Presenting tips for non-native English speakers

Posted by on Nov 26, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

Presenting tips for non-native English speakers


ID-10066429Public speaking anxiety, or glossophobia, is one of the most common fears in adults. Now imagine, if presenting to a group of people is that scary – doing it in your second language is even scarier. But it shouldn’t be. Indeed, much of advice that can be given to non-native speakers applies to the native ones as well.

Simple words

What looks good on paper doesn’t necessarily sound as good. That’s one of many reasons why you should practice your presentation aloud, trying to identify any words that could be replaced with shorter, more familiar ones. For example, replace “utilize” with “use”, “perceive” with “see” or “desire” with “want.” People sometimes assume that using complicated, big words will make them seem smarter. Well, it won’t – it will only make their audience struggle to get their message and eventually lose interest in whatever they may be talking about. It’s simple, sharp and concrete words that get the message through. And, luckily for non-native English speakers, they are usually easier to pronounce.

Short sentences

Whether written or spoken, complex and superlong sentences are difficult to understand. You know that feeling when you read a book or an article, you get lost in a sea of words in a very long sentence so you go back looking for a capital letter to identify where it begins and start reading it again? Well, in public speaking there is no way back – once said, your words will either reach the audience or be permanently lost, often along with your audience’s attention. On the contrary, using short sentences will make your speech easier to deliver, you’ll have less trouble to catch up if interrupted and, most importantly, your audience won’t be struggling to understand what you are trying to say.

Smooth transitions

Making a transition from one topic to another can be challenging and non-native speakers are more likely to use fillers such as “um” and “er” while trying to find the right words. It makes the presenter look nervous and insecure and it is disturbing for the audience. Try to replace the fillers with pauses. Remember, good speakers enjoy their silence. Also, try to get familiar with using some transitional words and phrases such as “however,” “furthermore” and “Keeping these points in mind…”. They help you to establish coherence and strengthen the arguments of your presentation and buy you some time when struggling to find the right word.


Native speakers of different languages are prone to different mistakes in English pronunciation. Those errors are typical for each language and thus, not so difficult to avoid. The Spanish will often say “’ear” when they mean “here,” Germans can always be recognized by pronouncing “so” as “zo” and Italian natives may say “beg” when they mean “bag.” While most of those mistakes don’t make one’s speech incomprehensible, there are situations when they may be confusing, especially if the keywords are mispronounced. For example, I remember a presentation on political science by a Spanish speaker whose pronunciation of “hegemony” sounded like “Germany” and we only learnt that he never actually mentioned Germany during the Q&A session, when the presentation was over and done with.

Beware of direct translation

Direct or literal translation is a common malpractice by non-native speakers. Using one language’s words and another language’s grammar, or the other way round, simply doesn’t work and if you choose this way to “translate” your thoughts in English, the only ones who will understand it are your compatriots (given that they also speak English). Again, pay attention to your keywords and make sure you are using the right ones. If you are a German native presenting a book and you invite your audience to look at the “backside,” the German ones will look at the “Rückseite,” but the others…well, they may be distracted.

Phone a friend

People are usually glad to help those who show interest in their language and you probably have at least one friend who is an English native. Once you are done with preparation of your speech, ask a friend to listen to it as a final checkup. Tell him/her you just want to make sure you aren’t making any major mistakes and your speech is easy to understand. It is probably not more than 15 minutes of his/her time and it will give you a great confidence boost.

Worried about accent?

If your accent makes your speech difficult to understand you should definitely work on improving it. Listening and paying attention to native speakers’ pronunciation helps with improving your English speaking skills. However, it is very difficult to completely remove your accent, and why would you want to? Your accent is a part of your identity and, in an international context, it often actually supports your credibility as a speaker on a certain topic. For example, if you are advocating for the use of renewable energy and presenting the German success story, your German accent will simply give you more authenticity. Who wants to hear a German story from an American?


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