Tips for Overcoming and Compensating for Language Barriers

March 8, 2017 by IELTS

Learning English and completing your English language test at your nearest IELTS Test Centre was your first step to enhancing English writing, speaking, and comprehension skills. Even after successfully passing your tests, there can still be language barriers you’ll need to overcome both in work environments and social settings.
Learning how to adapt to these types of situations requires applying different strategies to ensure everyone can communicate clearly and understand each other including:

    • Have Patience – You can’t expect communications to proceed as quickly as it would if were speaking to someone in your native language. Overcoming language barriers and avoiding them takes time.
    • Seek Clarification – Never assume you or others understand what was said. It’s acceptable to ask politely for someone to clarify what they said.
    • When Speaking, Speak Clearly and Slowly – To avoid misunderstandings and miscommunications, slow down, and take your time to enunciate clearly every word.
    • Avoid Using Jargon and Slang Terms – Not everyone will understand different types of jargon and slang terms correctly. If you use these phrases, it can lead to improper usage, causing misunderstandings between people. Instead, stick with common words and terminology. If you must use a jargon or slang term, make sure to explain its meaning.
    • Restate Your Understanding – Take the time to ask open-ended questions of others to verify they understood what you said. If you were the listener, you can also use open-ended questions to confirm you have a clear understanding. For instance, instead of saying, “Are we clear?” ask the other person, “What is your understanding of….?” In cases where you are confirming your understanding, start off with, “What I heard you say was…”.

    • Be Precise – Your definition of some words and what they mean can vary from someone else. It’s important to be as precise as you can to avoid miscommunications. For example, the word “shortly” can mean different time frames depending on the individual. To you, it might mean the same day, while for someone else it could mean within a few days or even a week.

    • Use Different Forms of Communications – To further clarify what was spoken, follow up with an email or text message highlighting specific points.
    • Take Time to Provide Definitions – For more complex terms and words, it helps to provide a general definition to ensure your meaning of the terms is perceived correctly.
    • Be Aware of Different Words with Similar Meanings – English words can have multiple meanings, which will change on how they are used, such as to, two, and too.
    • Be Aware of Differences between UK, Canadian, and US English – While all of these countries speak English, there are differences in meanings for certain words, as well as variations in accents and dialects. For instance, the sporting term “football” typically means soccer in the UK, while in Canada and the US could imply a completely different sport.


By utilizing these tips and remembering to use them, you can help avoid misunderstandings and overcome language barriers. For more tips and tools you can use to improve your English or for help prepare for your IELTS exam, explore our website and other blog posts. To locate your nearest IELTS Test Centre, use our “Find an IELTS Test Location” feature or click on the map below.

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