If you’re like most modern professionals, your colleagues and clients likely come from a variety of multicultural and multilingual background. This diversity has helped enrich the workplace with varying viewpoints and work styles. Unfortunately, language differences can also hinder productivity and connectivity in the workplace. In the increasingly multicultural workplace, having a working team with a variety of language backgrounds is quickly becoming the norm. As a native English speaker, what can you do to improve communication with your non-native English-speaking customers and colleagues? Speech clarity is one of the biggest challenges for a non-native speaker of any language. It is often difficult to determine word boundaries: where one word ends and another begins. As native speakers (in any language), we often speak in a stream, running one word into the next (eg “Didjeet?” Instead of “Did you eat?”).
Many years ago when I was studying Spanish with a private instructor, I told the instructor that my goal was to be able to eavesdrop on the New York City subways. Her response was, “give up now!” She was a wonderful teacher but she new that the typical individual speaking Spanish on the subway spoke at a rapid pace and there were no word boundaries. Words ran together making it difficult to understand if you were not a native speaker of that language.
Imagine that scenario in the workplace. You have many different languages being spoken and many speakers communicating at a rapid pace in their native tongue. People have a tendency to speak quickly, swallow the ends of their words and speak in a soft voice often prompting, “can you repeat that please?” The good news is that there are many strategies that one can use when speaking English so that the correct pronunciation is heard and the message is not lost.
When speaking with someone whose native language is not English, make sure to leave a brief pause between words and pronounce the sounds at the end of each word clearly. Not only will you sound better, but also your clients and colleagues will appreciate it! Learn to rephrase: When a non-native English speaker is having difficulty understanding your message, many people make the mistake of simply repeating themselves over and over again. Instead, try to rephrase your message-the problem may be a particular vocabulary word or the way you’ve constructed your sentence. Try to convey your message with new phrasing, using basic or simple vocabulary. With practice, you can learn to communicate with greater clarity and confidence on the telephone, in a conference room and in a large presentation. With improved communication skills, global communication can improve and therfore lead to increased business and customer satisfaction.