The monthly project meeting is about to start and Anna expects to be contributing quite a lot this time. She’s a little nervous about having to do it in English, but she’s well prepared and feeling quietly confident that she’ll manage.

Yet as the meeting unfolds Anna feels less and less satisfied with the way things are going. Several times she has a point to make, but needs a little longer to find the right words. And the native-speakers and those with stronger language skills beat her to it. Then when it comes to presenting the results she’s prepared, her words don’t have the impact she’d hoped for. She doesn’t seem to be able to express her message powerfully in the foreign language.

By the end of the meeting she’s feeling really frustrated. And resigned, too. The following thoughts are going through her mind:

What’s the point of trying again and again to be heard when I can’t get my opinions over well in the foreign language? It’d be easier to just let the native speakers get on with it.

Are you familiar with this situation? If you are, you’ll know just how tempting the idea of letting the native speakers get on with it can be. But don’t lean back and think about other items on your to-do list or what to have for lunch just yet. 😉

First you need to weigh up the disadvantages of zoning out.

1. You’ll have to live with the decisions taken

In many cases, decisions made in the meeting will have a direct impact on your working life. Of course, even if you’ve been fully involved in the decision-making process, things won’t always go the way you want. But if you’ve not tried your best to represent your views, it can be especially difficult to accept the consequences.

2. The team misses out

Diversity is a powerful force in teams and the contribution of every participant counts. Whether you’re actually the expert for the topic in question, have valuable experience to share from a similar project or previous job or have just had a brainwave you’d like to share, your input is important for the team. If you don’t make your voice heard, something is missing.

3. Negative feelings

If you don’t make sure that you’re heard, negative feelings may well start to creep in. Perhaps you’ll feel alienated: I don’t really belong to the team. Or resentful: They don’t take me seriously. They aren’t interested in my point of view. Or unfairly treated: They speak fast just to shut me out. None of these feeling are good for the atmosphere in the team or your own job satisfaction.

4. You won’t make any progress

Your language skills will only get better through practice. English courses are all well and good, but you need to make full use of real-life situations, too. The less you say in meetings, the more intimidating this situation becomes. Make sure you don’t get into a vicious circle where you don’t say anything because of your “terrible” English and your English is “terrible” because you don’t use it.

Those were just four disadvantages, there may be others in your specific circumstances.


Pick your battles

Look carefully at the situation in question. If you can honestly say that these drawbacks don’t apply or you can live with the consequences, that’s fine. Save your energy for more important things. 🙂

If not, you need to work on making sure your opinion is heard. Preparation is key, but in the meeting itself you will often just have to take the plunge.

By the way, native English speakers may not be fully aware of what it’s like to participate in meetings in a foreign language. Why not talk about it?


Porträt Nicola Bartlett
Nicola Bartlett
I’ve been an English trainer for over 25 years, helping adults to get their message across in English – clearly and appropriately. Successful communication in English requires more than just a good knowledge of the language. An understanding of different mentalities and a feeling for the best approach are vital, too. » more