Six tips for speaking English internationally

Six tips for speaking English internationally

Do you need English to communicate in an international environment? Here are six tips to connect with people successfully when English is your common language.

English is spoken by over two billion people worldwide – that's one in four people! It's the language of business and tourism, and the language people use to work together, share knowledge and understand different cultures. 

As the most spoken language worldwide, English is an incredible tool to help you connect with other people.

But even when you speak the same language, international communication isn't easy. Different accents, language levels and cultural references can make communication very challenging.  

In fact, it's possible to speak the same language and not understand what's being said at all.

Here are six tips to improve communication when speaking English in an international context. 

1. Think 'communication'

This is really obvious, but really worth remembering! Sometimes we're so busy worrying about our language skills that we forget the goal is communication. 

Imagine someone says something you don't understand in a course you're studying in English. Do you interrupt politely to ask for clarification? Or do you say nothing, thinking that everyone else must understand? 

The problem with staying quiet is it stops communication. And you're probably not the only person who hasn't fully understood.

Whatever your language level, you have every right to ask questions, check you've understood and participate. In fact, it makes you a good communicator. 

So, go for it! Good communication is often about attitude, not your English level. 
 

2. Check understanding 

Checking understanding isn't just the responsibility of the listener. When you're talking, try to build in opportunities to check people have understood you. You could say:

Do you know what I mean? (to check your main point)
Are you following me? (during a longer explanation)
Is this clear?/Am I being clear? (especially for instructions)
What do you think? (to see if people have the same opinion as you)

Open questions that require longer answers – rather than 'yes' or 'no' questions – really help check there are no misunderstandings. 

3. Keep it simple

Remember that not everyone's English is as good as yours! And even excellent English speakers might not know certain expressions. That's why simpler is always better for good communication. Be kind to your listener and speak simply, slowly and clearly. 

Try to choose common vocabulary and avoid idiomatic phrases like 'you dodged a bullet' (= 'you avoided a bad situation'). These kinds of phrases are confusing if you don't already know the meaning. 

Look for alternatives to business jargon too. For example, 'in the future' is easier to understand than the expression 'going forward'. 

It's also helpful to say abbreviations like 'ETA' (estimated time of arrival) in full, unless you're sure people are familiar with them.

4. Repeat things

People are worse at remembering things than you might think. Especially if they only hear them once. 

That's why repetition can be really important. 

A good way to repeat things is to paraphrase an expression, that is, to say it in different words. For example, you might say:

The project deadline has been extended by a fortnight. In other words, we now have two extra weeks to finish the project.

Notice the useful expressions 'that is' and 'in other words', which can be used to introduce repetition in different words.

Repeating key information like this helps people remember things. And it also gives them a better chance of understanding them.

5. Aim for intelligibility

Everyone has an accent when they speak English. Your accent might say something about where you're from, the places you've lived and worked or where you learned English. And that's a beautiful thing! 

Apart from being an adorable part of who you are, your accent doesn't matter. What does matter is that people understand you. That means you need correct pronunciation. Or, at least, correct enough pronunciation for people to easily recognise the words you're saying.

Being understandable is called 'intelligibility'. And intelligibility – not accent – is the big one to work on. 

6. Work on your pronunciation – it's a double win!

So, when you work on your pronunciation, you improve your intelligibility. And that makes you a better communicator. 

But that's not all. When you improve your pronunciation, you also improve your understanding when listening. That's because you're aware of how words and phrases sound, so you recognise them more easily when you hear them. 

Here are a few things you can do to improve pronunciation that have big positive effects – on both intelligibility and listening skills:

  • When you learn a new word, make sure you know the pronunciation.
  • Make a note of individual sounds and word stress when writing down new vocabulary and phrases.
  • Be aware of connected speech – how the end sound of one word can affect the beginning sound of the next word. (For example, the phrase 'law and order' can sound like a person called 'Laura Norder'!)
  • Notice that we stress the words in a sentence which are most important for meaning.

Having good pronunciation is amazing for both being understood and understanding. It's a double win for your communication skills!

So, there you have it. Six tips for speaking English internationally.

  • Think 'communication'.
  • Check understanding.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Repeat yourself.
  • Aim for intelligibility.
  • Improve your pronunciation.


Jo Gore

Discussion

Language level

Average: 4.5 (23 votes)

Submitted by Roberta66 on Mon, 04/09/2023 - 15:14

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Thanks for these 6 tips! In my experience, it’s difficult to keep calm when talking in English with other native speakers (with the exception of the teacher, of course) because native English speakers tend to talk fast and "swallow words". Personally, this thing makes me a little anxious, especially if I have to ask for clarifications.
On the other hand, I think this is a problem in other languages as well. I’m Italian and the speed with which you speak depends on the attitude of the single person, not all people speak fast.
So my first problem is understanding when I listen rather than when I speak. I’m trying to improve this skill, for example by watching video on YouTube (interviews with famous people, TedTalk etc) in order to get used to the sound of the language.

Submitted by User_1 on Sat, 26/08/2023 - 16:08

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Hello,
Thanks for your six tips for speaking English internationally.
As you wrote above: "Sometimes we're so busy worrying about our language skills that we forget the goal is communication".
Although it is possible to interrupt politely to ask for clarification, check you've understood and participate, unfortunately it is easier to say
than to do.
If good communication is also about attitude, at the same time, the English level is the key to being understood by others.
I always try to keep my writing simple, but I do not know if my efforts reach this goal.
To become familiar with English is hard work. The feeling of making mistakes can freeze and fragment communication beyond the level of English gained.
Could the team give me feedback on my opinion?
Thanks for help.

Hello User_1,

I think all of these points are good pieces of advice and thank you for posting them. We're all native speakers of English on the LearnEnglish Team so we don't have the experience of learning English in the same way (though I think we all speak at least one other language). Advice from people who have had this experience is very valuable in my opinion.

One thing I would add is that, in my experience of speaking other languages as a learner/imperfect speaker, the vast majority of native speakers of any language are extremely patient and helpful when they hear someone trying to speak their language, so you can generally count on the good will of the listener even when you are having difficulty expressing yourself or understanding others.

 

Perhaps some of the other users on the site will share their reflections too.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,
Thanks for your kind feedback.
It is just my opinion, but to speak a second language when the first one is the global language like English, beyond all differences within it, it sounds a learning process with different goals since English is the main language in every international context.
The LearnEnglish Team, as native English speakers, is always patient with us when we try to practise your international language.
I ask for your feedback since I can count on the good will of you, both as teachers, listeners and readers of all written comments.
Every time I try to share my thoughts with you, I always hope they are clearer and written in a simple way.
Thanks a lot for your help.