10/04/2013

By Gavin Meikle, Head Of Learning And Founder Of Inter-Activ


I recently ran an influencing skills workshop in Belgium, and my audience contained a variety of nationalities. Only three out of 15 were native English speakers. Increasing globalisation means that even small businesses now face the challenge of speaking or writing to non-native English speakers, be they customers or suppliers.

Communicating can be a difficult enough challenge when speaking with people in their mother tongue. Communicating with people for whom English is not their first language, can add a whole new level of complexity.

Here are my seven top tips for communicating effectively with non-native English speakers.

1) Be clear about your message before you start to write or speak. It's much easier to communicate clearly if you think about what you truly mean before you begin to speak or write.

2) Avoid the use of slang terms. Our everyday language is often peppered with local or national slang that won't make sense to an international audience. Eliminate these from your written or spoken English.

3) Keep your language as simple and clear as possible without dumbing down your message. US Public Broadcaster, Voice of America (VOA) uses a subset of English called "Special English", aimed specifically at non-native English speakers. It has around 1500 words, and you can see the special english word list online. It's a handy place to check your language and get simple alternatives. For example, use “big” rather than “immense”.

4) Slow down and speak clearly. Make it easier for your listeners by slowing down your pace by about one third, and make sure you articulate your words carefully and clearly.

5) Avoid using contractions such as "can't" and "won't". Instead, use the full expression i.e. "Cannot" or "will not".

6) Avoid using idioms that don't translate well. Phrases like "I went down like a lead balloon" or "I got the cold shoulder" should be replaced with a clear statement such as "It was clear from their reaction, that the audience did not seem to like what I had to say."

7) Use pauses between main ideas, to allow the listener time to process your words and to ask for clarification if needed.

Follow these tips and you'll save a lot of time and frustration, and generate more effective business relationships.