Making Yourself Understood When English is Not Your First Language

Adapting to another country can be an overwhelming experience by itself, but add the difficulty of working in another language, and you may find yourself feeling like a helpless child. Here are some tips that can help you be better understood when speaking English.

Believe it or not, you should probably slow your speech down. Not too much, just a little. You may feel that Americans speak quickly and you need to keep up. But give the other person some time to adjust to your accent. Surprisingly, in such a multicultural country as the U.S., many people haven’t had a lot of exposure to foreign accents.

Don’t say you understand if you don’t. Say “I’m sorry; I didn’t quite understand what you meant.” If you think you know what the other person has said, but want to make sure, you should paraphrase. For example, say “Let me make sure I understand. You want me to be here tomorrow at 10:00. Is that right?”

Don’t let your limited English keep you from talking. One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking they have to be perfect before they speak. The truth is- the only way to become perfect is by speaking the language.

Get help with your English. For general English, try an intensive language program or a community college ESL class. Or if you want to specifically work on your pronunciation, get a coach or enroll in the American Accent Workshop at

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Becoming a fluent English speaker is definitely an obtainable goal… but only if you keep working on it.

Sheri Summers is an Accent Modification Coach. She works with individuals who speak English as a second language to help them communicate more clearly and gain more confidence.

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