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Communicating Effectively with Non-Native English Speakers


If you can read this sentence with ease, then you might be one of many who take communicating in English for granted. Not only is English the second most spoken language in the world, impressively, but it is also the most widely used language on the internet and the most commonly used platform for business and education practically worldwide. What often leads to disastrous outcomes when conducting business is the assumption made by many native speakers of English that non-native English speakers will understand them clearly and effortlessly when they speak and write.

So, I ask you: How can one communicate more effectively with non-native English speakers?  Here are a few strategies that may help:

  1. Be sensitive and respectful to individuals who have invested the time to learn English. Learning a new language is a large undertaking. They have sacrificed many years to learn English. To help you with this, try learning and using several phrases of another language. It’s quite humbling.
  2. Be aware of the factors that can enhance miscommunication. For example: Is the miscommunication a language misunderstanding? Is it based on differences in gender, age, national culture, or corporate culture? Is the miscommunication linked to technology malfunctions? Is it caused by more implicit variables, such as non-verbal components, context of message, or relationships based on hierarchy? By understanding the nature of the quandary, you can find more efficient solutions.
  3. Pause. Native English speakers will often ask a question and not allow enough time for the listener to process the words, think about an answer, find the appropriate wording (based on their relationship to the speaker), and then execute a grammatically correct sentence. If it is information you are seeking, then pausing can work wonders!
  4. When conducting meetings and conference calls, provide an outline or overview ahead of time. Give clear and simple statements of what is to be expected and define the length of discussion points.
  5. Avoid slang, professional jargon, and acronyms at all costs. A statement like this can be confusing to non-native English speakers: Please send the RFP by COB on hump day. Are we all on board?Rephrasing can be advantageous: Please send the Request for Proposal by 5 pm on Wednesday. Is that agreeable?
  6. Communicate with story. Often bullet points and lists of information lack the ability to show the elusive. Example vignettes from your experiences or someone else’s (including personal stories, folktales, and historical tales) can provide clarity, and at the same time, keep respect and honor for all members by not pointing out the flaws in others.
  7. Have listeners rephrase what they think they heard you say. This is much better than asking, Do you all understand? and eventually receiving unsatisfactory outcomes.
  8. Speak clearly and enunciate properly. Pausing before and after significant words can help improve communication, too.

If the points above seem superfluous or unessential, then spend some time trying to make sense of the following:

Hvis du har noen spørsmål om dette emnet eller andre relaterte emner, ta kontakt med Cultural Awareness International. (Tip: You might want to use a Norwegian dictionary.)


In conclusion, the energy and time it takes to understand just one sentence may bring about feelings of frustration and confusion. However, by obtaining this point of view, you will unearth the empathy needed to communicate effectively with all of your colleagues and clients worldwide.

Other helpful tips that will also enhance communication:

  • Trust begins with openness and authenticity. Presenting an image of yourself with flaws and weaknesses can often be beneficial to you.
  • View the world through someone else’s eyes by shifting your paradigm. This can give you an advantageous viewpoint on a particular situation or problem.
  • Don’t see the world by what is right or wrong. See what is beneficial or ineffectual. Go from there.
  • See the good that every individual or situation brings to your world. It is often in this place that we find satisfaction with ourselves, with others, and the communication between.

Written by Gene Edgerton. Edited by Rebecca Garza and Kayla Kluempke