How to communicate and provide feedback to your domestic helper

Published on 21 Nov 2023, last updated on 21 Nov 2023

Foreign domestic helpers or maids often don’t speak English as their first language, and because of that, they may lack nuance in their vocabulary or may use words and phrases that can sometimes sound ill-suited depending on the context. Many helpers or maids also rely on online tools to directly translate from their mother tongue to English. Depending on their backgrounds and life experiences, they may not have had the necessary opportunities to practise speaking English in multiple contexts.

Cultural differences may also make communication difficult. Just as your behaviours and tendencies grew over the course of your life experiences, your worker’s behaviours are similarly a result of theirs! For instance, you might find it strange that your worker does not wash fresh eggs before cooking them, whereas it’s standard practice in your household.

Here are some tips on how you can address these challenges and provide feedback to your worker effectively:

  1. Write your instructions in the beginning, rather than saying them. This can help your worker learn new tasks easier and limit possible comprehension and productivity issues.
  2. Ask if your instructions are clear, and allow your worker to ask you clarifying or follow-up questions. Asking questions may also train your worker’s English comprehension and fluency, making future communication even easier.
  3. Try not to show your frustration with your worker’s lack of fluency. When your worker feels free to make mistakes, her language acquisition may be faster. Remember that your worker may also feel frustrated by her inability to communicate effectively.
  4. In the beginning, do not assume that your worker knows how to do something. After giving instructions, ask if they know how to use that particular appliance model (rice cooker, washer, etc) – some appliances could be new to her.
  5. Be specific and avoid vague instructions. Instead of asking your worker to “clean more,” ask your worker to “clean twice a week.”
  6. If your worker repeatedly does something incorrectly, ask why she does it that way. This allows you to understand the reasoning and address the misunderstanding together.
  7. Be approachable so that your worker knows they can come to you with questions before issues arise.
  8. Make time to check-in. Schedule regular meetings to discuss work performance and answer any questions or concerns your domestic helper may have.
  9. Actively help your worker learn English if that is important to you. If you’d like your worker to improve her English, you may:
  • Suggest that she watch English television shows or movies. They are very helpful in learning the nuances of English.
  • Give your worker access to language apps such as Memrise, Anki, or DuoLingo.
  • Provide books in English for reading practice.

Like any other intercultural relationship, these challenges may arise. However, overcoming them with encouragement and effort on both ends can lead to better productivity and deepened trust.

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