Tips to improve communication between native and non native speakers
- Speak slowly and articulate. Which means enunciate clearly, not repeat as fast as before. As basic at is seems, it is often the key to a better communication. It doesn’t mean you need to speak to them as if they were toddlers. Just take your time talking.
- Go for shorter sentences. The shorter and simpler your sentences are, the most chances you have to be understood. When I don’t remember the beginning of a sentence by the end of it, don’t expect a clever answer! I also have to forget about the complex way French sentences are sometimes built to go back to basics.
- Refrain from using slang, complex or technical words. Try to use words the other person has better chances to understand. You can find out much about their vocabulary by listening them talk and using similar words. I remember vividly my colleagues looking at me funny for not knowing the word “spring” (not the season but the metal thing) during GreenBelt training. I’m not stupid; I just don’t know some words that are obvious to you.
- Watch the other person’s reactions. You’ll see on their faces if they understand you, which words they are comfortable with, etc. That will help you correct and adjust to be understood better.
- Don’t make fun of them. Not a single bad word on their accents, their grammar or vocabulary. You are not doing an effort speaking their language so you don’t get to complain. Mocking their accent may be funny to you, but think of the hours of practice, of the effect on their insecurities and their self confidence levels. This is bullying, not having fun.
GRAMMAR & CO
- Help them. Give them the opportunity to express themselves but help with a missing word when needed. If you know them well enough, you can talk about helping them improve by correcting their mistakes. Of course, not all the time and in front of everyone, but sometimes it is good to know that the word you are using all the time does not mean what you think it does. To propose and to offer are two tricky one for me for instance.
- Watch your grammar. Remember that a non native speaker learnt the grammar rules quite recently compared to you. Also, schools teach proper grammar without telling you what native speakers main pitfalls are. So if you grammar is too shady, it makes understanding you a lot more difficult.
- Your difficulties are not theirs. For instance, I never struggle with the “s” (plural) and “ ‘s” (possession). The rule was always clear to me, maybe because every word has a gender in French. On the other side, tenses were a nightmare to master and I overuse be+ing.
- Latin idioms speakers know Latin based words. Languages such as French, Spanish and Italian have a very strong Latin base. If you use English words based on Latin, it will be easier for them to understand you. Latin words are often longer than German words. For instance, “finished” is a lot more natural to me than “done” as it has Latin roots.
- Tell them if they do a “language faux-pas”. Many words are very close between English and French and it is easy to mistake them for one another. In France we call them “false friends”: they sound similar to a French word but have a different meaning. If you add to these the French words used in English in a slightly different way, it gets pretty tricky! To propose and to offer are two tricky one for me for instance. In French, to propose means to offer, and to offer means to give for free. Headache much?