When working with international staff, partners or clients here are 10 tips for successful phone calls with people who are using English as their second language:

  1. Don’t assume every foreigner has a problem with English. But don’t assume the opposite either. Some may speak very fluently but miss the detail when listening to native speakers. Some may listen accurately but be less clear when they speak.
  2. Make an appointment for the call if possible. This allows the recipient to prepare themselves and find a quiet place to speak to you.
  3. Smile. This makes your voice sound warmer and friendlier – specially important when working across cultures.
  4. Speak slowly and clearly, with sincerity, matching your pace to the listener’s ability to understand you. And use short sentences. Pause frequently, to give your colleague thinking time.
  5. Voices are distorted on the phone but it’s important to hear clearly when listening to an unfamiliar accent. Conferencing equipment and mobile phones increase distortion and reduce sound quality even more. So, take trouble to enunciate more clearly than usual so that the words are clear.
  6. Use International English – avoid unusual words, colloquial terms and slang. Try to use language/vocabulary which is explicit and easy to understand.
  7. Understanding a foreign language on the phone requires the listener to concentrate hard. Check that they have understood what has been said. Ask if they want you to speak more slowly and be prepared to repeat key points more than once.
  8. Use concrete examples to illustrate important points.
  9. Be clear: your audience is more interested in your business information and opinions than in style or wordplay. Focus on how to explain clearly and without ambiguity.
  10. If English is not YOUR mother tongue and you are not confident in English, stop worrying about grammar mistakes. People are more interested in your information and useful opinions than in perfect grammar.