5 Tips to Help Non-Native English Speakers in Work Meetings

February 28, 2022

Meetings are an integral part of work life. It’s where important issues are discussed, the senior decision-makers are in attendance and you need to put yourself across positively.

However, because non-native English speakers might feel self-conscious about their English, they often remain quiet even though they are subject matter experts and undoubtedly have great ideas to offer.

Here are five tips to help non-native speakers present their ideas clearly.

Be sure to click here for our checklist for non-native English speakers, it is full of useful meeting phrases and vocabulary.

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1.  Prepare for your next meeting by thinking about issues that will probably come up and learning some phrases. Practice your points aloud. Having your points written down will make it easier to jump into the conversation rather than formulating what you need to say. Making visual notes can be an effective way of remembering useful phrases.

2.  Speak up early as the longer you wait to say something in the meeting, the harder it will be to contribute. Make a comment or ask a question near the beginning to relieve any nerves. Remember people do want to hear from you and they won’t care if your English isn’t perfect. So don’t stress about your English skills. The hardest thing for non-native speakers is finding a way to interrupt people and contribute to the conversation with fast-talking native speakers. Refer to your prepared notes as this will give you more confidence to speak up and then just do it!

3.  Know the appropriate language for interruptions or even use a slight hand raise to indicate you wish to speak. There are several ways to make what you want to say sound polite and non-confrontational. You can use ‘can’ or ‘could’ as in “Can I just ask you ….?” or “If you could go through them again” which sounds better than “I want to know ….” or “Go through them in order”. Also use “would like” which is more polite than “I want ….” and “sorry”, which is a very common word to soften what you are about to say. Finally use “just” as it gives the listener the idea that you are not going to ask them something complex or time-consuming e.g. “David, can I just ask ...?”

4.  With important news, going through the background reasons first can help reduce the sense of shock for the listeners. A formal register is usually appropriate when outlining a serious situation. You can use phrases such as “ It would appear that”, “There’s no easy/nice way to say this”, “I regret to inform you that ….” or “Unfortunately, due to.”

5.  The next time you are in a meeting, observe how it ends. Are the four elements of closing, summarising, organising follow-up and thanking included? If not, make a note of the reasons why (e.g. not enough time) and how the closure could be improved. Role-play what you might say and also think of a few polite ways of asking people to take responsibility for follow-up tasks.

Developing your awareness and what you already do well and what you could do better will allow you to focus on improving those meetings skills you really need. Good luck!

Free resources: Don't forget to download our checklist for non-native English speakers, it is full of useful meeting phrases and vocabulary.  Inspired? View our sample course outline and please note all courses are tailored to suit your needs.


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