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estebangc 7 Apr 2012 23:19

Tips for English native speakers for a better communication in English with nonnative
Being a recurrent topic “how to communicate with local people in places were you don’t speak the language” or especially “how to learn X language” and considering that most HUBB visitors are English native speakers, I propose to start a thread where we, non-native speakers (and native as well), based on our experiences, give some tips to ease the task to Brits, Irish, Americans (US citizens), Aussies, Canadians and Kiwis (and any others) when they speak English abroad.

I’ll start it, hoping that others will provide more and better advice, but here I go.

Honestly, I think that starting point would be... ban the “I’m amazed about how few people could speak English” sentence. Although English is the current “lingua franca”, it hasn’t always been the case (elderly people speak more French, and still the case of youth in certain regions; or Russian in former USSR, etc). Furthermore, if you, a guy with the curiosity to travel to know the world can’t speak the local language, how could you expect the local farmer to speak good English? So, it’s you to make the bigger effort.

Now the tips (just a personal opinion), which mainly refer to the case of a native trying to use English: *note: I insist on native because understanding a foreigner is MUCH easier.

1) Politeness: in many places you cannot start by saying “(excuse me,) where is the cathedral?” So, start with a greeting in the local language (bonjour –really appreciated by the French-, buenos días –‘cos I’m (worth it?) Spanish-, whatever) and give the person a time to greet you back (1 second?). It’s a much better start to get all the kindness and patience from that person.

2) IMHO, don’t start asking “do you speak English?” Why? Some people just get afraid of this question. They may understand “where is the cathedral?” and could point the direction, but they consider that they don’t speak English to answer yes. So, they’ll say NO, although they might help you: most young people have studied some English at school.

3) Have you ever felt puzzled talking to a guy in Glasgow? It’s much worse for us with any native speaker, so speak slowly and pronounce very well, as if you had to pronounce every letter. Don’t speak very quickly followed by a long pause, we didn’t have time to process the info. British pronunciation doesn't sound fluent to our ears (bumps) and Americans "eat" sounds, Kiwis change vowels (sounds lift, they meant left). So, do your best: if you say “ksal”, the average Italian guy won’t link “castel” (say KASTEL) to the Italian “castello” (well, not so slowly as to make the Italian guy feel like an idiot).

4) Consider showing the word in written, whether in English or the local language. Wrong/right pronunciation may make a huge difference. I would add a visual dictionary, but that’s another story.

5) SMILE and be nice, use your body alongside with your tongue (useful anywhere for any speaker).

Not much, nor a golden tip above, but by now cannot think of others.

I hope it will help some and that others will contribute with more/better tips.

Happy travels (and happy communication when traveling!),


Nath 8 Apr 2012 07:31


Originally Posted by estebangc (Post 374435)
I hope it will help some and that others will contribute with more/better tips.

Speak louder and slower.

estebangc 8 Apr 2012 12:46


Originally Posted by Nath (Post 374464)
Speak louder and slower.

Yes, slow and emphasizing pronunciation is essential. Sure enough volume... but not way too high either! (not a matter of deafness doh, unless in the windy Mongolia steppe, cool blog and nice story, Nath).

Pretty obvious, but do not use slang at all and look for sort of complete and "international/French/latin/greek sounding" words: say motorcycle, instead of bike (motor and cycle will be easier to recognize in many languages: Motorrad, motocicleta, etc).

Support words with gestures: do you have a "pump", and move your arms pumping (Pumpe, bomba, etc, so the meaning comes to mind more easily).

The idea is to boost the effectiveness of communication in English with non/average foreign speakers.

floyd 9 Apr 2012 11:00

Why do we try and speak in pidgin English to foreigners?
Always baffles me!!!

estebangc 9 Apr 2012 11:39


Originally Posted by floyd (Post 374601)
Why do we try and speak in pidgin English to foreigners?
Always baffles me!!!

I adapt my language to the person's skills: he speaks well, I use proper Spanish; he's a beginner, I'll use a more basic Spanish. I don't think offensive, but the opposite. Boring? For some it could be, linked to the statement "how few people could speak English". Sounds like "shame on you" and 90% comes from someone who speaks no foreign language.

Average Dutch? Speak your best English. Average Spaniard? You'd better try simplified English. If the guy can understand you and help you, you'll make his day, he will feel more confident next time. Personally, I'd be thankful if you speak slowly and emphasize the pronunciation.

I've spoken quite a lot of "pidgin English" abroad (not in the UK, obviously) and the alternative would have been to speak the local language... and learning Turkish is not in the agenda by now.

chris 9 Apr 2012 15:35


brclarke 10 Apr 2012 01:33

I think your advice is good for non-native English speakers as well. :thumbup1:

holodragon 10 Apr 2012 14:59

Some excellent advice, thank you.
I am learning Polish at the moment & can now understand how easy it is to mangle the pronunciation of a word! I have a bad habit of speaking too quickly, especially when nervous, so now I try to remember to take a deep breath & relax a little before saying something in any language.
I use a visual dictionary as part of my learning process & find them very useful, as a travelling aid the Point It book is great as it is so small & also generally causes some amusement.:thumbup1:

Fern 10 Apr 2012 20:02

Smile, although it can only get you so far, it does help!

I've used this at work .. PocketComms - Language First Aid at your Fingertips like the point books but plastic and easy to use. They actually have a link to the Hubb on their website!

handy just to build a basic rapport and get me unstuck and slightly less gormless.

pbekkerh 11 Apr 2012 04:33

And please, this is also valid in your own country: make an effort to speak the queens english, because thats what foreigners have learned. Not geordie, cockney or scottish (I know its your language but its difficult to understand anyway).
Its strange for a foreigner to learn english and then find out that the english people can't speak their own language.
I would never talk to a foreigner in my own dialect, that even many danish people don't understand

About pidgin english: Years ago, I found it demeaning not to talk a correct english to other nonenglish speakers but after working for some time with asians with rudimentary english skills, I found out, that they didn't understand anything, if I used to many words.
"Do you want to go and have something to eat?" just gave me a stare but "Go eat?" immediately gave me the reply "Can, can"
You should of course adapt you language to the other parts language skills or you might offend them.
If all languages fail, I have had a lot of people laugh at me, for trying to mime and draw whatever I wanted and its always been a good icebreaker, when meeting new people.

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