Host information: Guests with limited English

Some of the guests you host may have a limited amount, or no knowledge of English. Your Placement Coordinator will discuss this when approaching you about a placement. Some hosts feel nervous about hosting guests who don’t share a common language with them; this guide is designed to help you navigate how you can address this.

Hosts of guests who don’t speak English have told us that it is not an impossible situation; it just requires some creativity and patience! Remember that your guest will likely already have navigated much in the UK, which will have required them to communicate with English-only speakers.

If the guest you welcome has a referral organisation, it is worth understanding what level of translation support can be offered – it is likely that this will be limited. But do ask your Placement Coordinator about this. R@H are unable to provide interpreters as standard practice, but if you do struggle to communicate key house rules or concerns about your hosting arrangement, we strongly encourage you to talk to your Placement Coordinator for assistance.


When it comes to translation, technology is your friend! Download translation apps to your phone or
device, or bookmark web pages that will help you throughout the placement.

We asked our team, not all of whom have English as their first language, what tools they have used and
would recommend.

Text-based translation

Some apps and services can translate written text from one language to another.

  • Google Lens – allows you to translate text and images from one language to another.
  • Text Grabber – an app where you can use the camera function on your phone to translate printed text. There is a paid version of this app which removes adverts.

Voice and written tranlsation tools

  • Google translate – perhaps the most well known free translation app which recognises most languages. For Farsi interpretation, you should use Persian as the option for your translation.
  • Iphones have a translation app that comes as standard on their operating system, this offers voice and text translation.
  • Say Hi – a free app from Amazon. This will provide interpretation in several languages in voice or text.
  • – a free app for people seeking asylum and those with refugee status. This app will connect the user with a volunteer interpreter who can assist via text or voice notes.
  • – a free website with detailed translations of words with multiple meanings and colloquialisms.
  • – a free website that plays the pronunciation of words, especially useful for languages like Farsi, which do not have a speech output on Google translate.
  • Remember to check if any smart speakers you have in your home offer any translation services.

Tips for translation

When you’re communicating key information about your home or hosting arrangements to your guest, keep your language simple and to the point.

You don’t need to communicate full sentences, just key nouns and verbs for instructions and advice.

Consider using images or written instructions for how to use equipment in your home – one host told us that providing a diagram on locking the front door when leaving was so much more useful than a voice note. They also checked that their guest was able to lock the door too.

Hosting a guest who cannot read or write in their own language

In some cases, you may host a guest who cannot read or write in their own language, if this happens, traditional translation software will not be useful. This is not however, an impossible situation. Hosts in the past have found using pictures particularly useful to communicate, for example sending a picture of their front door to help the guest find the right address.

It can also be helpful to produce a document using pictures to indicate meaning for household rules, for example a picture of a washing machine with a thumbs up to show that guests can use the washing machine.

CASE STUDY: Supporting a guest who speaks no English and has a low level of literacy 

One of our hosts, Alison, recently hosted a young man, S, in her home. He is a Farsi speaker, but could not speak English, nor read or write in Farsi as he had had no formal education in Afghanistan. The placement was a real success, with the guest moving into their own accommodation a few weeks after the placement started.

Because S did not speak English, R@H worked with a referring organisation who supported him with his move on accommodation. Alison has kindly shared her tips and what she learnt in this placement for other hosts.

What hosts should know beforehand:

  • As much information as possible!
  • How the referrer communicates with the guest; do ask your Placement Coordinator Do not assume that your guest will know/ feel comfortable to ask questions. Most things will need explaining to the guest and don’t feel like you are patronising the guest with ‘basic’ things
  • Guest are likely to feel overwhelmed, so try and prioritise making them feel welcome and don’t bombard them with information initially
  • The guest may seem younger than their age due to low level of English and experiences

How to prepare for the arrival of your guest:

  • Prepare a very simplified welcome pack with pictures (picture of hosts with name and contact details, map of the area, picture of the transport options) is really helpful – it helps to reinforce information for guests, and process it in their own time
  • Prepare a rules sheet with pictures to demonstrate (e.g. no showering before certain time, close windows and doors when leaving)
  • Alison had a checklist on the door (with pictures) to remind S to close doors and windows

Alison’s tips for communicating with guests who do not speak any, or limited English

  • Go ‘back to basics’ with English – the most important thing is simple and clear communication
  • You are not teaching English to your guest, so you don’t need to worry about perfect grammar
  • Don’t bombard guests with information immediately, give them time to settle in a bit, have some food, tour of the house etc. and can slowly introduce more information. Only tell them important stuff (ask yourself: “is it essential that they know this?”) Physically demonstrate things and processes around the house e.g., how to use the shower, lock the door, where things are kept, how to use washing machine, how to make a cup of tea (not all at once though!)
  • Continue to reinforce these processes through basic vocab and demonstrations You could label which areas which are designated for the guest in the fridge/cupboard, so they feel they have their own space
  • Find other ways of spending time with your guest that doesn’t rely on verbal communication e.g., through music, films with subtitles

Additional resources:

  • Google translate using the microphone tool
  • If you message on WhatsApp and then guest can copy and paste this into google translate (send short sentences, nor paragraphs)

Dealing with situations as they arise:

  • If a situation arises which the host would like to prevent from happening again, the host could create a rule around this and communicate it to the guest with images: E.g., host does not want the guest to have a shower past 10pm use a picture of digital clock showing 10pm and then picture of a shower with a cross through would work to show this.

Whilst hosting a guest who speaks little English can seem a daunting task, with the use of the above resources, it can prove a truly positive experience in communication across language and culture, showing the commonalities between guests and hosts, even without a common language.


Back to top…