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Habits to avoid while talking with foreigners

Understandings cultural do’s and don’ts, when meeting foreigners, enables better communication. When speaking English with a foreigner, what habits should you avoid?

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Question asked by devnand_giri

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angel profile image
Angel Paudel

Understanding people culture along with the do’s and don’ts while communicating with a foreigner will certainly help guide the conversation in a logical direction. Having worked in an organization with 19 different nationalities and communicating with them on various different occasion, knowing something about the culture did help. For example, it’s very easy for us to talk with anyone who is from India as we share the border and with it a similar culture with them. But when it came to people from other parts of the word like Myanmar, it was a different proposition for me. They shared a different belief. The one I talked with had so much faith in Buddhism and would give away a lot of her earning to a Buddhist monk every once in a while. Now, it’s their belief, if you go around saying bad things about it that will do more harm than good; people should have the right to exercise their belief and knowing that will let us shape our communication accordingly. Someone likes a direct approach, while some don’t. So, knowing these, one should communicate accordingly.

Here are few of the habits that one should avoid in general while talking with a foreigner:

  • Don’t assume: Don’t think that you know everything for the assumption is the number one communication killer (A. Nagorny, S. Pugach, N. Doborovich & F. Svoykina, 2014). While talking with them, ask things about their country, and show that you’re interested rather than saying that it is this and that. Don’t counter on every single point for they know their country better than you do. Be receptive of what they have to say and ask questions if you don’t understand or if things they said give a different odd meaning to you. They might be wanting to say something different as well.
  • Using slang words: Slang is a very informal language used with a certain group that you are close with or share the similar culture. As this isn’t a formal language, if you use slang words with foreigners, they’re very much unlikely to understand what you intend to say.
  • Using complicated language, long sentences: Being from a foreign land doesn’t mean that they’re well acquainted with the language. There are so many nations of whose first language isn’t English and they don’t know it very well. So, you should keep that in mind and avoid using complicated sentences so that it isn’t difficult for them to understand. Also, use short sentences with a break in between so that they can have some time to process what you meant.
  • Rushing through the sentence: Speak slowly, if you start rushing around, a foreigner won’t get what you mean. Speaking slowly will let them hear the words in full and also understand them better. People might just have started using the language so for them, speaking too fast is a big no.


A. Nagorny, I., S. Pugach, V., N. Doborovich, A., & F. Svoykina, L. (2014). Assumption in linguistic landscapes: modal particles and problems of communication. Journal Of Language And Literature, 5 (2), 83-87.

shantamilan profile image

Every culture have their own do’s and don’ts. In Nepal it is very important for you to use the right respectful words while speaking to an elder, but in foreign country this many not be so but their tone while speaking to a senior eg: teacher does change a little. Similarly we add a respectful word at the back of the first name of the person we are talking to, but in foreign country it is important to address them by their Sur name unless given permission to use the first name. These are some general points in cultural practices.

Speaking English with a foreigner, we are at a disadvantage as we do not have verbal fluency and may struggle with their accent. For example, Americans tend to speak a little faster while Australians and British have heavy accents. The vocabulary that they use may be more that we know. Therefore it is important to know the etiquette while speaking English with a foreigner. We can do the following to avoid any misunderstandings.

  • Starting a conversion without a proper greeting is a habit that needs to be changed. Greeting is a start to a conversation. Saying Namaste or good morning is an opener.
  • Going and speaking to a stranger is something that is a big ‘No’. Instead introduce yourself if you are strangers and start off with that.
  • We Nepalese join our palms together and say Namaste. Foreigners shake hand. Shaking hands say a lot about a person. Just holding hand for a brief moment is not a hand shake. An acceptable strong shake is a very good first impression.
  • Nepalese have a habit of laughing for no apparent reason and shaking head to either say yes or no. Curb this behavior. Foreigners may be confused.
  • We Nepalese do not have a distinct accent and many foreigners that I have talked to have said that our pronunciations are clear. So do not fake an accent, it is weird and people will know right away.
  • Instead speak in an acceptable tone, slowly and clearly.
  • People look at another place while talking. Eye contact is very important.
  • Using bombastic words does not make your English good. Use simple words.
  • Do not assume. Sometimes out of respect or not wanting the foreigner to repeat themselves, assuming what has been implied is wrong thing to do. Instead ask for them to repeat themselves or say that you did not understand them.
  • Some foreigners use slang words which may not be clear to us. So asking further question if necessary for clarification is important.
  • Be polite while speaking and respect their point of view as we are from different culture and places so perceptions may not match. "Politeness in communication involves an understanding of the situation, taking into account age, gender, occupation and social status of the communication partner. (Kultanova, Yeskazinova, & Tazhibayeva, 2012)”

These are some habits that need to be improved. People are nervous while speaking with a foreigner in English. This make them blurt out wrong things. Instead relax and converse.

