The one-sentence summary

If you are a native English speaker, you need to adjust the way you speak to those for whom English is not their first language.

Can’t be bothered to read it? Too much screen time lately? Listen to the 5-minute podcast.


  • This short book explains how to practice effective communication in a multilingual world. Many native English speakers think that because English is the global language of communication they are fine because everyone understands them, but often they don’t.
  • In fact, people whose first language is not English often find the English used every day hard to understand.
  • Non-native speakers now outnumber native speakers by 4 to 1. They are likely to have learned by formal training, and that is not the way native speakers speak.
  • Native speakers are often not good at adjusting their English to the manner and level used.
  • E1 refers to a native speaker. E2 refers to those for whom English is not their first language. It may even be their third or fourth.
  • If you are E1, then you can help by taking a number of steps to adapt your language
    • You are likely to speed up once you get going, but you need to slow down and try to avoid unnatural and exaggerated language. Pause between sections to allow bite-size chunks that others can process.
    • Cut down on unnecessary filler words such as ‘as it were’, ‘sort of/kind of’, ‘well basically’ and so on.
    • Understand that the meaning of many phrases is not obvious. Try to make the meaning of idioms clear by using shorter, simpler phrases.
    • Small talk is linguistically demanding and tiring – so keep it to a minimum.
    • Be careful with vague questions. Keep them short and prevent them sounding rude by adopting the right tone and making sure you sound polite.
    • Beware disappearing Words that merge with others or disappear are confusing (such as ‘D’ya wanna’ go or ‘I shud’ve dunnit’)
    • Be aware that politeness can be a barrier to communication. It is often full of unnecessary language and idioms and can even hide the real message. Keep it simple.
  • It is important to be inclusive not exclusive. E2 speakers often find themselves unable to formulate responses quickly enough, by which time the conversation has moved on. So they end up playing only a passive role which is frustrating for them and can be misconstrued for lack of interest or opinion. Let others join in. In group work, make sure to mix up E1 and E2 speakers.
  • It doesn’t all have to be in English. E2 speakers welcome the chance to process complex issues in their first language, and then express a summary in English.
  • Beware of accents – there are hundreds in English alone. Many words are hard to pronounce. And be careful of jokes – they don’t always travel.
  • In presentations, E1 speakers should stay on topic and avoid anecdotal or impromptu comments, avoid charts that require a lot of reading, and keep headings simple. Accentuate everything when presenting online.


  • E1 speakers would do well to heed this advice when working with E2 speakers.