Tips for Helping Foreign People Understand You Better

This is an video for those of you who speak English well or are native English speakers and need to communicate with foreigners who do not speak English well. I will give a few tips on how to speak to people who have only a basic grasp of English.

One of the main habits English people have when they are talking to people with a basic grasp of English is to talk very slowly. This comes off as condescending, and it sounds like you are assuming the other person is stupid. (My old YouTube videos were spoken very slowly. This wasn’t because I assumed people didn’t understand and were stupid, but more because of the way I prepared for the videos. I was thinking as I was speaking. I have since changed my preparation style and can speak at a normal pace now, which is less annoying to viewers.)

It isn’t very useful for your communication to just speak slowly to the foreigner. It is more useful to point at things when you are talking to show what you are talking about, and to restrict your grammar to using just nouns and use verbs. Whole sentences have too many confusing and also unnecessary words for someone with a basic grasp of the language. Say things like, “see phone” and point at your eyes and the phone. This will let them know what the verb ‘to see’ means and what a phone is in English. Make sure to only use very basic verbs as well: to get, to see, to take, to have etc.

Another tip is to only use the present simple tense. This is because a lot of our verbs are irregular and change when they are used in the past tense, for example, “I go” and “I went.” That change in sounds is enough to confuse someone with basic English skills, so make good use of words and phrases like ‘yesterday’ and ‘an hour ago.’ For example, say, “ Yesterday, I go to shop…” This is not correct English but it is more important to express your message and to be understood than it is to speak correctly.

If you are talking to someone of a higher level whose English is okay, let’s say they are around intermediate level, talk normally but avoid phrasal verbs, such as ‘get in the car’ and stay instead something like, ‘enter the car’. Avoid idioms for common expressions as well, unless you think they are good enough at English for you to be able to explain them without confusing the foreigner. The present perfect, such as “I have been to New York,” can confuse people whose English is around intermediate level, so replace this with the past tense to give them an easier time understanding you.

For more comprehensive tips check out Shelley Purchon’s ESL Blog: CLICK HERE.