Challenges for Non-native Speakers

















Cultural Savvy Training - developing effective global communication strategues

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
~ George Bernard Shaw

"Two monologues do not make a dialogue"
~ Jeff Daly

English is considered the lingua franca, for global business. Lingua franca is defined as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different. Interestingly, while English is the lingua franca, it not the language spoken by the majority of people in the world. 

Four times more people speak English as a second language than as a native one.
While more people speak English as a second language, nearly three times
more people speak Mandarin Chinese as native speakers..
English has nearly two billion people learning it as a second language
and only 350 million people speaking it as native speakers.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: "In the Middle Ages, the Arabs of the eastern Mediterranean referred to all Europeans as Franks (the name of the tribe that once occupied the land we call France). Since there was plenty of Arab-European trade, the traders in the Mediterranean ports eventually developed a trading language combining Italian, Arabic, and other languages, which almost everyone could more or less understand, and it became known as the "Frankish language", or lingua franca.

There are numerous English dialects spoken around the world, including American, Canadian, British, Irish, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Indian - each with their own pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, use of dates/numbers, use of idioms and colloquial expressions.

Differences can be seen in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, use of dates/numbers, use of idioms and colloquial expressions, etc. If native English speakers have difficulty understanding these numerous dialects, consider the challenges for non-native English speakers! While many people study English in school, it is often more "standard" than what is actually spoken. Native English speakers need to be sensitized to these challenges and make efforts to practice "language modification" in their spoken and written communications.

Examples of "Crazy English"

It is very important for native English speakers to be sensitive to the fact that English is a foreign language for many of their associates around the world, and the extent to which it is understood and spoken may vary widely. 

For example, in some countries such as Japan, English is generally studied in junior high and high school, but the method of instruction emphasizes reading and grammar. Therefore, many Japanese may have more familiarity with written English than spoken English. The Japanese are also very shy and hesitate to speak for fear of making a mistake. However, never make the assumption that a person does not understand English – it can cause embarrassing situations.

Another factor to consider is that non-native English speakers around the world may be more familiar with British English than American English, or vice versa. The degree to which your colleagues speak English may also vary by region, occupation, educational background, level of international experience.

Challenges also come from the overuse of idioms, jargon, doublespeak, proverbs, cliches.

How to Make your Communication Clearer and More Meaningful...

  • Adapt Your Language: Avoid using idioms, slang, jargon
  • Speak a bit more slowly and annunciate your words. It is recommended that native speakers reduce their speed about 20%. Don't speak like you are communicating
    with a child.
  • Use Active Listening and Observation: Listen to what is being said, summarize back
    what you heard, and then ask for confirmation of understanding. Remember in many cultures non-verbal communication is a big part of how people communicate.
  • Ask open-ended questions: In many cultures "yes" might mean yes, no, maybe, or I heard you but don't understand you!".
  • Take the time to build Relationships: In many cultures, relationships are how business gets done.
  • Consider Technology: Often non-native speakers are more comfortable with written, rather than spoken English. Using visuals is an effective way to present information.
  • Be cautious when using humor, it doesn't travel well.
  • Consider how stressful and difficult it may be for a non-native speaker to make a presentation or give a speech.
  • Consider the extra time required when using interpreters and understand that while
    they are professionals, they are still working in a second language.


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