5 Tips For Public Speaking When You Struggle With English

If English isn’t your first language and you get invited to speak before an audience who only understands English, you might need to make some adjustments. After all, your goal as a public speaker is to get your message across.

If you don’t speak the language your audience understands that well, it is incumbent upon you to look for strategies that will help them understand. The same principle applies if, say, you, as the speaker, don’t know how to speak French well and your audience only understands French. 

In other words, in public speaking, it’s a “the majority rules” thing. You can’t expect everyone in the room to adjust to you. Since you’re just one person, you have to adjust to the majority as much as possible.

That settled, let’s go back to our original question. When faced with an audience who only understands English, then, how can you convey your message effectively in public speaking when you struggle with English?  

We’ll discuss tips that will help you nail your presentations despite the language barrier in this article.

How Can I Improve My Public Speaking In English?

An non-native English speaker delivering a presentation

1. Write a script

Here’s the thing about public speaking. Even when you’re fluent in your audience’s language–both oral and written–you still need to know your material AND write a script before you go on stage. A script will ensure that you’ll know exactly what to say when you get on stage.

If you don’t have a basic outline, even if you know your material, you might just end up stuttering in front of your audience because you have no idea how to string your thoughts together.

That’s, again, if you’re fluent in your audience’s language. That means that that script is even more necessary if your audience’s language is only your second language. The rationale is simple. If it’s hard to think of the right words to convey your message even when you’re fluent in the language, all the more will it be hard for you to come up with the right words and convey your message in a language you’re not so familiar with, right?

To help you create an effective script, I suggest you come up with an outline first. Then fill in the blanks from there. If you’re not confident about how you used specific English terms in your speech, ask a person fluent in the language to help you and make the necessary edits. Once you have your script in flawless English, study it from start to finish.  

2. Practice before the presentation

It’s not enough for you to just study your script. Before the actual presentation, you need to actually articulate that speech and practice on your own. After all, you’ll never know how well you committed a script to memory without parroting what you memorized in the first place (I’d normally suggest against parroting what you memorized in public speaking. But that tip applies only if you’re fluent in your audience’s language. If you aren’t, memorizing a script and articulating it from start to finish can help).

So, practice your presentation by articulating what you memorized to the letter. It’s better if you do this in front of a person who’s fluent in English so he or she can point out any possible issues. Make the necessary changes to your script based on feedback from your practice audience. Then repeat your final script as many times as you can until you master your presentation.

For additional tips on practicing your presentation, feel free to review the article, "9 Killer Public Speaking Exercises You Can Do At Home"

3. Create visual aids

We know how important visual aids are in public speaking even when you’re fluent in your audience’s language. Well, it becomes all the more important if you don’t speak your audience’s language. If you suddenly forget how to say a word in English, you can always refer to your visual aid. 

If you don’t know how to create visual aids just yet, there are some great tips on how you should do this from David Phillips, author of the ground-breaking book “How to Avoid Death by Powerpoint” in this video below. I suggest you check it out:

After you’ve created your presentation, don’t go on stage without doing two things: having someone fluent in English check it (again) for any possible grammatical and spelling mistakes, and practicing your speech with them. 

When practicing your speech, make sure you articulate your script and not just parrot what you see on your visual aid. Your visual aid is just there to guide you. If in the course of your practice you find that you keep forgetting what to say in a specific section even with the visual aid, you can insert a word in your slide that can help you remember what you were supposed to say.

For more detail on this topic, check out the article "What Are Some Common Problems In Using Powerpoint?"

4. Bring an interpreter with you

If you’ve practiced and practiced but you find you still can’t get through your entire presentation, there’s one last resort: bring an interpreter with you on D-Day.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should let your interpreter do all the talking for you on the day of your presentation. Your interpreter should only guide you. If you forget the term you were supposed to use, the person can remind you what to use. 

In other words, you still need to memorize your script and practice your speech multiple times. Your interpreter is just a fallback if, despite best efforts, the language barrier becomes impossible to overcome.

5. See how other speakers do it

So far, I’ve given you tips on how you can prepare for your presentation if English isn’t your first language and if your audience understands only English. Well, this tip is actually for all your presentations in general.

If you want to improve your public speaking skills in a language that isn’t your first language, I suggest you take a look at how other speakers who are in the same situation as you make their presentations themselves. Tony Robbins and Brain Tracy are great examples and YouTube has a goldmine of others.

Check out how these presenters speak, what they do if they get stumped, what tools they use to get them through their presentation. You can pick up important tips in the course of your research and implement them yourself when you’re making your own presentation in public. 

Let me just say that you don’t have to implement all the strategies here at once. Just pick the ones that you think will work for you and then make adjustments from there if needed. Use the trial-and-error method to see which combination of these strategies works the best for you.

How Can I Overcome My Fear of Public Speaking in English? 

So, you’re ready. You have your Powerpoint presentation. You’ve studied your material and your script. Unfortunately, that’s not an assurance you’ll actually be able to speak on stage on D-Day. If you’re like the majority who have glossophobia, approximately 75% of the population, you might just be overcome by fear and be tempted to ditch everything.

First of all, that’s a completely normal reaction. Even the best speakers get all jittery before their presentation even if they actually already speak the audience’s language. What more if it’s a speaker who doesn’t speak the audience’s language, right?

Secondly, there are also strategies you can implement to overcome that fear. Here are some of them:

  • Take deep breaths: Remind your body that there’s nothing to be afraid of. That can help prevent the loss of voice, shaking hands, among others, brought about by the body’s natural response to a perceived threat.
  • Give yourself a pep talk: Remind yourself that you’re awesome and that there’s a reason you were invited to speak in the first place. Tell yourself, too, that the members of your audience are just, well, people like you. That way, you won’t feel intimidated when you go on stage. 
  • Don’t make it about you. Don’t dwell on the negatives and think about how you can deliver value to the audience instead.

You’ve got this. Besides, if you forget how to say something in English, you’d be surprised at how forgiving your audience can be (just don’t make that act of forgetting a habit).

Tips for Public Speaking When You Struggle with English: Conclusion

Speaking a language that isn’t your first language before an audience is hard, but it isn’t impossible. There are strategies you can implement to still convey your message effectively. You learned some of those tips from this article.

Write a script, study it then practice before the day of your presentation. Make sure you create visual aids so if you forget how to say something, you can just look at them and pick up from there. If all else fails despite your best efforts, bring an interpreter with you. As a general tip you should follow to improve your public speaking in a language you don’t know, go check and study how other presenters in your situation are doing it, too.

Follow all these tips and you’ll be on your way to nailing those public presentations---and in public speaking when you struggle with English!

For more resources to develop your public speaking skills while you are in the comforts of your own home, please check the articles Online Resources for Public Speaking and Where Can I Learn Public Speaking. If you would like to leverage the best presentation software for your next big speaking engagement please read the article 'Best Presentation Technology tools'.


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Posted in  Public Speaking Topics   on  February 1, 2022 by  Dan W ,   5 Tips For Public Speaking When You Struggle With English

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