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Effective Communication

Sometimes when native speakers and non-native speakers interact, communication can break
When this happens, often the native speakers feel as much discomfort and embarrassment as the
non-native speakers. This could be because they are sympathizing with the other speaker or be-
cause the interaction brings to mind other less successful interactions.
The problem is that when emotions become a part of any interaction, they can become distracting
and can impede both parties efforts at communicating.


Identify the communication problem. Rephrase their request to make sure

you understand.
Often it is not actually fluency or vocabulary,
but delivery. If the person talking is speaking You want to know how to change your class. Is
too quickly or softly, point out to him/her that that correct?
that is what is making it difficult to understand.
Many people who are nervous or frustrated
have a tendency to speak too fast. Slow downbut not too much!
Im sorry, but I didnt understand. Could you please Remember that it is normal to speak
repeat that slowly? quickly when you are feeling anxious.
Im sorry, but I didnt understand. Could you please Try to slow down a bit when speaking
speak louder? with someone who you have reason to
believe is having difficulty understanding
If the words being used are in fact making it Just keep in mind that while slower
difficult to understand, try asking the speaker speech is helpful, dont reduce it so much
to rephrase his/her question. that your speech is distorted.
Im sorry, but I didnt understand. Could you please Sometimes a slight pause between
say that a different way? phrases or sentences is enough to allow a
bit of extra processing time for non-
native speakers.

Newsletter created by: Danielle Bergez, Academic Liaison for International Student Support,

Tips continued...
Try not to use idioms. Use direct statements and answers. Use visual support whenever possi-
Idioms are expressions which when Sometimes we try to soften a response
translated word-for-word do not reveal if we know that the person we are talk- If you are discussing a university or class
the correct meaning. Consider Keep ing to will not be happy with the reply. policy, it is helpful to show the policy to
your eyes peeled. The meaning is to Attempting a subtle no may lead to the student as you are discussing it.
watch for something, to be attentive; misinterpretation.
Whenever possible, point to a map as
however, if a non-native speaker trans-
Instead of Im sorry, but it looks like the you give directions.
lated each word, he/she would not
Chair is not here right now. It would be better
arrive at that meaning. Even if some of your words are missed,
if you try to email her to set up an appoint-
Instead of I can take care of that for you. ment so that you dont travel here only to find the visual cue will help to fill in the gaps.
Its a piece of cake. that she is in a meeting or something.
Use I can take care of that for you. Its Use The Chair is not here. Please email her
easy. at this email address to set-up an appoint-
Instead of Turn in the final research paper
and the whole nine yards.
Use Turn in the final research paper, the
first draft, and the sources you used. Quick Tips for Communicating More Effectively with Nonnative English Speakers. Car-
negie Mellon University.

For more information

1. Flaitz, J., et. al. (2003). Understanding your international students: An educational, cultural, and linguistic guide. Ann Arbor: Uni-
versity of Michigan Press. Wilmington University Library LB2375.U52 2003

This book provides an overview of specific countries educational systems, interactional styles, notable cultural features,
and details about individual languages. It is a quick reference for cultural differences that may be encountered with in-
ternational students.

2. Gebhard, J. G. (2010). What do international students think and feel?: Adapting to U.S. college life and culture. Ann Arbor: Uni-
versity of Michigan Press. Wilmington University Library LB2376.4

This book uses students stories about their experiences adjusting to American universities to raise awareness of the
challenges they face.

3. Watch Your Language: Improving Communication with Non-Native Speakers. Cornell University.

This website provides short videos addressing various topics related to communicating with non-native speakers of

Newsletter created by: Danielle Bergez, Academic Liaison for International Student Support,