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Are You Being Understood? Communicating with Clarity with Non-Native Speakers

As globalization increases, our world becomes smaller and smaller. Chances are, nearly everyone reading this blog has at least one colleague, customer, or work-related acquaintance who is a non-native speaker of English. Because non-native speakers can vary in their mastery of the language, the occasional communication breakdown is bound to occur. When this happens, it is the speaker’s responsibility to make their message as clear and understandable as possible. Unfortunately, when communicating with non-native speakers of English, many people try to compensate in ways which are not helpful at all, and typically just make the listener uncomfortable—for example, speaking more loudly. Take a look at our strategies below for making yourself more easily understood when speaking with a person whose first language is not English.

Speak Clearly: People tend to run their words together in conversational speech, so that the end of one word blends with the beginning of the next. This can make it very difficult for a non-native speaker to hear where one word ends and the other begins, making comprehension difficult even if the listener knows all of the words you are saying. If your listener seems not to understand, clearly separate the words of the phrase or sentence which is causing confusion.

Use Another Word: In some cases, your listener might genuinely be unfamiliar with a word that you are using. If your listener seems to not recognize a particular word, try to use a simpler word that has the same meaning.

Slow Down: It takes more time to process speech in a non-native language. While you don’t need to speak in slow motion, reducing your rate to a more leisurely pace will give your listener time to process and understand each word of your message.

Watch Slang and Idioms: Think of all the phrases we use which don’t mean exactly what they say: “Drop me a line,” “On the fence,” “Seeing red,”—the list goes on and on. If your listener looks confused, think about what you just said and use the most literal language possible.

If you are looking to polish your communication skills be sure to pick up a free copy of my e-book “Communicate with Clarity and Confidence!” by subscribing to our newsletter community on our website. For additional information call us at 212-308-7725 or send us an e-mail at jayne@corporatespeechsolutions.com to learn more. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you might have!

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