Native English speakers often lack the experience of working in a foreign language. So they aren’t familiar with the difficulties involved.

They hear you speaking English and are genuinely impressed by your language skills. But, unlike you, they don’t know that you would in fact like to say much more, but lack the vocabulary. And they may not be aware that you need longer to make a point, because you have to think about how to express your thoughts in the foreign language.

So sometimes it’s useful to explain the challenges you’re faced with.  

Talk about the challenges

Whether in a feedback session with the team leader or an informal chat over lunch with a fellow team member, it can be a good idea to talk about any difficulties you’re having. This can then lead on to a discussion of what they can do to support you in making your voice heard.

  • You may have noticed that I’m a bit quiet in meetings. It’s not that I’ve got nothing to say. It’s just difficult for me to find the right words.
  • It’s great working with people who are so passionate about their work. But sometimes it’s difficult to find an opening and join in the discussion.
  • I’m struggling a bit to make myself heard in the group.
  • I often want to say something, but can’t find an opening.

Check that the others have got the message

Imagine you’ve made what you consider to be an important point and it’s met with silence. Now you’re unsure whether the lack of reaction means that the others simply don’t find it as exciting or important as you do or whether they haven’t understood you. Check before the discussion moves on.

  • I could have expressed that a lot better in German. But do you see what I mean?
  • That was difficult to explain in English. I hope it wasn’t too confusing.
  • I hope I put that clearly. Is there any other information I can give you?
  • Is it clear what I mean?

Allow yourself the time you need

You may feel that the others are getting impatient because you need longer to collect your thoughts and express your ideas. Allowing yourself to be rushed and becoming flustered is counterproductive. Instead create a little space by explaining the situation briefly. Don’t overdo it, of course – that’s likely to get on everyone’s nerves. 😉

  • I hope I’m not holding things up, it takes me a bit longer to find the right words in English.
  • I’m afraid it takes me a little longer to explain in English.
  • I’d like to say something about that last point. I just need a few seconds to gather my thoughts.


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.