How to Support Non-Native English Speaker
If you’re a native English speaker, think of a time when you couldn’t understand a non-native English speaker you were with. Did you pretend to understand them? Did you ask them to repeat themselves, or were you afraid to embarrass them? Did you want to suggest a resource for accent reduction, but didn’t know how to tactfully do it?
Communicating in a second or third language can be challenging, but there are ways you can make conversation easier for non-native English speakers.
5 Tips for Talking with Non-Native English Speakers
- Speak slowly, pronounce your words clearly, and ask the other person to speak slower as well.
- Use simple words when possible. Refrain from using idioms or informal expressions that a non-native English speaker may not understand.
- Be honest—don’t pretend to understand something if you don’t.
- Be patient—remember that communicating with someone who doesn’t speak English well can be frustrating for both of you.
- Make a point of learning a few words in different languages. Being able to say “Hello,” “How are you?” and “Thank you” in the other person’s language can relieve tension and make you both feel more comfortable.
But what if you feel that the person could use some extra help?5 Ways to Be a Resource for Non-Native English Speakers
5 Ways to Be a Resource for Non-Native English Speakers
- Begin by asking about the person’s experience communicating with English speakers.
- Share a story about someone you know who has benefited from ESL (English as a Second Language) accent instruction or American accent training. Explain the positive impact it’s had on that person.
- Be mindful of when and where you bring up the topic of accent reduction. Be sensitive, and respect the other person’s privacy.
- Acknowledge that a referral may not be right for them, but offer to pass on contact information if they’re interested and remember to follow up.
- Compile a list of reputable resources. Community colleges and local adult education programs frequently offer ESL classes. Literacy Volunteers of Greater New Haven offers free English instruction from volunteer tutors in the New Haven area, and other branches and organizations operate around the country.
- If someone is proficient in the English language but is having difficulties due to a heavy accent, recommend accent reduction classes, which can be helpful.
Navigating life as a non-native English speaker isn’t easy, and it can at times be isolating. A little kindness, patience, and thoughtfulness can really make a difference.