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Tips for Communicating with English Language Learners (ELL)
  • Speak slowly and clearly: Remember that speaking louder is not helpful. Speak slower and avoid the use of idioms or sarcasm. Simple language is best. Remember also that your accent can be difficult for even a fluent English speaker to understand. Slowing down and speaking as clearly as possible will help the conversation flow.
  • Smile and speak calmly: A smile goes a long way. A conversation is difficult and frustrating when communication is difficult. It’s frustrating for both parties. Remember that the person you are speaking with is trying to understand as well as you. Remain calm and smile often, even if the other’s confusion and frustration is evident.
  • Use visual aids where possible. Learning a new language is very difficult and, even when a person is close to fluent, accents can still be difficult to understand. Written instructions or other visual aids can be very helpful to the ELL. And that goes both ways – if you are having a difficult time understanding what the international student is saying, perhaps having them write it down will help both of you.
  • Check comprehension frequently. In some cultures, it would be considered rude to tell a person you don’t understand what they are saying. If you are providing information that is important to an ELL, check with them to make sure they have understood. It’s OK to ask them to repeat the instructions to you. It’s also OK to repeat the instructions (but remember that written instructions are even better.)
  • Remember that not all international students are new English learners. Not every international student that you interact with is just learning English. All of them on JMU’s campus have a good grasp of the language, and most are quite fluent, even though accents may be difficult to understand.
How to Best Assist International Dukes
  • A pamphlet created with input from students to give advice to others who interact with international students at JMU.

Bukhari, S.A.R. Barriers related to language and culture which prevent overseas students from achieving their potential. Research Paper.

Haynes, J. Keys to Effective Communication.

Wang, I-C., Ahn, J., Kim, H., Lin-Siegler, X. (2017) Why Do International Students Avoid Communicating with Americans? Journal of International Students. Volume 7, Issue 3, pp. 555 – 582.

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