How inclusive is your company to non-native speakers?

By Englishunlocked.co.uk, 7. Mar 2023

If it’s your job to care about Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, you might think there are no easy wins left. It’s important to make your recruitment practices more diverse, eliminate bias, and build cultural intelligence and I expect you are addressing all those things. What if I told you there was something very simple you can do which you have probably never considered?

The missing piece of the puzzle

Let’s set aside racial inequality for a moment and think about the difficulties experienced by people who have learned English as a foreign language. What accommodations are made for them? Let’s assume that they speak English fluently – you would not have hired them otherwise. But fluent English does not guarantee a seamless and wholehearted integration into your organisation. Native speakers can help non-natives by adapting their communication style, but very few know how.


Unnoticed privilege 

Of the approximately 1.5 billion people who speak English, less than 400 million use it as a first language. That minority of people who learned it as their mother tongue use English in a way that bewilders the rest.

“Often you have a boardroom full of people from different countries communicating in English and all understanding each other and then suddenly the American or Brit walks into the room and nobody can understand them.” Chia Suan Chong, a UK-based communications skills and intercultural trainer.

Your accent might be unfamiliar, but that’s not all. Your choice of words (in both written and spoken communication) may be unnecessarily difficult for your international colleagues to understand.


english phrase (1)
In the example above the speaker uses two phrasal verbs. If you are a native English speaker, chances are that you have never noticed their existence or stopped to think how challenging they are for everyone who learns English as a foreign language.
People who pride themselves on having learned English to a high level can feel demoralised or embarrassed to admit that you just used one of the phrasal verbs they haven’t learned yet (there are over 10,000 in the English language.)

Phrasal verbs are just one of several stumbling blocks for non-native English speakers. Do you check your communication for the presence of idioms, jargon, colloquialisms, initialisms, acronyms and slang? Do you avoid using compound nouns and indirect questions when writing emails? These are small adjustments which can make a huge difference to employees who have had to learn English as a Foreign Language.

“Typically, native English speakers dominate about 90% of the time. But the other people have been invited for a reason.” Michael Blattner, the head of training and proposition, IP Operations at Zurich Insurance Group.


The best training you didn't know existed 

A small handful of companies offer training on this skill and English Unlocked is one of them. In just a few hours we can change the way a native speaker communicates by providing them with an awareness of how they currently sound to colleagues and clients who didn’t grow up speaking English. Awareness around this among native English speakers (especially monolingual ones) is currently so low that it is possible to make a significant difference in a short space of time. This is a simple, low cost way to improve inclusion.


Help your colleagues to thrive 

I founded English Unlocked in 2018 because I wanted to help staff to become more confident when speaking to people who are learning English. We are based in the UK but looking to connect globally. If you would like us to equip your team with an ‘aha’ moment that they won’t forget, get in touch. Your international colleagues will notice and appreciate it.


Get in touch with English Unlocked if you want to know more about the work they do!