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3 Trust Builders for Multilingual Communities

Apr 25, 2019 | Blog

Here are three trust builders you can use to start or deepen multicultural/multilingual relationships. You can also read about the three trust barriers in our previous post.

Trust Builder #1: Eat & Have Fun Together

When you’re just starting out, you may want to avoid arts like literature, music and dance, which are difficult to appreciate without interpretation and deeper cultural knowledge.

Food and physical activities are quicker avenues for bonding.

Host a multiethnic potluck with a delicious assortment of foods that each person can share from their culture. Physical games and sports can also be quickly learned and played together.

Since each culture may have different ideas of “fun” it may require sensitivity to not dominate or look down on foreign practices.

For example, in America, football (not soccer!) is a big deal. Many immigrants aren’t familiar with it. So if you’re the American host, you might choose to intentionally emphasize the World Cup or the World Badminton Championships as a fun activity to enjoy together (which they already know) in addition to the Super Bowl.

By the way, provides a simple multilingual game you can play to build relationships across the language barrier.

Trust Builder #2: Give Others the Microphone

People who speak a minority language may feel insecure using it and simply defer to fluent majority language speakers by default.

This prevents genuine communication and trust.

Imagine you were asked to participate in a group discussion and give your ideas in a language you weren’t fluent in. You’d probably be anxious and embarrassed.

You’re not sure if you understand what other people are saying. If you speak up, everyone has to expend extra effort to understand you, making you feel burdensome. Maybe it’s better to just keep silent…

It takes patience and active facilitation to learn from each other across the language barrier. Asking someone to teach about their knowledge and experience in their own language empowers people to make a meaningful contribution to the group.

When majority language speakers actively create space for minority language speakers to share of themselves from their place of power (i.e. their own language), the very act of inclusion goes a long way toward building trust.

Trust Builder #3: Make and keep promises to each other

There’s a saying in business school that trust is built through “Promise made, promise kept.”

Breaking promises destroys trust, while keeping them builds it. But when it comes to multilingual communities we have two additional problems:

    1. We’re not sure that we understand the promises we’re making to each other
    2. So we tend not to make promises

Not making and keeping promises means our relationships remain “arms length” and the currents of life easily pull us apart because we can’t rely on each other.

How do we overcome this barrier?

The answer is to show up.

Consistently showing up is a non-verbal promise. People expect you and wonder what happened when you aren’t there.

They miss you.

And even if they don’t, showing up creates the possibility of promise. When people can rely on you being present, they can ask you for help. Promise made, promise kept.

Another way for hosts is consistent invitation.

Showing hospitality is hard work and when the people you want to welcome don’t show up, it can be very discouraging. All that love and special attention to detail for nothing.

The reality is that the language barrier has conditioned people to assume that your event is not for them–even if you provide translation. The way to overcome this engrained expectation is to keep inviting. Don’t give up.

Consistent invitation is another kind of implicit promise–a promise to always remember the people you are inviting. Eventually people from other languages will realize that the reason why you keep inviting them is that you really care.


In this post, we’ve explored 3 trust builders for multilingual communities. They aren’t a silver bullet, but they are a great start. Do you have other ideas? Have you seen creative ways of building trust across the language barrier? Please share them!

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