Do you feel your native English communication partners could help you a little more? These ten tips may help them have a better understanding of exactly how they can do that. Why not try forwarding this article to them with a cheerful note and see if it helps or ask for it to be posted on your intranet. They just might make some difference :)
Working with foreign speakers of English? 10 tips on how you can help them ...
There are simple ways you can help make communication with foreign speakers smooth – Why should you bother? Because good communication will save you time, stress, energy and even money. It´s a win-win situation.
Business English students often comment on how American and English colleagues speak too fast, use complicated vocabulary and phrases they don`t understand. English speakers seem unable to adapt. Of course this is understandable when we consider most Americans and English don´t fully appreciate the complexities of language learning.
Eurostat published statistics in 2016 which showed the UK to have the lowest level of acquired foreign languages in Europe (for 25-64 year olds), with figures at 34.6% in comparison to the highest figure from Sweden of 96.6%. 20% of North American adults in 2013 spoke a second language (Realtime research July 2013) The excuse we all know is that we believe everyone speaks English and so it´s not necessary to learn a language.
I am not here to tell you to learn a language but I am here to highlight some ways you can help improve your communication with international colleagues, clients, partners etc. These are points that the majority of native English speakers cannot fully understand as a consequence of never having really learnt a language.
Firstly, let´s take into consideration the great effort it takes to learn a language. It can take a year of weekly lessons to move from being a beginner to intermediate and another year to reach a level that is more capable and yet another year to be nearly fluent. Language learners must commit to several years of weekly dedication, study and homework. Additionally many have a job and life with all it´s ups and downs too. That is some effort. Very rarely does anyone thank or reward them for that effort. In fact most students have the impression it is assumed they should speak English.
By using the following tips you can easily show some appreciation and consideration. Currently business communication with foreign speakers of English is being affected by an apparent lack of empathy which at times even comes across as arrogance, let´s solve this and do our part to bridge the language gaps in international communication. Here´s how...
1) Speak slowly and clearly – when someone is learning a language a sentence may sound like one long word.
By speaking slowly with clear pronunciation your language partner will be able to identify the separate words. We usually speak in a fluid way that rolls words into one. By enunciating each word your listener will be better able to understand you.
2) Use simple, direct grammar – English is particularly indirect, especially when we want to be polite, for example “I was wondering if you wouldn´t mind discussing it later on?” The grammar in this question is confusing. It´s a question with no question word, it uses past tenses but it´s about now, and there´s a phrasal verb “later on”, which doesn´t translate well word for word.
You could simply say “Can we discuss it later please?”
Remember, most cultures are much more direct than English and so you are not likely to offend anyone by being more direct. In fact a lot of business people find indirect communication frustrating and time wasting so may pleasantly surprise your listener.
3) Use simple vocabulary – avoid using unnecessarily complex and formal vocabulary.
Have you ever noticed how many times we use idioms and phrasal verbs (a verb + a preposition e.g. look after, measure up, get around) in our every day speech. We use them A LOT! The problem is they don´t translate well. This level of vocabulary is generally the last area of English language to be taught. Try to avoid using idioms and phrasal verbs. Imagine hearing “I´m up to my eye balls in work” – this would be very confusing for a foreign speaker, they will probably assume they have misheard or misunderstood you.
4) Check you comprehend – To check you have understood correctly you can ask “Do you mean....?”, “If I understand correctly you are saying...”
5) Check for and give clarification – “Is that OK?”.
6) Rephrase - find a different way to say the same thing. “I won´t be on time, I will be late”.
7) ) Send email summaries - If your communication is important, summarise and confirm the most important points in an email – foreign speakers of English often find reading and writing easier than speaking.
8) Use webcam calls – body language and facial expression will help you both know if you understand one another. They also contribute to our understanding, try to use gestures that reinforce what you are saying.
9) Check for auto-translator inaccuracies -Written communication may have gone through a translator and lost meaning. If there are unclear areas in a written text, help your interlocutor by checking you have understood. It is for both of you to ensure there is understanding.
10) Practice listening to foreign languages - We can tune in to foreign languages, it´s a little like trying to tune in a radio, we have to adapt our way of listening, account for accents and possible grammatical errors. We have to take into account the context and interpret accordingly. It´s possible we won´t need to take every word literally. We can develop this listening skill. Practice by watching videos of foreigners using English.
Perhaps the greatest gift you can give a foreign speaker of English is to use a phrase or two in their language, like Welcome, Good bye, Thank you. Even if you mess it up they will appreciate the effort and you might even enjoy it enough to take some lessons! There’s nothing to lose from trying. Have fun!