Communication Tips


How to Communicate with a Non-Native English Speaker

Not all non-native speakers have trouble communicating in English. Many speak at a native level, but many do not. The ability to communicate with people who speak a limited amount of English is actually a skill that can be developed with time and practice. Whether you deal with non-native English speakers often or rarely, this advice will help you to communicate more effectively and smoothly.

  1. Speak clearly and pronounce your words correctly. Exaggerated pronunciations will not help your listener and may cause more confusion.
  2. Recognize that people wrongly think that turning up the volume somehow creates instant understanding. Avoid this common mistake (but also, do not speak too quietly).
  3. Do not cover or hide your mouth because listeners will want to watch you as you pronounce your words. This helps them figure out what you are saying in many cases.
  4. Do not use baby talk or incorrect English. This does not make you easier to understand. It will confuse your listener and may give the wrong impression about your own level of competence.
  5. Avoid running words together (Do-ya wanna eat-a-pizza). One of the biggest challenges for listeners is knowing where one word ends and the next one begins. Give them a small pause between words if they seem to be struggling.
  6. When possible, opt for simple words instead of ones that are complex. The more basic a word is, the better the chance is that it will be understood. ("Big" is a better choice than "enormous" for example. "Make" is a better choice than "manufacture.")
  7. As much as possible, avoid using filler and colloquialisms ('um...', 'lke...','Yeah, totally.') as non-native speakers, especially ones of lower proficiency levels, may get hung up on these thinking the filler language is vocabulary that they don't possess. Especially if they are not easy to find in the dictionary.
  8. If asked to repeat something, first repeat it as you said it the first time. Then again. It could be that they simply didn't hear you. If your listener still doesn't understand, however, change a few key words in the sentence.
  9. Consider the fact that your dialect may not be what the other person has learned in school. For example, most non-Americans expect the second t in the word "twenty" to be pronounced.
  10. Avoid using contractions or short forms. Use long forms. "Can't" is one word you must use the long form with. It is difficult for a non0native speaker to understand the difference between "can" and "can't" in a sentence. For example, "I can't take you on Friday" and "I can take you on Friday". Use the long form, "Cannot". "I cannot take you on Friday."
  11. Be explicit: Say "Yes" or "No". Do not say: "Uh-huh" or "Uh-uh". Those words are not in grammar books.
  12. Be patient and smile. The more relaxed you are, the more you are in control of your communication.