Methods for communicating with patrons from other cultures
- Speak in brief, simple sentences rather than long, compound or complex ones. Try not to use library jargon.
- Don't ask "either/or" questions; pose two questions instead.
- Speak slowly and articulate distinctly. If necessary, you can try written English as many people who do not speak English can write and read some English.
- Don't expect verbal reinforcement such as "I see" or "Uh-huh" when you are explaining something to a patron. Watch for non-verbal communication. If you want an acknowledgment ask, "Do you understand?" or watch for a nod.
- If you see that a patron has misunderstood your direction after the person has left your station, don't assume that the patron will eventually discover the error. Follow through with whatever assistance you can give. You may have to lead the patron to different service points to get a library card, register for a program, or ask a reference question.
- Recognize that people from some cultures are not demonstrative. Smiling may hide emotions such as frustration or confusion.
- Silence from patrons of some cultures should not be construed as misunderstanding or rudeness. Some other possible reasons are: 1) respect for your authority; 2) full agreement with what you are saying or doing; or 3) fear of being judged by how he or she speaks English.
- Realize that name order may be different for some cultures. Ask for "family name" instead of "last name." Women from some cultures may retain their maiden names after marriage, but their children may have their fatherís surname.
- Remember that saving face is important in many cultures. Your attitude is very important. Be respectful of cultural differences and the time it will take to communicate.
- Be patient.
- Keep smiling.
- If you don't understand, ask questions, but keep questions short.
- Don't ask negative questions that can easily be misinterpreted -- for example, "Don't you like mysteries?"
- Allow extra time to accomplish the reference transaction.
- Get help when possible to translate a reference transaction.
- Remember that in some cultures it is considered polite to avoid eye contact.
- Allow time for the patron to translate mentally what you have said.
- Don't raise your voice; this may be perceived as anger.
- Avoid idioms and metaphors (for example, "That's cool).
Adapted from the Sunnyvale Public Library staff, April 1985.
From: Liu, Grace. PROMOTING LIBRARY AWARENESS IN ETHNIC COMMUNITIES: BASED ON THE EXPERIENCES OF THE SOUTH BAY COOPERATIVE LIBRARY SYSTEM, 1984-1985. 1985.
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This page was updated on October 25, 2003.