Beyond Google Translate: Solutions For Overcoming Language Barriers.

beyond google translate

Language Barrier Solutions Beyond Google Translate

QUESTION From: Justin in NE

“We’re really short staffed and today I had dish guy come in who currently works a few miles away (can ride his bike easily here) but is looking for more hours but his current job at well known corporate chain doesn’t want to pay him overtime. He seems like a nice enough kid but I don’t speak Spanish - I mean not a word beyond beyond the taco bell menu.

I used Google translate to get some basic info from him and ask him to bring someone back that speaks English but worried that his smile and blank stare we’re both signs that the app maybe didn’t translate correctly.

We really need two more dishwashers and could use an extra prep or two and he “wants to work very much”.

How can I bridge this language gap?”


Although it’s uncommon, there are a few situations I’ve come across where even multi-lingual operators find themselves facing serious difficulty in communicating effectively with staff due to an inability to speak the same exact language(s) their staff speaks but you don’t have to pass up on someone with a great attitude and the perfect availability as there are more tools than ever at your disposal that can help bridge that language gap.

Option 1: You can always show the new hire how to do their job by acting it out and using signs universally associated with affirmation and negation (i.e., thumbs up and thumbs down).

Eliminating the “Tell” part of “Tell. Show. Do” might get you past the initial hurdles…especially when in conjunction with some genuine interest in (and commitment to) learning a new language; but smiling, frowning, thumbs up, thumbs down and nodding in agreement or disagreement will only get you so far.

The bottom line is that learning even basics words of any new language (like “Kitchen Spanish” ) takes time and because there are nuances to every position; your expectations need to be clearly articulated early on if you expect the job to be performed well.

If you’ve been encountering situations like this yet don’t have someone on staff to translate, funds to hire a temporary consultant or enough hours in the day for language lessons via a mobile app (although I strongly recommend taking 10mins a day for DuoLingo while putting a more immediate solution into action); on-demand language translation services* may be a more productive use of your time than even the best acted out charades...especially within the realms of interviewing/hiring and training.

Option 2: The medical community uses on-demand language translation services in order to communicate with patients when there are language barriers. On-demand translation services like LanguageLine not only offer instant access to Over the Phone Interpretation services (aka: OPI) for $3.95/min, but also an app whereby real-time interpretation is offered via live video streaming with an actual (or AI) interpreter over an ipad (similar to the Hertz rental car kiosks).

Just be sure not to overlook the other standard hiring protocols like: background checks, referrals from current and/or previous employers, completion of actual shift availability sheets, distribution (and confirmed receipt) of handbooks/policies and any other customary new hire paperwork most of which can be easily translated with a number of the following services if you’re not interested in spending $40-100/hr for an in-person interpreter or an avg of $3-5/minute for OPI:

Option 3: As mentioned earlier, Google Translate can be an effective crutch to make sure the basics get covered in “learn as you go scenarios” so you don’t have miss out on a smart hire…but take some time to check out lots of other translation apps available online.

Option 4: Reach out to your local culinary schools to see if they might have someone who speaks the language and can help.

Option 5: Poll your local facebook or LinkedIn community for freelancers

Option 6: Seek out freelancers on sites like Upwork , indeed and Fiver. Be sure to pay particular attention to the credentials / certifications required for freelance interpreters.

Option 7: Call local high school and college/university foreign language departments. Foreign language programs can also be source of initial translation / interviewing and possibly direct you to students who might be interested in more frequent / regular discussions (e.g., assist with training programs, evaluations, non-legal paperwork, etc...)

Option 8: Google: “translation services near me” or “Interpreter + language needed + local area/city”.

Option 9: Connect with local community organizations (e.g., churchs) in the employee’s/prospective employee’s neighborhood.

Option 10: Visit your state’s Department Of Labor & Industry (DLI) online if looking for language translation / communicating with the hearing impaired.

Option 11: Your State’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) or Court Services may also have resources for certified interpreters / translators.

Good Luck and don’t hesitate to let me know which solutions ended up working best for you,


*Some Domestic On-Demand Interpretation Services:

LanguageLine ($2-$3/min)





Donnelly Language Solutions

United Language Group