Why You Should Invest in Native-Language Instruction

Mar 27 2020 | 3 Min. Read Training

Imagine visiting a country where you don't speak the native language. You may be able to order food, find the restroom, and perform other basic functions to get by throughout the day.
However, once you need to perform a more complex task which may require true comprehension of the language versus just a basic understanding, the language barrier becomes a bigger problem and you realize that you are unable to fully execute this task.

This fictional example illustrates an important point for training operators who may be only slightly proficient in English; would English-only instruction become a hindrance to their comprehension and execution of material concerning complex tasks?


The answer is a resounding “Yes!” As early as grade school, educators have learned that instruction of English language learners (ELL’s) is only effective if students can learn, understand, and build comprehension of the English material in their native language first. Educators have realized through working with ELL students that building understanding and building comprehension of the English language are different concepts. In the context of the workplace, the same principles hold true. Operators who primarily speak Spanish should be given training in Spanish. Even though they may understand the English words being told to them, when being taught in their native language, they are able to build comprehension of each safety concept being trained.


OSHA also agrees with this idea, stating that “OSHA's training provisions contain a variety of specific requirements related to employee comprehension. For example, §1910.147(c)(7)(i) (Lockout/Tagout) requires the employer to verify that the employees have "acquired" the knowledge and skills which they have been trained; §1910.134(k)(5)(ii)”[1]. In addition, OSHA states that “an employer must instruct its employees using both a language and vocabulary that the employees can understand. For example, if an employee does not speak or comprehend English, instruction must be provided in a language the employee can understand”[2]


Not only is it culturally sensitive to provide multilingual training, but it could also prevent expensive and dangerous accidents stemming from misunderstandings. Although training costs could increase by having a Spanish or alternate language curriculum in addition to your English curriculum, it does not compare to the potential costs of an accident or the OSHA fines you could face as a result of inadequate operator training.


As an example of multilingual training in practice, “Torcon, Inc.’s bi-lingual communication and safety training program has contributed to an estimated 30 percent decrease in injuries at the company’s job sites, as well as improved employee relations and greater client satisfaction”[3]. In this example, Torcon saw a tangible reduction in injuries in addition to other intangible benefits such as happier employees and customers. Although they had to invest more time, energy, and resources into creating this bilingual program, in the end, the benefits outweighed the upfront costs of translating their training curriculum into another language.


When building and updating your training curriculum, take into account how many non-native English speakers you have operating equipment. Get feedback from your employees to see if a Spanish-language curriculum would help them better comprehend the material being trained. Hire bilingual trainers and support staff that can help in assisting in bridging the language barrier. Ultimately, language misunderstandings are a poor excuse for a dangerous accident and could be prevented with thorough research and preparation.


[1] https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/2010-04-28

[2] https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/2010-04-28

[3] https://trainingindustry.com/magazine/july-aug-2017/why-you-should-be-offering-training-in-other-languages/

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