Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today, I want to talk about communicating clearly in English.
Did you know that most of the conversations in English happening right now are between two non-native speakers? There’s a German doing business in Malaysia, and a Russian talking on the phone with a Korean, and a Brazilian visiting Spain. And they’re most likely using English to communicate with each other. But everyone has different levels of ability. So you have to try extra hard to get your message across.
But it’s not easy. After all, English is not a simple language. For one thing, it has more words and idioms than other languages. For another thing, there are many different varieties of English. So the English you hear in Singapore or Miami or London can sound quite different. Given this situation – people around the world using a difficult language at different levels – it’s really important to be able to communicate clearly.
So how can we do that? Well, let’s start with pronunciation. Of course, not everyone will, or should, speak exactly the same. Perfect pronunciation doesn’t exist, since there are so many different accents. And this variety of accents makes the language interesting and rich. But it is important that people understand each other.
Being clear isn’t so much about pronunciation as it is about enunciation. Enunciation simply means pronouncing things clearly and carefully. In fact, most language learners have two kinds of pronunciation. They have a lazy pronunciation they use when they’re speaking with people of the same first language, or when they’re tired. And they have a careful pronunciation. It takes more effort, but if you want your message to be clear, it’s important.
It’s not just a matter of laziness. Sometimes it’s a matter of skill. I mean, you might have learned how native English speakers blend sounds together between words. So “would you” becomes “wouldja,” and “going to” becomes “gonna.” That’s great in some situations. And it’s natural. But this reduced speech, as we call it, is not always clear. Besides, it sounds a bit too informal in most business situations.
Two other things that impact pronunciation are speed and volume. When we’re uncomfortable or nervous, we tend to speed up and speak more softly. But speaking quickly and quietly can damage our pronunciation. We’re more likely to mumble this way. Instead, slow down a bit and speak a bit more loudly. This will add clarity to your speech. And people will be more likely to grasp what you’re saying.
Clarity is also affected by the words we choose. The important thing here is to keep it simple. When you’re giving someone instructions on the phone, or making an important point in a presentation, it’s not the time to impress people with your vocabulary. This is especially true with verbs. Don’t say “produce” when you can say “make.” Don’t say “proceed to” when you can say “continue.” And don’t say “consider” when you can say “think about.”
In other words, stick to expressions you know people will understand. That means you should avoid using too much slang and too many idioms. Slang and idioms are very regional. I mean, you can ask someone in Australia to meet you in the “arvo,” but most other English speakers won’t know that you mean “afternoon.” And don’t expect people outside the U.S. to understand when you say that something exciting was “off the hook.”
When it comes to word choice, there’s another thing to be careful with: acronyms and abbreviations. You might use “TBH” quite often, but not everyone knows that it means “to be honest.” Others might not know that TBA means “to be announced,” or that “FYI” means “for your information.” You don’t have to use these abbreviations to get your point across.
And you’ve probably been confused – and frustrated – when people use abbreviations that are common in their line of work but are not common knowledge. If I mentioned “ESAC” in conversation, would you know that I was talking about the Engineering Safety Advisory Committee? Probably not. In fact, if I talked about ESAC, many listeners wouldn’t assume that it was an abbreviation at all. They’d be thinking it was some kind of electronic sack, or bag.
As we’ve seen, there are a lot of potential roadblocks to understanding someone in English. And communicating clearly might mean we have to adapt what we say and how we say it, depending on the audience. It’s always a good idea to speak up and to speak clearly. And if you want to make sure everyone understands, it’s wise to use simple and clear words, while avoiding slang, idioms, and abbreviations.
That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.