Use 3 Strategies to Communicate Better with Non-English Speakers

Use 3 Strategies to Communicate Better with Non-English Speakers



An increasing number of prospects and household members don’t speak English as their primary language. These individuals who have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English are limited English proficient, or “LEP.” These individuals may be immigrants or native-born U. S. citizens.

An increasing number of prospects and household members don’t speak English as their primary language. These individuals who have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English are limited English proficient, or “LEP.” These individuals may be immigrants or native-born U. S. citizens.

Being able to effectively communicate with these LEP individuals is key to getting them to rent at your tax credit site and renew their leases. Additionally, sites that take actions to communicate better with LEP applicants and household members can show they are not discriminating based on national origin. According to HUD, in fair housing investigations, they look at a site’s language-based restrictions to make sure they’re not simply an excuse or pretext to cover up discrimination based on race or national origin. HUD says if an owner or resident can access free or low-cost language assistance, any cost-based justifications for refusing to deal with LEP persons would be immediately suspect.

Here are three effective strategies that you can use to better communicate with non-English-speaking prospects and household members.

Strategy #1: Use Interpretation Services

There are several interpretation services available that can help bridge the communication gap between English and non-English speakers. These services are typically over-the-telephone services. Such services have people on hand who speak several different languages and, for a fee, will speak to a prospect or resident in his language and interpret his statements back to you in English. These services are easily accessed and available for short conversations.

A staff member, such as a manager or leasing professional, who’s having trouble communicating with someone, can simply dial an 800 number, request a certain language interpreter, and get connected to someone who will be able to serve as the middleman for the conversation. Companies are charged only for the time they use the interpreter.

There are other interpretation options. With the Google translate app on a mobile phone, staff members can type or speak what they want to say in English and the app will translate it into the desired target language. You can turn the smartphone sideways and the app will use the entire screen to display the translated text so your residents can read it.

Strategy #2: Hire Employees Who Speak Same Language as Residents

If many of your residents speak one particular foreign language, consider hiring a staff member who can speak their language. Although doing this isn’t required by law, having someone at your tax credit site who can greet prospects and communicate with residents in their native language can go a long way toward building a rapport with them. And it will help tremendously when you need to communicate with prospects and residents about things such as maintenance problems, lease violations, recertification interviews, or requests for rental information. In particular, this staff member can serve to diffuse misunderstandings that could lead to fair housing complaints. And even if a complaint is made, the efforts made to communicate more effectively can help mitigate the situation.

Strategy #3: Translate Simple Signage, Notices into Other Languages

Chances are, the signage and notices hanging in your site are in English. But if your site has many prospects or residents who speak a particular foreign language, you should consider having the most important of the signs and notices translated into that language. For example, many sites have signs that direct residents to various amenities, such as the fitness center or swimming pool. Adding another dominant language to those signs can help residents who don’t speak English to better orient themselves and make them feel that you’re encouraging them to enjoy your amenities.

You can also translate some of your common notices into other languages. While notices in certain languages such as Spanish may be more readily available, if your prospects or household members don’t speak languages as common as Spanish, you can hire a translation company to translate commonly used material into whatever language you need.