Kultanova, Z. M., Yeskazinova, Z. A., & Tazhibayeva, E. R. (2012). THE RULES OF SPEECH ETIQUETTE IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE. Education and Science Without Borders , 142-144. Retrieved from proxy.lirn.net/MuseProxyID=mp03/Mu... 1

ncitujjwal profile image

When people from different cultures contact each other there may be a lot of communicative problems. These problems arise from differences in cultural experiences, manners, beliefs, values, expectations, languages, and religions (Chaney, 2009). Words which mean one thing in one country may not mean the same thing in other countries. Accepting, learning and following other cultural dictates will avoid many mistakes in the communicative process. But Intercultural communication is a suitable platform to learn and know about the others’ attitudes, values, experiences, manners, expectations, and cultures. When two countries partners are communicating the first time, I think it might be difficult for them. Suppose one is native English speaker and other is Nepali guy then they have cultural diversity and the first time they might have difficulty to understand each other. But similarly when we talk with other English speaker but he is from South Asia so it’s easy for communication because we have the same culture and we can understand them. Similarly, Many Americans have trouble when communicating with foreigners. They try hard, but they often do not understand each other. Because American and South Asian and South African foreigners have huge cultural differences. Cultural differences in attitudes, values, mores, and manners, an important factor for effective communication. So when we learn and know others’ attitudes, values, experiences, manners, expectations, and cultures it’s easy for communication (Dahl, 2004). Many occasions provide opportunities for intercultural contact. For example, businessmen from one country travel to other countries for their business. Students study in other countries. These examples demonstrate how possible and necessary it is for people from different cultures to communicate with each other. It is inevitable that when communication takes place between two cultures, problems arise. Much of the difficulty in intercultural communication is not just a matter of understanding the words, but of understanding nonverbal signals that are generally encoded automatically within a single culture so that communicators are unconscious of them.

In today’s workplace, a global environment where cultures mix and multiple languages are spoken is valuable. This is an exciting time to be in business, but it can have its challenges if you are a non-native English speaker or you are the native speaker and you talking with non - native may also challenge in business (Geertz, 1999). I think overall the best thing you can do is to listen more, read more, and pay attention to what people sound like and how they say what they need to say. Whether you deal with non-native English speakers often or rarely, this advice will help you to communicate more effectively and smoothly.

  • Avoid Idioms, Jargons, and Slang words: When speaking English to your overseas staff, avoid any sort of confusion by using more formal English and staying away from jargon and slang words that wouldn’t be recognized in other parts of the world. Speaking slowly doesn’t hurt either.

  • Do not cover or hide your mouth because listeners will want to watch you as you pronounce your words

  • Do not use baby talk or incorrect English: This does not make you easier to understand. It will confuse your listener and may give the wrong impression about your own level of competence.

  • Avoid running words together (Do-ya wanna eat-a-pizza?): One of the biggest challenges for listeners is knowing where one word ends and the next one begins. Give them a small pause between words if they seem to be struggling.

  • Avoid verb phrases that sound very similar to non-native English speaker: “Look out” sounds very close to “look for.” Both are similar to “look out for.” Many times you can use another word in these cases. (Example: look out = be careful, look for = search for, look out for = watch for)

Chaney, L.(2009) (Intercultural Business Communication, 4th ed). Intercultural Business Communication. America: Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Dahl, S. (2004). Cross-cultural advertising research: What do we know about them. Middlesex, U.K.: Middlesex University Discussion .

Geertz, C. (1999) The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: New York: Basic Books.

dipadhungana profile image

Communication is the exchange of ideas, knowledge and experience. Communication is effective when the receiver receives and understands the message in the same way as desired by the sender (Bell & Smith, 2014). We feel comfortable talking to the people with similar culture and same mother tongue. But at times we have to get out of our comfort zone and communicate with foreigners. We need to travel to foreign countries for education or work. In such situations, we opt for English language as it has great reach and influence as a language. While communicating with foreigners, we need to understand that they belong to different culture than ours and act accordingly. The verbal and non-verbal cues has different meanings in different culture. We should try to understand their cultural do’s and don’ts to communication better. It is important because our words, actions and thought process are guided by the culture we belong to.

