Slow down and pause between sentences

During the past few weeks I have enjoyed the new experience of traveling to Brazil with 20 Korean executives from SK Holding.  I am part of a training team and we’ve been working closely together.  What a super experience to see Brazil through the eyes of professional Koreans.  As to language learning, it was interesting to experience the use of English as a lingua franca.  Here we were, in Brazil, using the non-native English of the Koreans and the non-native English of the Brazilians.  One of the marvels of the experience was to see how well the Koreans and the Brazilians understood each other.  There were times when the Koreans and the Brazilians understood each other better than I understood what they were saying. I came away with an appreciation of what it means to talk a little slower and use fewer idioms, which is what non-native speakers do when speaking with each other.

By contrast, we then returned to Austin to continue their training, and all of a sudden the Koreans started struggling to understand English.  The truth is that the native speakers of English simply talk too fast, with fewer pauses in their speech, and with lots of slang, idioms, and local references.

The successful communicators are the ones who are aware that non-native speakers sometimes reach a “comprehension overload”.  In the case of our Korean visitors, they may understand the basic idea, but they are limited in their ability to simultaneously listen, take notes, internalize the meaning, analyze what is being said, ask questions, and contribute to the discussion.

The bottom line is that I have gained a new appreciation for native speakers who have an ability to modify their speech for others who are not yet totally proficient in another language.  My advice, here is what the good communicators do: slow down, talk slower, pause between phrases, repeat key words, rephrase things with alternative words, effectively use visual cues and non-verbal aids, talk to people at not at them, give people a “time out” to catch up, and engage listeners to elicit feedback.

Thanks SK, you have been fantastic.

PS  The photo was taken at Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo where we played a little basketball.  I’m the guy in the middle in the light blue shirt.

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