Helper/Employer Communication When Languages Differ. | HelperFirst
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Say Patatas or Potato? Communicating Well When Languages Differ

Date Posted: 04/02/2019


You know the descriptions: Helper, Foreign Domestic Worker, Foreign Domestic Helper, FDW, and FDH. All refer to a person who works hard to help and comes from another country. With that, the Helper brings along culture and language that differ from the Employer’s.
So you may want to know: Will we have a communication barrier? Strong differences in culture? Can it even work out?
HelperFirst says YES, you can work through the language and cultural differences!
When languages and cultures differ, you need to explore new ways to communicate. In the process, Employer and Helper build trust, openness, and ever-improving communication.
Here are some ideas to help you learn to understand each other's languages.
A Positive Start.
Make it like a game to learn new words and sayings. Start with the most important and useful phrases and tasks. Build your language list from there. Keep track of the growing vocabulary in a notebook.
Flash Cards.
Put a word and a simple drawing of it on a flash card. This is a quick way to show your language to someone who is just learning it. It's easy to build up a collection of cards for language learning and review.
A flash card shows the word 'apple' in English and in Vietnamese, with a sketch. Colour coding helps communicate the red fruit.
When one of you creates a card, the other can do the same in her own language. You'll both learn faster and better when you're each 'in the game'.
Hang word translations and pictures on the refrigerator. The Employer can post greetings above a stick-figure drawing of someone waving (e.g., in English: 'Hi!' and 'Hello!'). Then she can post the same image and leave room for the Helper to write greetings used in her language.
Also: Employer or Helper can research translations and create postings in both languages.
Use colours, patterns, and shapes in your postings to categorise words, tasks, and areas of the home. 
Role Playing.
Take turns every day, speaking words and names used in the household and on the job. Practice greeting one another. Focus on words and phrases for various tasks and customary manners.
A new Helper and her Employer begin learning each other's languages through Role Playing and online translations.
Here are some starter words and phrases (in English):
  • Hello!
  • Please.
  • Yes.
  • No.
  • Thank you.
  • Good job!
  • Please do (task) again.
  • How are you? (I’m doing fine, thank you.)
  • Please excuse me.
  • I don’t understand.
  • I don’t know.
  • I have a question.
  • Is this okay?
  • How do you say…?
  • Good night.
Non-Verbal Communication.
Without using words, people can say a lot. You might nod your head to say ‘yes’, shake your head to say ‘no’, and wrinkle your forehead to show that you 'don’t understand’.
Other cultures may have different non-verbal signals. Find out what signals you already share!
You can say so much...without saying a word. That's called 'body language' or 'non-verbal communication'.
Around the world, smiling is a sign that things are going well. Encourage each other with smiles, and even laughter. It can be a lot of fun learning to communicate in new ways!
Show & Tell.
Use cleaning tools to help 'show & tell' tasks (in English: clean, wipe, wash, mop, etc.).
Use a mop to show the task of mopping. Take cleaning spray and a paper towel, and a sample wipe of the counter, to show a kitchen task.
Playing House.
Soon you will want to refer to tasks without having to walk throughout the home making demonstrations. A fun way to learn and share words for household tasks is using a dollhouse and dollhouse pieces.
Dollhouse diagrams and 3-D miniature furnishings offer ready-made references for learning household terms.
Point out the room using an actual dollhouse (or picture/diagram of a dollhouse).
Then discuss the task using a dollhouse-sized object (toilet, tub, refrigerator, etc.). Using the tiny fixtures can help make learning new words become more tangible and memorable.
Repeat & Repeat.
Continue to use these techniques and establish a routine - and new words will become familiar. Soon you will be able to plan laundry, washing dishes, and other tasks using words alone! You’ll also be able help each another with words or tasks you don’t understand.
Be patient as you build new communication skills. Enjoy the process. With time and practice, the whole household can become more multilingual!
Kitchen & Culture Days.
As you learn each other’s languages, start sharing cultures too at weekly or monthly dinners.
First, the Helper can prepare and share her favorite foods and dinnertime traditions. Next, the Employer can serve her own best recipes.
Employer shares favorite foods with family and Helper.
Sharing meals can help the household learn more about language, math, shopping, and manners across cultures.
Also, everyone gets to enjoy the good food!
Increasing Fluency.
You can also gain language skills through the internet. Web sites and apps, such as Drops, offer interactive lessons and valuable audio translations.
Employer and Helper learn second languages using interactive apps and web sites.
Drops says of its app:
What if British English vocabulary learning would be a crazy fun game instead of boring memorisation drills? Drops makes language learning effortless fun.
Closing Thoughts from HelperFirst.
Make learning new ways to communicate in your household a welcomed priority. Schedule daily time to learn key words in each other's languages, and to increase your scores in online lessons.
In just five minutes a day, everyone can gain communication skills to use right away and ever-after.
Come back to HelperFirst to learn more about creating a successful Helper/Employer household. And join your HelperFirst community on Facebook!