While speaking English with foreigner, we need to avoid the following habits to make the communication better:

  • Use of complex words: It is not necessary that foreigners are well acquainted with English language. So we should try to make the communication process simple and precise. This is possible by avoiding the use of complex words. The use of complex words creates confusion and make it difficult to catch up with what is being communicated. Using appropriate and simple vocabulary reduces the complexity of communication (ANTVibes, 2012).

  • Use of long and unfinished sentences: Sometimes we may tent to leave the sentences in between which is a big no while communicating with foreigners. This is highly possible when we use lengthy sentences to elaborate our point. We might get confused along the way and leave the sentences unfinished (Saundz). It provides room for assumptions and anticipations resulting in misinterpretation of the information.

  • Use of jargon and slang words: Slang words are very informal words or phrases that are understood only by a certain group of people. On the other hand, jargon are special words used by professional group. We have the habit of using these when we talk to our friends, family or colleagues and are habituated to it. But while speaking to foreigner, we should be cautious and eliminate speaking such words as it is not understood by people living in other part of the world.

  • Speaking too fast or too slow: There are chances of the listeners being confused and missing out some phrases or words if we speak too fast. Similarly speaking too slow may distract the listener and they might forget things said earlier. So we should select the appropriate pace for speaking.

  • Avoiding Assumptions: We may assume that the foreigner is understanding what we are speaking and proceed further that may not be true. So we should constantly check whether the other party is receiving what we are communicating by allowing them to put forward their ideas and opinions on the subject matter in between the conversation.

To conclude, starting the conversation by talking about things that are familiar in both cultures can help in building rapport with the foreigner. This will help to understand each other better that will facilitate the communication process. In addition, avoiding unnecessary accents and abbreviated words also helps in communicating effectively.


ANTVibes. (2012, June 15). 5 Tips When Interacting With People Who Speak English as a 2nd Language (ESL) . Retrieved from Business 2 Community: business2community.com/strategy/5-...

Bell, A. H., & Smith, D. M. (2014). Management Communication. New York: Wiley.

Saundz. (n.d.). 5 Habits You Should Get Rid of if You Want to Speak English Fluently. Retrieved from Saundz: saundz.com/5-habits-you-should-get...

ujjwalpoudel profile image

This concept of a global economy has increased the nations’ corporate interdependence. Today, the business corporation are not restricted to their home nation; they are creating opportunities throughout the host nations for the development of international initiatives. There are many success and failure stories in the global business of multinational corporations. And, the foremost thing one should be reading a prior is on the understanding host countries cultural diversity. The effect of cultural understanding before you start up is precedence. Corporate analysts argued that the key to global business success depends on effective cross-cultural etiquette and global workforce diversity management (Okoro, 2012). Interpersonal relationship, group communication competence, and cross-cultural negotiation skills can sustain global competitiveness.

For instance; Currently, I am working with Indian company, Kathmandu Farmers Market. This is a department store which is still in its setup process. We both (Kathmandu Farmers Market and Jobs Dynamics) have an agreement for human resource supply. And, there is still gap that we could not hire their manpower as per their requirements. The foremost requirement for their company is that the candidate should be well enough to speak Hindi Language and English is a compulsion. Here, what I found is that the company is planning their business in Nepal and they are searching the candidate with fluent on Hindi and English which is their mistake; and this is only for easy communicate with management. They are planning to their opening before two months ago and they are still not opening a single outlet. This shows that the cultures that may be understanding of habit or say their languages are the most.

Bell & Smith (2006), in their book Marketing Communication, effective communication sounds like it should be instinctive. But all too often, when we try to communicate with others something goes astray. We say one thing, the other person hears something else, and misunderstandings, frustration, and conflicts ensue. This can cause problems in our home, school, and work relationships. Now coming to the habit that we must avoid when speaking English with a foreigner are listed below:

  1. Idioms, Jargons, and Slangs are a very informal language used with a certain group that we are close with or share the similar culture. So, we should avoid using such words while communicating the overseas because they’re very much unlikely to understand what we intend to say.

  2. Next, there is the challenge for listeners with our running sentences. They might be confused on where word ends and the next one begins. So, we need to give a pause between words if they seem to be confusing.

  3. When we see overseas, we immediately become conscious of how we sound and speak and try to imitate their accent in hopes of sounding fluent. Here, rather showing nervousness, we can take a time and can speak slowly.


Bell, A. H., & Smith, D. (2006). Management Communication . John Wiley and Sons Inc.

Okoro, E. (2012). Cross-cultural etiquette and communication in global business: Toward a strategic framework for managing corporate expansion. International journal of business and management, 7 (16), 130.