Public Speaking In A Second Language

Second language image

Delivering a speech in a second language is a challenge that many of us never dream of taking-up, but if you do challenge yourself in this way, how can you deliver a performance that is convincing and engaging for a native audience?

I recently discovered a few tips whilst on a trip to Bruges, on a brewery tour of all places!

The tour guide was Belgian and spoke Dutch as a first language. The tour itself was delivered in English (her second language) and was one of the most enjoyable and engaging I have ever been on. Why?

Yes, the tour guide was an expert, her content was interesting, delivered in a structured and easy-to-absorb way. The fundamentals of good public speaking were covered. It was the ‘extras’ within the speech that really made this multilingual tour guide stand out.

Throughout the tour ‘Englishisms’ were used. Our tour guide referred to ‘hop-on hop-off buses’, ‘munchies’ and ‘knocked-up’ people and consistently used language and terms that usually only a native English speaker could know. This made us as an audience feel more at home and it was clear that everyone in the room appreciated the lengths that our tour guide had gone to, to get to grips with the English language.

On top of this, our tour guide managed to incorporate humour into the tour. Every room that we left, and as a result, every stage of the tour that concluded, was ended with a joke or some humour. This helped to keep everyone smiling and meant that we left every room with a positive memory of what we had just experienced. By the time we had climbed another flight of stairs (the brewery was a large building), we were entering the next stage of the tour in a good mood ready to absorb more information!

So, what did I learn?

When speaking in a second language, the fundamentals of public speaking still count, but it’s the extra embellishments – the colloquialisms and the humour, that make all the difference!

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Rich Watts is the UK Business Speaker of the Year and a past JCI National Public Speaking champion. He setup and now runs Rich Public Speaking providing presentation skills and public speaking training.

2 responses on “Public Speaking In A Second Language

  1. Arte R

    Its great to see people taking so much effort to make others feel ‘at home’ by using their language and colloquialisms. However, many times when we present we do so to different audiences. Maybe even to others for whom English is a second language as well !

    I have seen speaking slow, repeating with different words, asking for constant feedback and reusing terminology as mentioned by the audience help in those case. What do you usually suggest in such cases, where the audience is not always composed of people from a particular country?

  2. Rich Post author

    Hi Arte R,

    When the audience is composed of people from many different countries I would always propose looking for common ground that is deeper than language. Look to structure and signpost your speech with clear symbols that we all recognise that are deeper than just language, such as images on slides, clear hand signals (thumbs up or thumbs down always works well) these sort of things gives your audience more ‘clues’ other than just your language to help them understand what you are saying.

    My final point would be if possible, copy key points in your speech onto presentation slides. Many non native English speakers find it easier to read rather than listen to English and so this could help with understanding too.


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