Navigating language differences: Promoting inclusion in a multilingual workforce

Navigating language differences: Promoting inclusion in a multilingual workforce

The Netherlands is well known for its diverse and multicultural society, where individuals from different backgrounds and nationalities collaborate harmoniously (most of the time). A key contributing factor to this harmonious atmosphere is the Dutch people's proficiency in multiple languages, mainly English.

However, I am concerned that some Dutch employees may unintentionally create an exclusionary environment by using Dutch in the presence of their English-speaking colleagues. This behaviour can result in feelings of isolation and disconnection, which can have a negative impact on the workplace culture.

This article was inspired by my English-speaking clients who are now starting their careers in the European Union. Their experiences, challenges, and successes in multilingual environments have prompted an in-depth exploration of language inclusivity in the workplace.

The impact of language exclusion

Language plays a vital role in fostering connections and building relationships among colleagues. Engaging in conversations that not everyone comprehends can create a barrier between team members and impede effective communication. This can pose a significant challenge for English-speaking expatriates or international employees seeking to integrate into the Dutch work environment.

When Dutch employees exclusively use their native language, it can inadvertently exclude their English-speaking colleagues from conversations, decision-making processes, and social interactions. This can lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, and even resentment, which can harm morale, productivity, and overall job satisfaction.

Why inclusivity and cultural sensitivity matter

In our interconnected world, cultivating an inclusive work environment has become paramount. Companies that foster diversity among their teams gain the advantage of multiple perspectives, experiences, and skills, resulting in heightened creativity, innovation, and adaptability.

Building an inclusive workplace extends beyond recruiting individuals from diverse backgrounds; it necessitates embracing cultural sensitivity and ensuring that every team member feels valued, respected, and included. This entails being mindful of language barriers and adjusting communication styles to ensure clear understanding and collaboration.

Ways Dutch employees can foster inclusivity

While it's crucial for international employees to learn and adjust to the local language and culture, Dutch employees can also foster a welcoming environment for their English-speaking coworkers. Here are some ways to promote inclusivity and overcome language barriers:

1. Use one language in mixed groups

When in mixed groups with Dutch and English-speaking colleagues, make an effort to use English for effective communication and inclusive conversation. This ensures that everyone can understand and actively participate.

2. Promote language learning

Help English-speaking colleagues in their journey to learn Dutch by providing support, resources, or informal language lessons during breaks or after work.

3. Provide translation for critical information

When sharing critical information or updates, make sure to provide translations in both Dutch and English. This ensures that all team members are fully informed and can understand the content.

4. Be understanding and patient

Acknowledge that language barriers can pose challenges for everyone. Exercise patience with English-speaking colleagues who may face difficulties comprehending Dutch and be willing to repeat or rephrase information as needed.

5. Plan social & inclusive social events

Organise team-building activities and social events that accommodate various language skills and cultural preferences, fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment for all.

A welcoming and supportive workplace

By actively considering language barriers and implementing intentional measures to promote inclusivity, Dutch employees can establish a welcoming and supportive work environment for their English-speaking colleagues. This cultivates stronger relationships among team members and improves communication, collaboration, and comprehension.

Ultimately, prioritising language inclusivity contributes to enhanced productivity, innovation, and overall success of the organisation, while ensuring that every team member feels valued and heard.

Vivian Acquah


Vivian Acquah

Passionate and driven, Vivian Acquah CDE® is making an impact on the world of workplace wellness and DEI. As Certified DEI Trainer/Consultant, Vivian is devoted to making the topics of...

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vin100merk 13:40 | 17 August 2023

Hi Vivian, well done. I basically agree with your approach, but would like to also emphasise the importance of indeed truly multilingualism (like in the EU which is a really multilingual organisation, as you are pointing out), and hence not only promote the use of English. So may be put your nr 2 as nr 1! For that reason, most importantly, we must encourage the internationals to indeed learn Dutch for a better local integration and on top of that... recommend the Dutch to also support that effort and to not switch to English when an international does their best to speak Dutch. I see this happen so often... terrible, isnt'it?

VivianAcquah2 18:01 | 17 August 2023

Thank you for your input, Vincent. I appreciate your emphasis on promoting true multilingualism and encouraging internationals to learn Dutch for better integration. I completely agree with you that it's important for the Dutch to support this effort and not switch to English when internationals are making an effort to speak Dutch. I would also like to note that I think all the topics you mentioned are equally important, and I didn't rank them in order of importance. Thank you again for your valuable perspective.

VivianAcquah2 18:00 | 17 August 2023