Tips for non-native speakers of English to communicate with confidence online


In the US, our world changed in March 2020 with the spread of COVID-19, causing many people to lose their jobs, work reduced hours, and/or work from home, and as that change continues to affect us, businesses reopen and adjust their practices. What impact does this have on business communication?

Pros Cons
It levels the playing field: everyone is in the same boat, so people who “worked the system” before by having long, in-person meetings with the boss now have the same phone/internet options we all do! It can be more challenging to communicate on the web: Losing the “in- person” connection means we have to rely on our words. People may not judge our emotions as well as they would in-person, so we need to change how we communicate verbally.
Convenience: Working from home makes it less of a disturbance if someone reschedules a meeting or insists on meeting early in the morning or late in the evening. Even overtime is less of an imposition. Clarity suffers:  If you are talking on the phone or on the net, you can’t assume people will understand you. You may lose 30% of your clarity, as compared to speaking in-person in an office setting.
You have the opportunity to attend diverse meetings: It may have been an inconvenience before, but with no traffic and more internet options, you can attend diverse meetings and widen your sphere of influence. Structure matters more: Since people may miss your non-verbal cues online and have a lower tolerance for long meetings, you’ll have to structure what you say so people hear it, understand, and act on it.
Meetings may get shorter! People are likely to do only what’s required and no more since many of the social benefits of meetings have disappeared. Precision and messaging matter more: Saying what you mean succinctly and clearly takes precedence over social talk and “rambling”: there’s simply no time or tolerance for it.

What should non-native speakers of American English do differently?

  • Plan and prioritize what you want to say before each meeting: There will be less downtime for you to think while others speak, and you may not be able to assess their messaging as easily during video or phone conferencing, so having your speaking points clearly defined will help you stay focused.
  • Work on clarity: Over the net and on the phone, 30% or more of what you say is lost, so if you are mispronouncing words, have a soft voice, or are difficult to understand for any reason, people may miss what you say or not listen to you.
  • Paraphrase more: It’s a good idea to check in with other speakers before you contribute, and say things like: “I think you mentioned that because… and therefore we need to… is that what you mean?” rather than simply proceeding with your next comment.
  • Summarize more: Instead of giving lots of examples and checking people’s expressions for feedback, you may want to summarize your points more frequently. The repetition helps people (who can’t see you in a phone conversation or who can’t truly experience your emotions fully in an internet meeting) understand your meaning in a way that would be too repetitive in- person.
  • Ask more questions: Questions keep people engaged! If you are losing your audience because they’ve been in internet meetings all day and they just aren’t focusing on your message, try asking them questions that require them to think and respond thoughtfully.
  • Exaggerate: Non-native speakers may feel it’s “too much”, but in many cases exaggerating your challenge sounds (like “r’s” and “l’s”) will help people understand you better.

Now may be the ideal time to take some speech coaching!  If you want to work on your accent, clarify your enunciation, or improve your voice quality, schedule a consultation.

Zoom sessions with Rebecca Linquist and Bud Everts can help you make the most of your communication opportunities in a post COVID world.