A Teacher’s Take: Eight ways to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English well!

A language barrier can greatly affect a relationship between people. People can misinterpret each other’s signals, which can lead to awkwardness, distrust and ZERO productivity.

During my time as an ESL teacher I have learnt several methods that can help prevent a negative experience from occurring:

1. Speak Slowly

Most ESL speakers can pick up keywords when you speak. However, if you speak to fast then they can miss these words, which can lead to a breakdown in communication. Say each word separately and take your time with it.

2. No colloquial Language

ESL speakers can barely interpret proper formal English. There is no way that they will be able to understand words that don’t exist in the translator on their smart phone!

3. Never assume

More often than not most ESL speakers can say ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ However, just because they can say these simple phrases, don’t assume that they can understand everything else that you say. Take the time to learn about the person your speaking to and then adjust the way you speak accordingly.

4. Use different ways to communicate

The reality is everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. This applies to speaking English as well. For instance, there are those speakers who can read very well, but there listening skills may be lacking. When communicating find multiple ways of communicating.

5. Actions speak louder than words

When communicating make sure you emphasize your body language. They say that body language makes up about 80% of communication. When speaking to an ESL speaker you need to increase this to about 95%! Use hand gestures, ensure your stance is appropriate and adjust your facial expressions when necessary. Such actions will help the speaker get the gist of what your saying.


Just because they don’t speak English, doesn’t mean they are deaf! If you start shouting then they will start to think that you are angry or being rude to them. Either way it can have a negative impact on the relationship.

7. No BIG words

Any fancy words that you learnt back at university or college? Forget them. If the average English speaker can’t understand what the word ‘verisimilitude’ means then an ESL speaker sure as hell won’t be able to understand.

8. Be patient

Just remember that the person you are talking to is still learning. English is not a simple language. It is incredibly different to most other languages and can take sometime to learn. Show some patience and you will find that they will embrace you more.

Anyways these are just some tips from my own experiences. I hope they can be helpful to you!





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