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How to Support Non-Native English Speakers



Remember when you couldn't understand the non-native speaker you were talking with? Did you pretend you understood them? Did you ask them to repeat themselves, or were you afraid to embarrass them? Maybe you wanted to make a suggestion or offer a language resource, but you didn't know how to do it tactfully.


Communicating in a second or third language can be challenging, but there are many ways you can help make conversation easier for non-native English speakers.


5 Tips for Talking with Non-Native English Speakers

  • Speak slowly, use clear pronunciation, and ask the other person to speak more slowly as well.

  • Use simple words when possible. Refrain from using idioms or expressions that your conversation partner may not understand.

  • Be honest! Don’t pretend to understand something if you don’t.

  • Remember that communicating with someone who doesn’t speak English well or clearly can be frustrating for both of you. Patience always helps!

  • Make a point of learning a few words in different languages. Being able to say “Hello” “How are you?” or “Thank you” in the other person’s language can relieve tension and make everyone feel more comfortable.

But What if you feel that the person could use some extra help?


5 Ways to Be a Resource for Non-Native English Speakers

  • Begin by asking general and open-ended questions about the person’s experience communicating with English speakers.

  • Share a story about someone you know who has benefited from English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction or American accent training. Explain the positive impact it’s had on that person.

  • Be mindful of when and where you bring up the topic. Be sensitive, and respect the other person’s privacy.

  • Acknowledge that a referral may not be right for them, but offer to pass on contact information if interested. Remember to follow up with a list of resources as promised.

  • Compile a list of reputable resources. Community colleges and local adult education programs frequently offer ESL classes. Literacy Volunteers of Greater New Haven offers free English instruction from volunteer tutors in the New Haven area, and other branches and organizations operate around the country. Accent reduction training can be helpful if someone is proficient in the English language but is having difficulty due to a heavy accent.

Navigating life as a non-native speaker isn't easy, and it can be isolating at times. A little kindness, patience, and thoughtfulness can really make a difference in someone's day.

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