How to handle a meeting in your second language

Business meetings can be tough at the best of times – but trying to take part in one in your second language can add new hurdles to overcome.

While 54% of Europeans can hold a conversation in at least one additional language, working in a second language can take your linguistic skills to a new level.

Blackboard with Different Languages to say Hello in

Here are a few tips on taking part in a meeting in your second language.

Know your limits
Mastering a second language takes time and effort. While you might be able to easily translate many words and phrases, and even have conquered the grammar, you may not have reached the point where you know every little subtlety of the language.

This means it can be difficult to convey things like assertiveness, sarcasm or humour. If you’re not 100% confident, don’t try it.

Keep it simple
Many industries can have their own jargon or ways of speaking, which can make using a second language in work situations even more difficult.

The trick is to not try and use this style but to keep things simple. Use only the words and phrases you know and are comfortable with. Don’t go off topic.

Practice makes perfect
Before the meeting find out what’s on the agenda. Once you know the subject read up on it, looking out for keywords that you’re not familiar with. This will help you to understand better what’s going on.

For extra tips, ask a native-speaking colleague to go over a few ideas with you in your second language. They will be able to point out any gaps in your knowledge.

Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification
Those in the meeting will understand that you’re not as fluent in their language as they are, so don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. And take notes of any words you don’t understand to bring up later in the day.

Meetings can have their own flow, with ideas firing back and forth. It might not be possible to ask everyone to slow down or simplify their speech so you can understand, but if they’re addressing you directly it should be fine to ask them to adjust for your needs.

A Woman with Different Countries Flags Above her Head

Make mistakes
You know you’re probably going to get the grammar wrong, use an incorrect word or make some other error, but if you’re getting across the general sense of your point that’s fine.

Don’t worry about making a mistake – in fact, you can use your missteps as something everyone can have a laugh at to help create a more relaxed atmosphere.

Get notes
After the meeting, ask the host for notes. This will give you a chance to go over what was being said in case you missed something. It will also help you to expand your language skills and pick up on key work phrases that might come up again in future meetings.

Use your body
You don’t need to speak to get your point across. Your body language can tell your colleagues a lot about you. If you’re trying to get a point across that’s positive, which you’re struggling to convey in the language, keep smiling and be happy.

Likewise, if you’re not sure about something the way you sit or hold your hands can help express this maybe even better than speaking about it.

Posted by Sara Cano

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