7 Tips for Speaking Across Language Barriers

Posted by Nancy Mueller on Friday, August 2nd, 2013
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Nancy Mueller ICC Class 2012

Most of us have felt the frustration and embarrassment of trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak our language.

Here are 7 easy tips to help you get your message across when you are the speaker:

1) Slow down, but don’t speak more loudly. Pause between words instead of linking them together.

Depending on the level of the listener’s fluency, this one tip may be enough to foster understanding.

2) Enunciate clearly.

Speak clearly and concisely instead of mumbling and rambling. Pronouncing words correctly, using good intonation and staying on track helps.

3) Speak simply (but not simplistically). Use fewer words and shorter sentences.

Why make your language more complicated when understanding is already an barrier?

4) Break the ice with your first few words.

Give your listener time to adjust to your voice, accent, and communication style before giving important information.

5) Avoid using jargon, slang, acronyms or other expressions that may be unfamiliar to your listener.

Good communication is inclusive, rather than exclusive. Help your listener avoid feeling like an outsider by using familiar words to the larger population.

6) Check for understanding often.

Take responsibility for mutual understanding. Rather than ask if the other person understood what you said, ask if you were clear in your communication. Restate the information in different words when necessary.

7) Use humor cautiously.

So much of humor is framed within a cultural context. Even if the listener understands every single word you say, it’s easy to miss the point without knowing the cultural reference.

Nancy Mueller with ICC Students

The next time you feel frustrated or embarrassed when speaking across language barriers, remember these 7 tips to help you be a better communicator despite language differences.

 What tips do you have for communicating when you don’t speak each other’s language?

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