English is used as a lingua franca in international organizations all over the world. But the people who are communicating through English have different language levels. And sometimes, in meetings where English is the lingua franca, participants hold back from contributing because of a language gap. In fact, research shows a direct correlation between confidence in speaking English and contribution to discussion.
Businesses have a responsibility to create encouraging meeting environments, where everyone can contribute with confidence. More diverse perspectives equal more creative solutions, as well as deeper employee engagement and motivation. Not only is reducing the language gap in meetings an ethical priority then, it’s an economical one too.
So, here are five steps which can help you address the language gap in meeting participation.
1. Send an agenda in advance
A meeting agenda is a document that outlines the topics and activities of a planned meeting, in cronological order. Ideally, an agenda should be sent to attendees at least 24 hours before the meeting is scheduled to happen. An agenda aids preparation, and encourages participation from people who’s mother tongue isn’t English.
By setting an agenda in advance, meeting organizers give everyone the same time to research subjects and plan their contributions. Thus, resulting in more people feeling prepared and ready to speak in meetings. With this structure, English learners are more able to contribute, as they will have had time to research any specific vocabulary they need, and rehearse what they want to say. An agenda is useful for remote meetings, as everyone has the same expectations and organizers are accountable for guiding discussions.
2. Implement a system for contribution
It’s important to have a clear system for all people to be involved in meetings. Raising a hand to signal that someone wants to speak is a popular tactic, and can be applied to in-person and virtual meetings. Whoever is moderating the meeting is responsible for checking that the system is followed, and that no-one is missed when they have shown that they want to contribute.
Another option is to use a round-robin format, where each attendee takes turns speaking. This structure allows everyone to contribute, no matter their level of English. Likewise, the meeting could follow a “no interruptions” rule, where no-one is allowed to interject when someone is talking. It can be tempting for expert English speakers to interrupt when another participant is searching for the right English expression. However, this policy ensures that people can always finish their points and talk with ease.
Alternatively, meeting organizers could ask attendees to provide contributions before the meeting. For example, after sending the agenda, organizers could encourage written and verbal feedback, meaning that everyone’s input is considered, even if they don’t feel confident enough in their English skills to speak up in the meeting.
3. Offer language training
Speaking another language can be intimidating in a professional setting, as people see mistakes as a reflection of their capabilities. Language training is a powerful tool to help develop employees’ confidence when speaking another language. In-person classes and digital platforms can provide a judgment-free space for staff to practice speaking, become familiar with technical vocabulary, and acclimatize to different accents.
ELSA is an AI-powered language learning assistant that gives detailed feedback about users’ English fluency, grammar, pronunciation, and more – all in real time. Through the platform, workers can roleplay various work scenarios, upload recordings of them speaking in English, and practice giving interviews and leading presentations. ELSA’s AI analyzes users’ behavior and tailors content accordingly too, so employees have a personalized learning experience that easily translates to meetings in real life.
4. Appoint an English learner as group moderator
Representation matters in meetings. By having an English learner lead a meeting, it sends a message to other learners attending that they don’t need perfect English skills to hold leadership positions in the company, and that they are valuable contributors. When the moderator is also an English learner, other learners are therefore more likely to be inspired and engage in meetings.
Beyond setting an example, English learners are generally more aware of the linguistic dynamics in a meeting, and so take care to allow everyone to speak and be respected, no matter their level of English. They can ask for clarity in confusing conversations, and invite other English learners to speak up. Not to mention, this type of moderator brings a more direct communication style to meetings, which can establish a more dynamic meeting, where everyone can communicate with greater ease. This type of environment shapes greater equality and more impactful takeaways from the meeting.
5. Promote an inclusive environment
Another way of addressing the language gap in meetings is to make expert English speakers aware of it, and ways to help reduce it. Research shows that speaking fast, using unfamiliar idioms, phrasal verbs and collocations can create a real barrier for English learners. Regional accents can also be difficult for English learners to understand. So, if expert speakers moderate their language to speak as clearly as possible, and slightly slower than usual, it will aid participant’s understanding among meeting participants whose level of English isn’t quite as advanced.
The language gap in meetings is real, and organizations have to take action to close it. These five steps should be part of a larger strategy to promote equality in meetings and the broader workplace. After all, businesses that commit to inclusivity will see far more progressive and productive teams.
Bring more language learners into your business conversations and empower your employees with English language training from ELSA.