ミツモア Tech blog


Multilingual Workplaces — Overcoming challenges

Created with ChatGPT using DALL_E

Hello! I'm Will Spaur, an engineer at MeetsMore.


Multilingual workplaces are becoming more common as many industries gather amazing minds from all over the world. These brilliant workers bring along innovative ideas, welcome changes, and future successes. However, they can also introduce struggles and concerns regarding how they communicate these ideas and how their fellow coworkers understand them.


Language is the greatest tool in the business world, not to mention the greatest tool humans have ever created. It’s vital for us to communicate and understand one another. Without this ability, we would not be able to tell customers how amazing our product is, for our customers to share their joy, or even suggest ways we could improve our products. Everyone would be at a dead-end. This isn’t even to mention that our ancestors wouldn’t have been able to teach that fire burns or how to sharpen a stick if it weren’t for even the most basic language abilities.


Language, however, can be a challenge to overcome or deal with in a business and within teams. In this article, I’d like to talk about some common issues and strategies to deal with a variety of issues that could help your business and teams communicate better.


Common Issues - 共通の課題

Overall Communication - 全体的なコミュニケーション

Let’s be honest, sometimes we don’t understand our fellow native language speakers. Everyone has had moments in meetings when the boss says something very important, and it was maybe their regional accent, the word choice, or we were just not 100% focused, and we didn’t understand. We then have a choice: to either ask them to repeat what they said, say it differently, or we sit in shame and hope we didn’t need to understand.


For non-native language speakers, this issue is multiplied by 10, 100, or 1000 times! They might not know the pronunciation, word, grammar, word usage, or could properly hear it because their ears aren’t fine-tuned to the language. Even worse, they might not know if what they didn’t understand was important, so there’s greater pressure to ask for help.


The opposite scenario is also common: The boss speaks in their non-native language and uses a word, pronunciation, or phrase that isn’t perfectly correct but is vital for everyone else to understand. Should everyone ask for clarification and stop the boss’s important presentation?


As you can see, it can be quite a challenging dance.


Cultural Differences - 文化の違い

What’s the biggest reason to hire a professional translator or interpreter? Can’t someone at the company who liked the foreign language in school translate as well, or can AI and machine translators do better? Computers are smarter than us, right?


The fact is, proper translation work isn’t just about swapping words and phrases but about "Localization." Localization is about considering how a specific set of people will understand what they are reading. For the person speaking or writing, it’s important for them to know for certain that what they say will be understood well.


For example, the Japanese word “Genki” could mean “I’m well” but also “Energetic” and many other phrases. It’s important for a Japanese speaker to know how exactly to use this phrase so it’s culturally relevant.


Workplace Culture and Individual Differences - 職場文化と個人差

Branching from cultural differences, there can be workplace culture and team dynamics to consider. Some companies have different rules and guidelines for how employees communicate, and each communication style presents different challenges. If a company relies upon highly respectful language like Japanese “Keigo,” it could be quite challenging for non-native speakers.


This can break off into how different teams communicate based on their respective roles. For example, business team members might use more respectful language to use with clients, but use more slang among their fellow coworkers. Engineers or more IT focused teams might have a whole world of IT and programming terms and phrases that make no sense to normal people. It’s important to understand how these groups speak to each other, and how each group should speak to other groups to better understand one another.


Helpful Strategies - 有効な戦略

While these problems can seem like massive hurdles to overcome, I’d like to offer some great strategies to either relieve or remove any challenges someone might face. Some of these strategies can be quite extreme in nature and nearly impossible to achieve, or easy enough you can start using them right away.


Enforcement of One Language - 一つの言語の強制

Starting off with the extreme, one major strategy to help fix the challenges of multilingual workplaces is to remove the ‘multi’ part. This can be as simple as a company based in a specific country enforcing that everyone should communicate in their mother tongue.


However, as the world and internet grow, companies are faced with the looming threat of competitors, and internationalization is becoming vital. Because of this, the mother tongue of the country’s origin might not be the best, but instead English or other languages are better received in the world.


A striking example of this is Rakuten, which enforced English as their “Official” language in 2012. Rakuten’s CEO, Mickey Mikitani, stated, “our embrace of English has allowed us to bring in talent from around the world. In our Tokyo headquarters alone, we have employees from more than 70 countries.”


This strategy, however, comes with some obvious drawbacks, like enforcing the current company employees to a certain language, or issues finding great workers who can speak the language. And of course, this includes all the issues of non-native language speakers.


