You’ve probably witnessed the embarrassing scene where a native English speaker speaks too loudly, too slowly, and a bit too ungrammatically to a speaker of English as a second language. In fact, you may have unknowingly done it yourself.
Do you know the correct (and most helpful) way to improve your communication with someone who doesn’t speak English as his first language?
There are three things you can do, and none of these will embarrass you or the other person.
1. Avoid idiomatic expressions and buzz words.
These are often difficult to translate because the meaning of the words are often metaphorical–not literal. If you notice yourself using such an expression, try to find a more literal way to express your meaning.
Instead of saying, “a ballpark figure,” say “an estimate.”
Instead of saying, “let’s talk offline,” say “let’s talk after the meeting.”
Instead of saying, “nip this in the bud,” say “end this soon.”
2. Enunciate your words, especially word endings.
Don’t speak slowly. Slow speaking just sounds strange and can be offensive, but clear words are wonderful. Record yourself and evaluate your manner of speaking. Do you cut off the ends of your words? Do you link phrases together so that they sound like one word? Is your jaw too relaxed and barely moving? If so, practice speaking more clearly.
Instead of saying, “Howzit goin?” say, “How is it going?” or “How are you doing?”
Instead of saying, “Whatcha doin thisweekend?” say, “What are you doing this weekend?”
Instead of saying, “It’s nada problem” say, “It’s not a problem.”
3. Avoid sarcasm and jokes.
We often use these devices to build relationships, but sarcasm is very hard to understand if the listener doesn’t catch your slight change in intonation. Jokes can be hard to understand if the listener doesn’t know the context that the joke relies on to be funny. It often takes people at least a year or two of living in the US to start understanding why things we say are funny. Plus, there is no better way to make someone feel left out than to tell a joke that they don’t understand.
Using these three tips will save you time and frustration when communicating with speakers of English as a second language. If you find out that the other speaker actually understands much more than you thought, you won’t be embarrassed that you spoke too slowly, you’ll just look like a clear communicator.