According to the U. S. Census Bureau, there are more than 35 million adults in the United States who are non-native English speakers.
Many of these people are looking for work, to advance in their career and speak up and out for the causes they believe in. Non-native speakers can experience difficulties in developing and delivering their message when speaking to a group of people on stage, in a board room or during one-on-one conversations.
Non-native speakers might hear things like “I don’t understand what you are saying” or “Your accent is too thick” or “It’s hard to focus on what you are saying.” If you are are a non-native speaker who would like to improve the way your message gets translated into minds of those listening to you or you know someone struggling with their accent, here are nine tips you can use to improve the way you communicate:
Record yourself: Take the time to record what you are saying during your next speech or presentation. Then listen to it. Get a friend to listen to it. Identify the words that are hard to hear, understand or process. When you record yourself, you will pick up on things that you might not have noticed before.
Get a partner: Get someone to help you with your 2nd language who you trust. Someone who can call you out when you say a word wrong, aren’t pronouncing things correctly or using the right grammar. A partner can help you advance your communication skills by helping you see and hear the things you are not picking up on.
Be proud of your accent: Many of my non-native speaking clients say, “I need to get rid of my accent.” I think this is the wrong way to look at your voice. You should be proud of your voice and where you come from. You should’t get rid of your accent, you should embrace your accent. Keep the accent but make it so others can understand what you are saying. When you are proud, others will listen. This also will help you build confidence in what you are saying and remind yourself you speak two languages! Not many people can say that!
Be open to feedback: Listen. Listen. Listen. Ask around for feedback. When you are giving a speech or presenting a proposal at work, ask three or four of your colleagues to take notes and give you feedback on specifics you can improve on. Listen to what they say. Be open to asking for feedback anytime you are speaking to get better at communicating.
Find synonyms for words you can’t pronounce: There are words in English I have trouble pronouncing (I am no longer allowed to say prerequisite and familiarity in public). I avoid them at all cost. There are words some people cannot pronounce. You are not alone, just don’t use them! Find words that are similar to them and use those instead.
Speak slower: This is for all speakers and communicators. Slow down! Most of the time you are speaking too fast and it is distracting. It slurs your words together and on top of your accent it can be hard to digest what you are saying. Remember to pause, slow down and enunciate your words.
Practice one letter at a time: Find the letter that is the hardest for you to say (V or R or W or P). Practice just saying those letters over and over again. Pick words that have those letters in them and get your mouth comfortable with finding out how to properly say them without being distracting. Practice one letter at a time.
Find speakers you like: Find speakers who are speaking like you want to be speaking. Find speakers who might even have the same accent as you but are doing it the way you want to. What are they doing to get their message across or communicate in a way that people are focused more on their words than how they say them? Find speakers you like to feel more confident in knowing that if they can do it, so can you!
Practice everyday: Practice. Practice. Practice. Get good at practicing. Remember, how you practice is how you play so use these nine steps everyday to get better at speaking in your non-native language.
Please don’t think you ever need to get rid of your accent, you only need to focus on making sure you are speaking in a way that adds value, people understand what you are saying and enjoying your message. Keep using your voice to make a difference and as always…
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Join the discussion 6 Comments
How fast you speak makes a big difference. I work with people around the world. One thing that really helps when we go to audio on Skype is to speak slower than usual and separate
Thank you Gail, great reminder for all of us!
I’ve been thinking about this recently, since a fellow who speaks English as a second language joined my Toastmasters club. His grammar is excellent, but his accent makes it extremely difficult to understand his words. I wonder—would listening to Sinatra and singing along help him with pronunciations?
Great idea John. I think it would help and could be very valuable for those to practice! Thanks for the tip and sharing your idea!
Thanks for sharing your idea. More tips here Engage – What NOT To Do When Presenting . Verity can help you be a great public speaker!
Thanks for the tips.