5 Must-Know Public Speaking Tips for Non-Native English Speakers

Public speaking is pretty tough for most people. Wouldn't you agree?

Now let's add another level of complexity. What if English isn't your first language? What if you have an accent like me?

I came to the United States more than two decades ago with okay English, and while my English has improved, my accent has remained pretty much the same. Now, don't take this the wrong way, I like my accent, but it definitely makes me harder to understand.

So, how do you become a better public speaker when English isn't your native tongue?

If you prefer audio only, you can listen to the full episode on my podcast below or on iTunes.

Tip #1: Speak slowly.

This is the biggest advice I can give you. It's very hard for me as well.

In my native tongue I'm a very, very fast speaker. I had to slow myself down quite a bit when I came to the United States because I realized there's just no way anybody can understand me when I'm speaking very fast, swallowing half of the words and not pronouncing the other words correctly.

So, when you slow down, you can work on your pronunciation, you can work on your accent, and your audience understands you a lot better.

But having said that, please keep in mind that your accent is not that big of a deal if you're speaking slowly. It usually takes your audience maybe about a minute, maybe two minutes, to get used to an accent, particularly if it's an accent that they're not really very familiar with.

But audiences will get used to the accent very, very fast. And then, as long as you speak slowly, they're able to catch up with you and to understand you.

Tip #2: Don't use words you cannot pronounce.

This is like duh, that's a good tip even if you don't have an accent. But depending which country you came from, there're certain sounds that are very hard to pronounce.

For example, for anybody from Eastern Europe, the difference between “ee” and “”" is practically non-existent. I hear it, but I have a lot of difficulty reproducing it.

Which means I try to avoid words that can sound completely wrong if mispronounced.

For example. I would never say S-H-E-E-T, just because I know I'm going to completely butcher it in a critical situation. So I replace it with a synonym like a document, or a piece of paper.

If you know that you have trouble with certain sounds, obviously you need to work on them, and you may want to ask your friends to listen to you, or you may want to record and listen to yourself. But if you know you have trouble with certain sounds, just make it easy for yourself and replace those words with a different word, with a synonym that you know you can say a lot better.

Tip #3: Don't use words if you're not 100% sure about their meaning or whether they can be used in a certain context.

Again, this is such a common mistake that a lot of non-native English speakers make. We do want to use words that we know, but if you are not 100% sure what it means, just don't say it.

If you are not 100% sure, then maybe you should research it before you use it. You know, just open the dictionary and look it up, and then you will be sure. But if you're not 100% sure, or if you're not sure that a given word can be used in a specific context, replace it with a synonym.

It may be a simpler word and you may really want to appear more educated and use bigger words, but honestly, you're better off using a simpler word correctly than using something that's very long and fancy incorrectly.

Tip #4: Use correct intonation.

Intonation is basically a pattern of the pitch going up and down. Every language has its own melody, and that’s what makes it so wonderful to listen to. You can recognize people from countries not just based on their accent but based on how they create that melody in their sentence.

And this is incredibly hard because when it's your native tongue, you don't really think about it, it comes naturally to you to intonate correctly. When it's not your native language, there's this complexity of using the right words and the right grammatical structure.

Now on top of it you also have the melody or the pitch to think about. I definitely struggle with it. This is incredibly hard. Or at least I find it incredibly hard.

And my biggest advice to you on how to improve your intonation, in general, is to listen to audio books.You can also watch movies but I find movies visually distracting. Of course, you can also watch movies with your eyes closed. But I prefer listening to audio books.

If you listen for a long period of time, such as listening to the same book for an hour, you actually start picking up certain characters' intonation, that melodic pitch. Try stopping maybe after every sentence or after every couple of sentences, and repeating the sentence with the same intonation. It's hard, it's a lot of work but it's definitely worth it. So, give it a try.

Tip #5: Practice.

This is a good tip for everyone, right, not necessarily just for non-native English speakers. You do need to practice. You need to practice to be in front of a live audience. You need to practice to be in front of a camera.

When you practice, I want you to pay special attention on how you are finding synonyms when you speak. Because the hardest thing for non-native English speakers is when we speak, we cannot come up with the right word sometimes, right? That’s what causes “er, uh, eh…” You do not want that to happen.

So, if you cannot quickly find a word in your head that you are planning to use, do not make any sound. Just pause and very, very quickly look for a synonym.

This is a skill. It's not a special talent. It's really just a skill and it comes with practice. So practice in front of a video camera and record yourself. Practice in front of a friend. Practice in front of a mirror, but practice speaking. And any time you cannot think of the right word in your head, practice looking for a synonym very, very quickly.

Let's go over the five tips again.

Tip #1: Speak slowly.

Tip #2: Don't use words you cannot pronounce.

Tip #3: Don't use words if you are not 100% sure about their meaning or whether they can be used in a certain context.

Tip #4: Use correct intonation.

Tip #5: Practice.

I hope you found these tips helpful. Take care and have a wonderful day!

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