A large percentage of STEM graduates in the US are foreign-born, and non-native speakers of English. When they enter the US workforce, they face communication obstacles that native speakers will not. Most STEM employees are often required to make presentations, whether to their team, at conferences, to customers, or to marketing departments. And although most companies offer presentation skills training workshops for their employees, almost none address the unique set of challenges non-native speakers may have.
If you are non-native speaker in the STEM fields, think about these as you plan your next presentation:
Phrasing is the way speakers break up their sentences into understandable chunks. Incorrect phrasing can make the speaker very difficult to understand. Phrasing is extremely important in technical presentations, because the information presented is so dense. Many non-native speakers don’t think about phrasing in their presentations, and very often end up sounding choppy. Which phrasing is more understandable?
- The optical /module/ reaches input /and output rates /of 160 gigabits/per second/ between/ two processors /with 32 /integrated waveguides./
- The optical module/ reaches input and output rates /of 160 gigabits per second/ between two processors /with 32 integrated waveguides/.
Unlike in conversational English, many words in the STEM fields are very long and can have 5 or more syllables. It is important to pronounce every syllable. Dropping syllables is a common problem for non-native speakers. Additionally, speakers from languages that don’t have consonant cluster (such as Japanese) may add an extra vowel syllable to break up a group of consonants. Don’t drop or add syllables!
3. Clear articulation of consonants and vowels
In English, the tongue, lips and jaw are much more active with a wider range of motion than in many other languages. Most non-native speakers need to retrain muscle memory to create clear and understandable sounds. Additionally, many English sounds require a vibration in the vocal chords. For example non-native speakers will mispronounce “lens” with final s, because many languages don’t have final z. The audience not only has to think about content, but deciphering mispronunciations as well. Technical presentations have very few speech reductions, and so most words must be clearly enunciated.
4. Proper stress
Changes in word form create changes in word stress. Non-native speakers need to master the common patterns and rules for English stress. For example, the stress will always be on the syllable before these suffixes: -tical, -tic, -logy. So while we say pharmacy, the stress changes in biopharmaceutical, pharmacokinetic, and pharmacology.
5. Plan ahead
Make a list of problematic and key words ahead of time and practice practice practice. You can ask a native speaker for the correct pronunciation. If you know you are saying problematic words and key phrases correctly, you will be more relaxed and confident in your presentation.
Bring CAL Learning’s Technical Presentation Skills for Non-native Speakers workshop onsite to your company. Contact us and schedule before September 24, 2014 and get 15% off!