How to communicate with people who don't understand your language

Speak Slowly

You might think this is so ridiculously obvious that it doesn’t need saying. But if that’s the case, why don’t more people do it?

I’ve lost count of the times, when, after a few slow greetings, the person I’m speaking to hits the fast forward button. And it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I implore “Can you speak more slowly please.” As soon as the conversation hots up, the snail-paced speak stops.

So, how slow should you go with someone who’s learning a language? If you sound a little silly, you’ve probably got it about right. If you possess one of those lovely, quirky regional accents, hit the slow button about ten more times more.

Don’t shout

I’m. Not. Deaf. Uttering the same incomprehensible words but louder is not going to make me any more likely to understand. It’ll just make you look stupid and make me feel more incompetent than I already do.

Don’t repeat the same word over and over

I know you need to explain to me that the volcano hike will be muddy, but if I don’t understand the word for mud, simply repeating it over and over isn’t going to make any difference. Say it slowly. Say it loudly. I still won’t get it. You need to come at it from another angle like a translation app, dictionary (both of which I have) or some visual aid…Like pointing at some mud.

Don’t patronise

I may have the foreign language skills of a two-year old, but I’m a grown-up woman and, in most other contexts, I’m a reasonably intelligent one. So, while I do need you to explain how I can get to the toilet, I’m unlikely to need any tips on how to use it or the fact that I need to close the door behind me. But, hey, thanks anyway.

Use simple words

It’s no use trying to impress me with your expansive vocabulary. I have the foreign language skills of a pre-schooler. Simple words only, please.

Use even simpler sentences

Sometimes 50 words roll out of your mouth instead of just the five that are needed, So when you’re communicating with someone who doesn’t speak your language, sharpen up your sentences.

For example, I ordered a coffee in Spain and got this:

“We’ve got so many coffees in this place, we’re…like…one of the most popular places around. I even think we might have invented the Cortado, which we now serve with super-skinny-soy if ya like. Though we’ve also got a bunch of frappes to beat the heat, but really it’s up to you…whatever’s you like, cos we pretty much have everything. So, what’ll it be?”

What I wish the guy had said was this: “What would you like?”