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Overcoming the Language Barrier in Australia

Australia has been the third most popular destination for international students in recent years, allowing you to experience the diversity of the population. However, this may bring different challenges to new students like you during the first couple of months before you settle. One of the major challenges that you may face is the language barrier.

1. Speak Slowly and Clearly

Concentrate more on pronouncing clearly and speaking slowly. Even if you’re under time constraints, don’t rush through your communication. This frequently takes more time because miscommunication and misunderstanding can occur, requiring you to invest additional time in clearing up the confusion.

2. Ask for Clarification

If you are not 100% sure you’ve understood what others say, politely ask for clarification. Avoid assuming you’ve understood what’s been said. Asking for clarification shows that you’re attentive and that you care enough to make sure you thoroughly understand what you’ve been told. Admitting you need more information makes the next step much easier for the person you ask. Don’t be vague, simply state that you don’t understand.

3. Frequently Check for Understanding

Check both that you’ve understood what’s been said and that others have fully understood you. Practice reflective listening to check your own understanding (e.g. ‘So what I hear you saying is…’) and use open-ended questions to check other people’s understanding. Ask, ‘what’s your understanding of this process?’ instead of ‘is that clear? To avoid that loop, start by explaining what you do understand and ask whether you have it right.

4. Avoid Idioms

Business language is often contextual, and therefore culture-specific. For example, in the US, baseball terms are used extensively: ‘Straight off the Bat,’ ‘Ballpark figures,’ ‘Out in the left field,’ ‘Touch base,’ ‘Strike a deal. As a good general rule, if the phrase requires knowledge of other information— be it a game or metaphor—recognize that this may make your communication more difficult to be understood.

Some examples of Idioms are:

5. Be Careful of Jargon

Watch the use of TLAs (Three Letter Abbreviations) and other organizational languages that may not be understood by others. If you use them, provide in parentheses a description of what these are so others can learn to use the same language you do. Jargon is defined as ‘the specialized language or the technical vocabulary of a profession or group’. Jargon terms act as a sort of shorthand between one person and another in their group. Special terms eliminate the need for lengthy explanations – because both parties to the communication understand what the terms mean

6. Define the Basics of Business

In international business contexts, terms such as ‘success’, ‘doneness’, ‘meetings’, ‘punctuality’, etc. may mean different things to different people. Spend time early in your communication defining what these mean to you and others. Invest in building a shared vocabulary.

7. Be Specific

Spell out your expectations and deadlines clearly. Instead of, ‘Please get back to me shortly,’ say ‘Please email the completed report by 5 pm Eastern Standard time on Wednesday, February 21.’ In order to communicate effectively, it is important to be specific, rather than vague or ambiguous. Whether you are speaking or writing, you will have a much easier time getting your point across clearly when you choose descriptive words and have a precise intention in mind. Take some time to plan your message, and you will soon be enjoying the benefits of more specific communication.

8. Choose Your Medium of Communication Effectively

Carefully choose your form of communication (phone or video conference, email, instant message, etc.). Be mindful not to ‘overuse’ email. While useful, there are times when the medium is likely to be ineffective. When a message is complex and complicated or there is tension or conflict that needs to be resolved, switch to another medium.

9. Provide Information via Multiple Channels

Follow phone calls with emails that summarize what’s been said. When possible, provide presentations, agendas, etc. in advance so those working in their non-native language can get familiar with the materials.

10. Be Patient

Cross-cultural communication takes more time. If not at all times, certainly initially you cannot expect your communication to occur with the same speed and ease as when you are communicating with someone from your own culture. Having patience means being able to wait calmly in the face of frustration or adversity. Patience is the ability to endure a long wait calmly or deal with annoying problems without frustration.