Why don’t I sound “natural” when I speak in English?

There are many reasons that an upper-intermediate/advanced level English learner asks to work with me. One of the most common ones is that, although they can speak English and be understood, “something just doesn’t sound quite right”.

They feel as though they speak like a foreigner. It isn’t natural.

They feel as though people judge them on their communication and that it isn’t helping them in their career.

I have worked as an expat in international locations for quite a long time. The people I worked with were mostly not native-English speakers. Do I think their use of English limited them in the workplace? Honestly, yes. Sometimes.

But this was more a result of confidence.

The people who advanced well in their career were confident communicators. They could communicate clearly and were not reluctant to speak up.

So, if sounding “foreign” is a concern for you, let me try to help you to overcome this issue. Then your communication skills will no longer prevent you from reaching the goals you have set for yourself.

And I truly feel that the difference between natural speakers of English and Advanced speakers of English is culture.

Not what food you eat, or what movies you watch. Your language culture.

Is your communication culture style indirect? Are you a direct communicator?

I have seen this effect many people in the workplace.

Picture this, you are in a meeting with senior management. You have a great idea for a process change. But when you pitch the idea, they don’t seem to pay much attention to it.

Indirect communicators use a lot of “might”, “may”, and “possibly” in their sentences. It would be rude to do it any other way. 😊

But a direct communicator hears – “I am not confident in this idea”. And so they pass on it.

Similarly with formal and informal communication. If you are talking to an Aussie and you speak quite formally, the relationship is not as strong. We are casual, informal communicators and we trust other informal communicators more. It feels more authentic somehow.

But if you are talking to an Englishman (or woman 😜) then they are formal communicators and to speak informally can make you appear as though you aren’t taking the topic seriously.

So, now, let’s say you understand and can effectively navigate both indirect/direct communication and formal/informal communication. It’s all good, right?

Not so fast. Sorry.

Now we come down to different styles of speech.

Australians use a certain range of words/phrases (colloquialisms) and slang. We are famous for it. People from the UK have their own, and New Zealanders, Americans, everyone has a different range of words they use.

But did you know, there is also a difference in the way we speak the exact same sentences? Australians and British people stress the words earlier in a sentence when compared to an American, who tends to stress the last word of the sentence.

And Australians tend to end more sentences with an up-tone (intonation) when compared to British and American. This can make sentences sound like a question to non-Australians, when in fact they are not.

What a mess!

So. What does all of this mean for you?

Well, firstly, don’t panic. Sounding foreign is not the worst thing that can happen! The worst thing is not sounding anything! That is, you are too shy or scared to speak!

But now you have an awareness of these issues and how they can contribute in unspoken ways to your communication, listen for it. Copy the style of the person you are speaking with.

They will end up trusting you more and listening to your ideas with more focus.

With practise, this will come naturally. You will artfully change your style in small ways that will bring huge changes to your communication (and your world).

If you need more information about this, reach out to me. And all of this information is built into my 10-week, 1-1 communication program. So if you need to see big changes from small actions, this may be the right step for you.

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