A small aspect of this can be used instead by a smaller part of the company, such as single language teams, which could work well together. At MeetsMore, half of our engineer teams operate in English with a mixture of amazing engineers from around the world and other teams operating in Japanese with some Japanese speaking foreigners. Many business and QA team members speak great English to help assist these teams.


Translator Apps - 翻訳アプリ

Ah yes, the great workhorse of all multilingual companies out there. Translator apps are thought of as the saving graces for many people. I’d like to weigh in on the pros and cons of each.


Google Translate

The good old Google Translate has been a help to people for over a decade now, but it’s showing its age. It has one of the easiest to use web browser extensions to quickly translate a whole page and can be used anywhere on any device. However, the biggest downside is that the translation is not very good and can be hard to understand.



DeepL came onto the scene as a more professional Google Translate and has proven to be quite an upgrade. The biggest difference I can say about DeepL is that it offers better localization, making it sound more native, and handles larger blocks of text with ease. The downside, especially as of the recent year, is the cost of the service. In testing English to Japanese translation, DeepL's free tier is noticeably less respectful and less focused on tone than the paid version. I also feel like the quality has been downgraded versus the paid version.


ChatGPT and other LLM/AI - ChatGPTおよびその他のLLM/AI

Of course, I couldn’t forget the current boom of “AI” out there. But I’d like to make a strong point: ChatGPT, Bing Chat, and other “AI” aren’t artificial intelligence as many people believe, but “Large Language Models.”

もちろん、現在の「AI」ブームを忘れるわけにはいきません。しかし、強調しておきたいのは、ChatGPT、Bing Chat、その他の「AI」は多くの人が思っているような人工知能ではなく、「大規模言語モデル」です。

This is important to understand because multilingual businesses can take the greatest advantage of language models if the language model supports it. For example, ChatGPT supports English and Japanese, so translation is possible between these languages. Because the point of an LLM is the language, it’s one of the greatest translation devices and can take a variety of inputs such as tone, accent, and adjust as the user wants.


The downside can be the cost of the service, the available tools of the service like no Slack bot or whole page translation, or the possibility of sensitive data feeding into the language model and becoming open to the world.


Use of Other Mediums of Communication - 他のコミュニケーション手段の利用

Language doesn’t just mean the spoken or written word. Language is communication between people in a structured way.


Consider a few different “communication” methods:


  • Presentations with prepared text. Someone can have an entire slideshow in a target language explaining everything, but present it in a different language and the same graphs can be used equally well. The opposite is true as well, as a person can present one language and speak the same, and the writing helps convey their important points so no one becomes confused.

  • 準備されたテキストを使ったプレゼンテーションです。誰かが対象言語で全てを説明するスライドショーを準備していても、異なる言語でプレゼンテーションを行い、同じグラフを同様にうまく使用することができます。その逆もまた真です。人が一つの言語でプレゼンテーションを行い、話す言葉が同じであれば、書かれたテキストが彼らの重要なポイントを伝えるのに役立ち、誰も混乱することはありません。

  • Images and videos. I find these to be almost essential at MeetsMore as we often communicate through messaging and ‘“A picture speaks a thousand words” is very true. A QA member might report a bug and I might need to determine if it’s a major problem or a small issue. Instead of having to read a long explanation of the issue in Japanese or trying to understand the translated English, I can watch a video of the overall issue and respond quickly. After that, the provided written explanation can offer me the finer details of the issue.

  • 画像やビデオです。これらはMeetsMoreでほとんど必須だと感じています。私たちはしばしばメッセージングを通じてコミュニケーションを取るため、「百聞は一見にしかず」というのは非常に当てはまります。QAメンバーがバグを報告するとき、私はそれが大きな問題なのか小さな問題なのかを判断する必要があるかもしれません。日本語での長い説明を読んだり、翻訳された英語を理解しようとする代わりに、全体的な問題のビデオを見てすばやく対応することができます。その後、提供された書面での説明が問題のより細かい詳細を教えてくれるでしょう。

  • Diagrams, sketches, and graphs - ダイアグラム、スケッチ、グラフ.

Coffee Anyone?

  • Much like presentations, graphs and diagrams can help people break down their explanations into easier to understand flows. The other person might be able to understand parts of the language, but choices or visual cues can give more information based on context.

