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How Do People Communicate Clearly in English?

Even native English speakers have trouble communicating sometimes. Problems in communication happen when the connection is lost between a speaker and a listener. Somewhere along the way, the information that’s being transferred is lost or mixed up.

Here are some ways that communication problems can happen:

  • The speaker doesn’t express him/herself clearly enough.
  • The speaker uses language that the listener doesn’t understand.
  • The listener does not understand the speaker.
  • The listener is not paying enough attention to the speaker.

There are ways to prevent communication errors, as both a speaker and a listener. All you have to do is remember three very important rules of communicating, and follow a few basic tips to really improve your communication skills in English.

The 3 Important Rules of Communication

In any language, there are three extremely important points to remember when you’re communicating with someone.

1. Say what you mean. It can be difficult to express (say) some ideas clearly, but if you’re trying to prevent miscommunication, it’s important to say exactly what you mean. Be clear and to the point.

2. Ask questions. Communication is two-way, which means you can’t be the one doing all the talking. To make sure your listener is engaged (interested in what you have to say) and understanding you, ask questions. See #5 below for good types of questions to ask.

3. Listen. We mean really listen. Hear what your speaking partner has to say, and try to understand what they mean.

Of course, as an English learner you might have a hard time communicating in English because of the language barrier. Don’t worry—here are are some tips you can use if you want to understand (and be understood) better.

8 Essential Tips for Clear Communication in English

1. Keep talking

The problem: You may have trouble speaking fluently if you’re unsure of your grammar or vocabulary. However, stopping a lot when you talk can make it difficult for people to focus on what you’re saying.

The solution: Know your filler phrases!

Filler phrases are phrases (and words) that act like placeholders in a sentence. They fill in silences so that your speech is not interrupted. They don’t really add anything to the conversation, though, so they give you a little time to think of what to say.

Some examples of filler phrases are:

  • Um, uh
  • You know…
  • To be honest…
  • Actually…

You can find a longer list of filler words and phrases here.

As with any good thing, don’t overuse them! Too many filler phrases are just as bad as too many pauses. To find a good balance, try not to use more than one filler phrase for every couple of sentences you speak. You will find that this gets easier as you work on it.

Try it yourself: Find a topic you can comfortably talk about for a few minutes (you can use one of the conversation starters . Record yourself speaking about the topic in English for a few minutes. When you’re done, listen to your recording.

How often do you stop? How often do you use filler phrases? Try recording yourself again speaking about the same topic, but this time watch out for using too many pauses or filler phrases.

2. Find a good speaking rhythm

The problem: If you try to speak too fast, your words don’t come out right. But if you try to slow down, you have trouble focusing.

The solution: You need to work on your speaking rhythm, or the speed and “sound” of your speaking.

Finding your perfect speaking rhythm will really help to improve your fluency. A good speaking pace is comfortable for you and the listener, keeps you focused, and gives you enough time to think through what you want to say.

Try it yourself: To find the perfect rhythm, you might have to experiment a little. Find a short paragraph, or even just a sentence to say. (You can try using some of these silly one liner jokes. Bonus points for understanding the humor!)

Say the sentence slowly, then again faster, and again. Once you reach a speech that doesn’t feel comfortable (is too fast), slow back down. Repeat this with a few sentences, and soon you’ll find that perfect speed.

Once you find the right speed, you can work on the rhythm, which is the stress and intonation (how high or low a sound is) of your voice when you speak. To do this, choose a video that has subtitles. We recommend using videos from FluentU’s impressive library because each video has interactive subtitles—just click any unfamiliar word for an instant definition.

From this video, choose one sentence. Play it once, then play it again and say it along with the video. Repeat! (If you’re watching on FluentU, just click the handy “replay” button to repeat a line of the video over and over.) Try to match the speed, stresses and overall sound of the sentence as you speak.

3. Make sure you’re understood

The problem: Because of the language barrier, you’re never sure if people really understood what you meant.

The solution: Just ask them. Most of the time, you can make sure someone understood what you said by asking them to repeat what you said.

If you’re worried about sounding rude, you can remind them that you are still learning English, and you want to make sure you expressed yourself correctly.

Practice with a speaking partner, or just try this in any English conversation: The next time you give any instructions, directions or information, follow it up with one of these phrases:

  • I want to make sure you got that. Would you mind repeating it?
  • I’m not sure if I said that right. Can you please repeat it?
  • Can you please run that by me, so I know you got it?
  • I’d like to be sure I’m expressing myself clearly. Could you please tell me what I’ve just said, so I know we’re on the same page?

By having the listener repeat what you said, you can make sure you were understood, or clarify anything they didn’t get (understand).