Forrest Gump’s communication style was simple and direct, with nearly universal references to which everybody could relate: mother, food, friendship, and of course, those famous boxes of chocolates. Communication with your international audience should be in a similar fashion to Forrest’s.
Oral comprehension is heavily dependent on the speaker’s international English presentation skills. Keep in mind that everyone comprehends written English better than the spoken form so plenty of easy-to-follow written material is always appreciated.
International audiences will not grasp American historical or sports expressions, or the now antiquated British Imperial Units (which, ironically, only the U.S. continues to use in spite of the rest of the world using the Metric System.) Nor will international audiences quickly grasp long complex-compound sentences, with modifying phrases and digressions, which are frequently used in formal English.
One of the most serious problems in comprehension – both oral and written – is the frequent use of idiomatic expressions in English. Berlitz, the famous international language school, has consistently found from their English language students that the overwhelming majority cite idioms and idiomatic expressions as the most difficult part of English. Part of the problem lies with the fact that for non-native English speakers, it is often difficult to identify an idiomatic expression from standard speech unless they consciously stop and think about it. Make up. (Cosmetics? Invention? Reconciliation? Produce? Compensate for?) Break down. (Broken? Details? Hysteria?) Pick up. (Increase? Grasp? Understand? ) Substituting standard words for these expressions may sometimes sound awkward to the native ear, but remember that the presentation is for the benefit of the non-native ear, and their comprehension will be greatly aided. And isn’t that the point of making a presentation – for the audience to comprehend it?
Bottom line, keep the “Forrest Gump” rule in mind when presenting and talking: speak slowly, deliberately, simply and to the point. In your own presentations and conversations, if you’re doing this and thinking to yourself, “I must sound like a ‘Forrest Gump’ or something! My colleagues must think I didn’t graduate high school…” Fantastic! Then you’re doing fine and are well on your way to successfully communicating with an international audience. That success will be measured by their correct comprehension of your message and fewer misunderstandings in your dealings with them.
In future columns, we will examine aspects of using international English: that is, the proper usage of the English language for maximizing effectiveness of communication with non-native speakers.
To be revisited…