  • プレゼンテーションと同様に、グラフや図表は人々が説明をより理解しやすい流れに分解するのに役立ちます。相手は言語の一部を理解できるかもしれませんが、選択肢や視覚的な手がかりが文脈に基づいてより多くの情報を提供することができます。

  • High skills. Highly skilled people can have their own languages they speak. Let’s take programming languages as an example. If you can’t explain a problem in the other person’s language, you might be able to show code that the other person can point out is broken and then understand the issue. This can be the same with accountants and account books, or mechanical engineers and a design.

  • 高度な技術。高度な技術を持つ人々は、彼ら自身の言語を持っていることがあります。例えば、プログラミング言語を取り上げてみましょう。もしあなたが相手の言語で問題を説明できない場合、相手が壊れていると指摘できるコードを示すことができるかもしれません。これは会計士と会計帳簿、または機械工学者と設計にも当てはまります。

  • Gestures, like pointing and movement, while can be seen as childish, can be great to help improve communication when in a pinch. Additionally, this isn’t limited to just hands, but also mouse cursors in remote meetings and emojis! 🤣

  • ジェスチャー。指さしや動きなど、子供っぽく見えるかもしれませんが、困ったときにコミュニケーションを改善するのに役立つことがあります。これは手に限らず、リモート会議でのマウスカーソルや絵文字にも当てはまります!🤣

  • Stories. A quite overlooked method, I think, but very useful. Many foreign language speakers have issues understanding long, complicated discussions. Stories or even quick examples can help them imagine the idea. For example, at MeetsMore the business team might have a large idea about a feature but the engineering team might have a hard time understanding the complicated business logic they have. The business team can bridge the gap in understanding by explaining a certain user like ‘Sato-san’ and how the business team wants the feature to work for this customer. It could be as simple as, ‘Sato-san wants to change his profile picture. He clicks on his profile icon at the top right of the page, scrolls down to the Avatar section and clicks the Edit button that looks like a pencil. A modal opens and he can rotate the image with the swirl icon, he can upload a new one…” Just like when we were kids, it’s easier to imagine a story like this rather than a quick explanation that might not help us imagine what the speaker is thinking.

  • ユーザーストーリー。これはよく見落とされる方法だと思いますが、非常に有用です。多くの外国語話者は長く複雑な議論を理解するのに苦労します。物語や簡単な例は、彼らにアイデアを想像させるのに役立ちます。例えば、MeetsMoreではビジネスチームがある機能について大きなアイデアを持っているかもしれませんが、エンジニアリングチームは彼らが持っている複雑なビジネスロジックを理解するのに苦労するかもしれません。ビジネスチームは、「佐藤さん」のような特定のユーザーについて説明することで、この顧客にとって機能がどのように動作することを望んでいるかを説明することで、理解のギャップを埋めることができます。それは、「佐藤さんがプロフィール画像を変更したいと思います。彼はページの右上にあるプロフィールアイコンをクリックし、アバターセクションまでスクロールして、鉛筆のように見える編集ボタンをクリックします。モーダルが開き、彼は渦巻きアイコンで画像を回転させたり、新しいものをアップロードすることができます...」というように、子供の頃のように、話し手が考えていることを想像するのに役立つかもしれない簡単な説明よりも、このような物語を想像する方が簡単です。

Education and Language Development - 教育と言語の発達

While language capabilities are certainly a personal skill, when needed, it might be important to require or offer employees additional language lessons. This might be vital for some departments like business if they were to meet professional clients, or helpful for developers who might need to better understand tool documentation that is often written in a select few languages.


Companies can offer to pay for language lessons, either in-person or online for their employees, or offer incentives such as time during work to study on their own and provide funds for learning tools. This can be beneficial for employees who need to adjust to a new workplace or team.


Employers can also encourage the free use of language through more subtle and engaging methods. For example, group lessons where native speakers teach non-native speakers various aspects of the language and promote its use at work. Alternatively, meetings during free time can help people converse and become acquainted in the language they are learning. These methods can significantly reduce the anxiety associated with using a foreign language.


Conclusion - 終わりに

In conclusion, by highlighting the common issues in multilingual work environments and discussing potential solutions, I hope to assist you and your workplace. Multilingual environments can be dynamic and enriching as people from diverse backgrounds contribute their unique ideas. While communication challenges are inevitable, whether across languages or not, they can present opportunities for learning and improving our communication skills.


Recruitment page - 採用ページ: https://meetsmore.com/company/recruit

Job Posting - 募集要項: https://herp.careers/v1/meetsmore/3cQ_H41s6tZu