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How to Communicate with ESL Employees – 5 Tips


 “A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.” — Sundar Pichai

Working in an English as a Second Language (ESL) workplace can bring many challenges, particularly regarding communication. Effective communication is essential for organizations to optimize productivity and create strong working relationships. This blog outlines five tips for communicating within multicultural workplaces. The goal is to improve communication, cultural awareness and minimize misunderstandings.

What does it mean to be an ESL Learner?

English as a Second Language (ESL) means learning English in a country where English is primarily spoken or the official language. ESL – Learners are students of the English (Spoken) language who live and work in a country where English is the main language. 

What is a native English Speaker?

A native English speaker is someone who speaks English as their first language. In most cases, the term “native” English speaker suggests that English is a person’s first language from birth.

l) Speak Slowly to ESL Employees

Learning to speak a second language is an interactive communication process. Information is sent and received between two or more people when we speak. Hence, it’s essential to develop both speaking and listening skills. ESL employees learning to use English in work settings will find that native English speakers talk very quickly. It takes time for ESL learners to get used to native English fluency.

In the workplace, native English-speakers should deliberately speak slowly to ESL staff so they can comprehend each word and have enough time to understand the meaning of complete sentences. Speaking slowly and steadily allows ESL learners to acclimate  to grammar structure, pronunciation, and fluency. It is also helpful to pause slightly between phrases so that ESL staff members can understand the whole conversation. These simple practices will help improve the comprehension and speaking confidence of the ESL team member.

ll) Use Clear Pronunciation, Rephrase and Repeat

Clear Pronunciation

ESL learners need to hear and learn the correct pronunciation of English words and phrases. English-speaking coworkers can help with this by speaking slowly and clearly to their ESL staff members. When words are pronounced incorrectly, the meaning of a word can change; leading to confusion.

Rephrasing or Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is essential to help ESL learners comprehend and communicate with fellow employees. If ESL employees need clarification, English-speaking coworkers should attempt to rephrase instructions, questions, or phrases. Examples of rephrasing are as follows:

  • First attempt: What time are you going to catch the bus?
  • Rephrase: when does the bus arrive?
  • First attempt: Excuse me, I am looking for the washroom. Do you know where it is?
  • Rephrase: Where is the washroom?

A three step guide to help with paraphrasing or rephrasing (Study.com): 

    1. Use simplified words.
    2. Don’t repeat sentence structure or copy words.
    3. Don’t add new information when rephrasing.

Paraphrasing is an excellent way to avoid misunderstandings and ensure ESL employees understand what is being said to them. 


When ESL staff do not understand, repetition is another tool to help improve communication. Sentences should be repeated slowly and clearly; shouting is not necessary.

lll) Avoid Complicated Words & Expressions

Speaking in plain language will help ESL employees comprehend the message being said to them. Whenever possible, native English-speaking employees should use simple words and precise phrases to reduce the possibility of miscommunication.

Tips to simplify and clarify communication: 

    1. Keep sentences short.
    2. Include one idea per sentence.
    3. Speak in short sentences.
    4. Eliminate unnecessary words from phrases

It’s easier for ESL learners to understand and remember instructions when sentences are concise. Thus, English-speaking managers and staff need to shorten and simplify phrases.

lV) Ask Clarification-Questions

Clarifying questions are questions the listener asks the speaker to prevent any misunderstandings, confusion, or ambiguity. For example, a clarifying question ESL employees might ask:

  • What does ___________ mean?
  • Could you repeat that please?
  • What is a _____________?
  • Where is the _________________?

Clarifying questions are asked when something is unclear or difficult to understand. By asking clarification questions, English-speaking coworkers can be confident that their ESL colleagues understand what is being communicated.

V) Promote Workplace Cultural Sensitivity

Workplace cultural sensitivity means being aware that ESL employees may have differing viewpoints or values. Creating an organizational culture that values cultural awareness will help integrate ESL staff in a welcoming, constructive, and positive manner. Cultural awareness minimizes differences and increases the attractiveness of ESL talent to your organization.

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” — Anthony Robbins 

The modern business landscape is more globalized than ever, leading to a greater demand for ESL professionals. However, this also creates new challenges in communication and creating an effective work environment. Following the tips outlined in this blog post, organizations can successfully communicate with their diverse workforce and build strong relationships with employees of all backgrounds.

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