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Watch Your Language

If you require employees to speak only English, you'd better beware of the EEOC.

This story appears in the December 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

English may be our nation's official language, but that doesn't mean all Americans speak it. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that nearly 32 million people over the age of 5--14 percent of all U.S. residents--speak a language other than English in their homes. And more than half the 24 million foreign-born U.S. residents speak little or no English.

These barriers pose big problems in the workplace. According to Lowell Gallaway, an economist at Ohio University in Athens, the lack of English proficiency among foreign-born U.S. workers costs employers $65 billion a year in lost productivity. And customers and co-workers often complain about employees speaking other languages, accusing them of being rude or mocking them in a language they can't understand.

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