The rapid growth of limited English proficiency (LEP) Americans has altered how businesses, communities, and our society develop. While pundits and politicians debate or pine for an imagined past, our nation is changing and will continue to change in terms of who makes up America. LEP’s represent the largest growing segment of the U.S. population. The power and needs of this community should be addressed now so that the future of our nation and its diverse people can be even more promising.

Language and Technology

The growth of technology is making it possible for any industry that desires or needs to connect with LEP Americans to achieve that goal. As software and the development of 4G networks continue to become more sophisticated, increasingly powerful and affordable video-capable smart devices, such as tablets and phones, will allow for nearly instant translation. Advanced technology has already been in use by a number of organizations that strive to more efficiently communicate with their communities.

The first wave of organizations, most healthcare-based, adopted video remote interpreting (VRI) devices. Their goal was to find affordable solutions to improve patient care and comply with federal mandates to provide language access to medical care for all patients, regardless of their primary language. The second wave of organizations adopting VRI includes law enforcement and national security. Safety and efficient service delivery has benefited greatly from this advanced technology. The next wave will include mainstream users such as travelers and marketers hoping to tap into the growing LEP market.

Changing Populations

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LEPs make up a little more than 9 percent of the total U.S. population and as much as 12 to 20 percent of the population in traditional “immigrant destination states,” such as California, New York, and Florida.  Companies and organizations need to target fast growing markets to remain competitive. The Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest are experiencing the highest growth rate in LEP populations. From 1990 to 2010, Alabama’s LEP population grew 202 percent. Nevada’s population grew an astonishing 398 percent. Companies that understand and target this new market will prosper; companies that ignore this reality do so at their own peril.

Looking Ahead

Technology’s impact on clear and efficient communication cannot be understated. VRI can make language services available anytime and anywhere. However, adopting VRI technology is only part of the requirement to successfully reach LEP populations. To achieve optimal sales and delivery, companies need to develop an understanding of cross-cultural differences. By recognizing these differences, businesses can adjust what they sell and how they sell to diverse populations. Ultimately, the LEP communities benefit from more opportunity and choice and companies benefit from catering to the markets of the future.

Global Awareness

Languages, lack of trust, and cross-cultural miscues are significant barriers for companies hoping to build a relationship with the LEP community. One of the reasons I started InDemand Interpreting was that it disturbed me to watch Spanish-speaking patients in hospitals pushed to the back of the line because an interpreter wasn’t available. While the hospital staff was probably doing the best they could with the limited resources available, the result was that LEP patients felt like they were second-class citizens. Experiences like this can cause some LEP Americans to be suspicious or distrustful of English-speaking providers. The result for businesses is that LEPS decline to enter or buy in places that don’t have interpreters.

Of course, truly recognizing the differences in customs between cultures is not something that can be established overnight. Not only is it important to understand effective marketing strategies for LEP Americans, but also their rich histories and customs. Many companies have already attempted to target the LEP market with less than stellar results due to the marketing campaigns’ lack of understanding of LEP Americans’ daily lives. Recognizing family dynamics and social customs is key to successfully relating to a culture.

Adoption of VRI technology by an organization is a crucial step in communicating with the LEP population. Diversity training, culturally sensitive marketing campaigns, and general cultural awareness are even more vital for businesses to undertake in order for effective and respectful communication with these communities. As the number of LEP Americans continues to grow, the ways of the past need to change permanently to guarantee future success.