Much of the heavy lifting of overseeing international assignments lands on the shoulders of HR personnel, yet only 11% of HR professionals – according to Harvard Business Review research – say they’ve experienced working abroad. We’re certainly not blaming HR when international assignments fail. Rather, we want to reach the supervisors and managers of those expats. We want to let them know how they can support HR in making this international assignment a successful one.

This particular post focuses on expats working solely in their second language, English. We know that many English native speakers also go abroad to fulfill international assignments, but we’ll focus on that in another post since the challenges, namely the language requirements, are somewhat different.

If you supervise or manage even one expat (or a co-worker of one), there are several, very simple actions you can take on a daily basis to make it easier for everyone to:

1. Collaborate
2. Bond
3. Be productive
4. Communicate well
5. Be a team
6. Retain talent
7. Ease new country transition

And who doesn’t want a work environment that supports all of that?

Of course, use SASS (Slow down, Ask for input, Simplify, Support Them) – Fluency Corp’s tried and true four habits that will immediately allow for easier communication. Do you want to spend all day repeating yourself or do you want to get work done?

We thought so.

So keep reading…

Speak Slowly, Separate Words, or Explain the Connections

Avoid typical liaisons (connections between words) until they get a bit more comfortable, or explain them. For example, don’t shorten “What do you think?” to “Wadya think?”

If you have even the smallest amount of fluency in another language, imagine taking away half of the sounds and see if you still understand. That’s what shortening phrases is like for the expat. Or, you can opt to use liaisons but be sure to explain it so that they start getting the hang of how we truly sound when we talk.

A Different Approach to ICC – International Conference Calls (From Hell)

Bypass traditional conference calls and use video conferencing like Zoom or Skype for Business. Personally, I lose about 30% understanding when I have a phone meeting in Spanish, and I have a C1 level (low level native mastery). You’re probably asking, “How can you be anything like a native speaker and only understand 70% when talking on the phone?” But, it’s true. Video conferencing allows for better comprehension as well. A study by James Bigelow and Amy Poremba is titled: “Achilles’ Ear? Inferior Human Short-Term and Recognition Memory in the Auditory Modality.” Quoted in the February 26, 2014 issue of Science Daily, Bigelow summarizes the research by saying: “As it turns out, there is merit to the Chinese proverb ‘I hear, and I forget; I see, and I remember.” Forbes Insights also conducted a July 2017 global survey of over 300 executives. 62% of execs say that video conferences significantly improve communication

Granted, the more someone talks on the phone, the better they get at it, so don’t take away phone time completely. But if you have to do a conference call where no video is used, I suggest someone types paraphrased notes of the conversation in the chat box, so that the expat can give feedback in real time – the point is to understand each other and get work done, right?
If you only type up meeting notes and send them out AFTER the meeting, then the expat isn’t able to give ideas and feedback DURING the meeting.

Pause and Ask for Input

If you aren’t hearing much from your expat talent on phone calls or even in meetings, ask them directly to speak up. The following are all good questions to draw them out:

What do you think?
Do you have anything to add to that?
Does that seem like a logical way of handling this to you?
Do you have any other ideas on how to manage this?

Then PAUSE – longer than you think is necessary. More than likely, your second language employee is trying to find the right words, and it might take longer than you think. So make sure everyone stops talking and gives the expat time to put his or her thoughts together. Not only will you get more collaboration and feedback/input, but you’re also giving him or her confidence to speak up even more at future meetings. Believe me, they’ll get the hang of it.

One of the most frequent requests we get from managers when working with their non-native English speaking team members is, “Please help them speak up more in meetings. We want to hear their opinions on the matter. That’s why we brought them here.”

But you as a supervisor also need to PAUSE and let them organize their thoughts.

Shore Up Support

Finally, offer expats support in the form of many avenues to practice English on a daily basis. Have other team members ask the expat to lunch or to happy hours. Try to ensure that someone asks every week. Naturally, when team members are friends, then collaboration and productivity increase exponentially, so encourage everyone to get to know each other, and in turn, they will learn to communicate better. You also won’t have to spend so much money on language training when you have the team speaking with the expat outside of meetings. It’s in these casual conversations about life, family, vacation, and goals that fluency truly happens.

Try, if possible, to surround the expat with team members that only speak English. This is a game changer. One year, a client of ours saw that his new expat was progressing in English at a fairly slow page. Of course, 2 hours of conversation class a week with Fluency Corp is quite slow progress. So we suggested that they put an English-only speaker in the same area as the expat. Due to this daily interaction, the expat doubled progress the next year. It’s all about exposure – that’s it!

Also, learn as much as you can about what your expat is going through. Everyone wants this relocation to be a successful one, but it takes all hands on deck to get through it. Patience will be key – and the more immersion the expat gets, the faster they will be able to fit in and talk more freely and easily. So go bowling, grab a coffee, get drinks after work, ask what they like to do in the evenings and give suggestions on where to find other people who like that same activity. Remember to SASS it up (Slow, Ask for Input, Simplify, and Support).

And if you want to chat about increasing fluency, give us a call. We’re here for you, in any language, country or schedule.