10 Ways to Overcome Language Barriers.

Whether you need a cup of milk or want to form a tenants association, you have to start by talking to your neighbors. Often times, professional interpretation and translation aren't an option (if you have a budget or financial resources for it, check out these). Luckily, you aren’t the first to have this problem. Here are some tips to overcome language barriers and get to know all of your neighbors!

Building and Strengthening Tenant Action

Buscando Acción y Solidaridad Que Transforme el Arrendamiento




Find bilingual neighbors.

Tenants who don't speak English will often find a bilingual neighbor who can support them when they need to handle business with apartment management. Reach out to these bilingual neighbors for their help in facilitating conversation, and bonus: make another friend!


Use Google Translate or a similar translating service.

You can find a number of free language translating services online. Most have smartphone apps so you can take them on the go! Be cautious because these services are not always perfect and much can be lost in translation, like figures of speech.

Pay attention to what you're saying.

Try to use simple words, plain language, and speak slowly. Articulate your words clearly and pay attention to the person you are talking to and ask questions to make sure you're on the same page. If you're not sure, it's ok to take another shot at it using simpler words, plainer language, and speaking more slowly.


Smile and project warmth.

A smile, wave, or head nod can go a long way!



Use visual methods of communication (like emojis!).

Imagery and visual cues can help get neighbors on the same page. Try carrying a pen and paper to sketch what you'd like to say, using emojis on your phone, or make a guide of images to communicate with your neighbors, like this one. BASTA organizers supported a tenants association where tenants spoke four languages by translating potential conditions problems into each language and using images to connect the dots for renters.


Research common phrases and learn the basics.

There are plenty of resources to help us communicate with others- you just have to look for them! Check out forvo.com/guides to see a list of common phrases in a variety of languages.


Translate important documents.

Ensuring that everyone has access to information requires making that information available in all languages. Whether you employ a professional translator or a volunteer, there are resources available which can help with translating important documents.


Be respectful and patient.

Navigating successful cross-linguistic interactions takes patience and a willingness to listen- and a sense of humor!


At a public meeting? Demand an interpreter!


Share this list with a friend!

Take the first step towards creating inclusive conversations by making yourself and others aware of the importance of everyone being able to communicate in their preferred language.

BASTA is a non-profit project dedicated to helping Austin renters work together to improve the conditions of their homes and communities.