask if they need a library card application
  • Explain the library's services

At times children or other adults will act as interpreters -- when that occurs remember the following:

  • Ask what language is spoken by the person wanting the information -- perhaps someone on your staff can speak the language
  • When answering address the person asking the question -- not the translator
  • Use simple sentences -- everything many not translate easily so the more simple the words the easier it is to translate
  • Avoid Slang
  • Be sure to thank the interpreter for his/her assistance

The OSU librarian suggested the following during reference interviews:

  • Build a safe environment
  • Lay out how the interaction will occur
  • Let them know that you will be asking questions so as to better answer their question
  • Ask if the information you find is relevant

All the speakers also suggested using resources like the Reforma Spanish for libraries links.

One of the best thing about OLA is that I get to network with my colleagues who either work in other branches or in other libraries -- and we get to bounce ideas off one another. Even if you don't like the programming there's always folks to bounce ideas off give it a try -- or better yet get involved and create programming ideas of your own!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a person who has lived in countries where English was not the national language, I know what it's like to be the one who doesn't understand. I know what it feels like to have people think I'm stupid just because I don't understand, and I also know what it feels like for people to be so pleased when I try to use the language - even if I butchered it! My best advice if you are helping a non-English speaker - be kind and patient. Try to empathize. And try to learn another language! If you have many Spanish speakers, try to learn some Spanish. They won't care if you don't speak it well. They will just appreciate the fact that you are trying. Trust me - I've been there!