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8 tips for breaking down language barriers

dansilcox profile image Dan Silcox ・2 min read

This simple guide is designed to help those for whom English is a first language to communicate clearly and inclusively with those who have learned it as an additional language.

It is not intended to be patronising or demeaning - quite the opposite in fact, I have a huge level of respect for multi lingual people - in terms of human languages (as opposed to programming languages!) I only speak English, apart from a little bit of French from school, so big thumbs up to all you multi-linguists!

It is intended to help us single-linguists to avoid getting carried away and unintentionally excluding those who might find English less familiar and therefore not as easy to follow.

1) Keep to short sentences where possible
2) Speak more slowly and clearly than you normally would - don’t mumble or rush words, pronounce consonants clearly (avoid ‘glottal stops’ for example - skip to about 1 min)
3) Avoid slang/expressions/idioms - or be ready to explain them and laugh with your colleagues about how crazy they sound when you really think about them!
4) In technical topics, using well known terms, such as design patterns, as opposed to your own custom names for things, can help your colleagues as they quite likely learnt at least some of this in English (see the comments on this article for anecdotal evidence)
5) Use non verbal communication to supplement your words where possible - hands, facial expressions, tone, etc - but not excessively to the point of embarrassingly waving your arms around!
6) Listen carefully to your colleagues when they speak to you
7) Respect each other’s time zones! Don’t book all your conference calls/ meetings during their lunch break (food is a priority in any language!!)
8) DO NOT correct or patronise them!

Over to you: multi-linguists, can you think of any other points that might help you to feel more included in English discussions on technical topics? English-as-first-language-ists - any other tips you can add from experience?

Let’s all help each other to break down those barriers that exist in tech at the human level, which tech has solved in a practical sense!

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