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Meet language barrier head-on by talking about it

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in Your Office Coach

Q: “Because my English is not very good, I have a hard time contributing in management team meetings. I often feel ignored because the other managers don’t understand what I mean. I have a lot that I want to say, but my English always lets me down.

“When someone asks me a question, I worry that my accent will make me look stupid. If I am asked to repeat a comment, I get anxious and forget what I was trying to say. I feel that others think less of me because of my poor English, so meetings have become very stressful. Can you help?” Tongue-tied

A: Anyone who has ever had to communicate in an unfamiliar language will identify with your dilemma. The inability to share your knowledge and fully participate must be incredibly frustrating.

One possible strategy is to simply ask your colleagues for help. For example: “Since English is not my native language, I sometimes find it difficult to express my ideas. I’m working to improve my English, but that’s a slow process. I would appreciate your patience when we are discussing complex topics.”

In response to such an appeal, most people will react sympathetically and encourage your participation. You may also find that openly discussing the issue actually reduces your anxiety.

If writing is easier than speaking, you might also tell your colleagues that you will occasionally send them emails to clarify your views. And if planning time would help, try asking your boss for the agenda before each staff meeting.

When people from different cultures work together, misunderstandings sometimes occur. Here are some tips that might help: Communicating Across Cultures.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Cheryl July 29, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Check out Toastmasters International. We work on speaking in a non-threatening environment. Everyone has fears of speaking so why not make it fun and learn at the same time.


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