Going out of your comfort zone: Working in an environment where you are not mainly using your mother tongue

Working in an international environment without using your native language can be stimulating, but it is not always easy. In this article, you will find some tips to help you make strength in business from your difference.

Not speaking your mother tongue
Implementation Consultant
Posted on
Reading time 7 minutes

Let me start with a personal story. I was working on a project with a colleague. Due to the pandemic, most of us worked from home, so the meeting was done online with screen sharing. I was the one typing. We wanted to define a deadline for the project. To my French ears, dead and date sounded similar enough! So, initially, I wrote the word dateline. This compound made sense as I wanted to assign a final date for the project, but clearly, it means something else in the dictionary. It is the place and date of writing. My colleague noticed it and explained the logic behind this compound.

So even if I felt silly at the beginning and even if my colleague didn't understand what I was referring to initially, this became a learning opportunity.

This might sound familiar to you if you have experience working in an international environment where you are not regularly using your mother tongue. Some of your friends and family probably share this experience too! Although it often happens, it is not always easy. But how can we feel more confident when talking to people from diverse cultural backgrounds? How do you make your difference a strength?

A bit of background

I left France in 2017 to discover new lands and experience thrilling adventures. I was just kidding. Let's be honest. I moved to the Netherlands for love. However, I took it as an opportunity to discover a new culture, improve my "scholar English", and hopefully reduce my strong French accent.

After different working experiences, I ended up at Easy LMS. The company has Dutch roots but has the ambition to become fully international. Currently, 21% of the employees didn't grow up with the Dutch language. So, English is the communication language at the workplace. Nevertheless, the Dutch language is still quite frequently used. Most of the colleagues juggle between the different languages.

As we have different cultural backgrounds, it can sometimes lead to some funny misunderstandings, as you can imagine. Although funny at times, sometimes these events can affect your self-esteem as you may think it might negatively impact the way clients perceive your professionalism. It should not be the case! Remember, you are working out of your comfort zone. It means that you are not afraid of change and can adapt quickly. It is one of the best soft skills. If you can adapt, you can also adapt to the client's demand.

How to improve to limit these misunderstandings?

As a consultant, I conduct demos for clients to help them determine if Easy LMS can cater to their needs. Most of these calls are in English. When I started, my accent was strong. In that sense, clients might need a few minutes to adjust. So, I noticed that they sometimes didn't understand my explanation at first.

It made me reconsider my speech rate. I also had to add more follow-up questions to ensure the clients understood me correctly. Thanks to these changes, I became more attentive to clients' needs.

Misunderstanding can be overcome

As you can see, these misunderstandings can be overcome. Making mistakes is okay, as long as you learn from them. It is one of our mantras.

To grow, you need to go out of your comfort zone. Progress is associated with practices.

With this state of mind and the support of Easy LMS, here are two tips that help me to feel legitimate in my position and might also help you.

Tip 1: Start writing and editing content

One of our consultants' missions is to maintain documentation on Easy LMS features. These articles are written in English and will be automatically translated. To ensure their quality, they follow a strict content process.

At first, I avoided altering existing articles and writing new ones, as I had the impression to be unclear, and inaccurate. I limited myself to comment on articles edited by other colleagues.

By being encouraged and reassured, that it was okay to try and that we would always have the possibility to improve the articles afterward, I started to write more. I noticed the following skills improve:

  • work-related vocabulary
  • writing accurately and efficiently

This practice enabled me to grow in other domains, such as writing internal documentation, emailing clients, and even performing demos.

Today, I am even feeling confident enough to write for our blog 😉

Tip 2: Use a writing assistant tool as a safety net.

If you like to be independent but still want to be more confident about writing in a non-native language, using a writing assistant tool like Grammarly as a safety net can do the trick. This type of tool can review your spelling and your grammar. It can prevent delivery mistakes and ensure that you maintain the right tone when addressing your audience.

If you use it regularly, you will probably notice that it provides fewer and fewer suggestions. It is a visible way to keep track of your progress and be proud of it. This is what happened to me.

Even if you improve your level in your non-native language, the idea is not to mask your background but to make an asset of it.

Even if you improve your level in your non-native language, the idea is not to mask your background but to make an asset of it

Our differences are an asset

If you relate to my personal experiences, I have some tips to help you and your organization see (language) differences as a strength!

Empower your clients and make them more confident about themselves

At Easy LMS, around 56 % of our clients are from a non-English speaker country. So even if some clients master this international language, it is not always the case. Some of you are sharing the frustrations that come from working in another language than your mother tongue.

So, if the person you're talking with lives the same experience as you, you can easily feel more confident and express yourself in a free manner. You know he will not judge you as he was confronted with the same difficulties. For instance, you may feel more comfortable booking an English demo with a non-native speaker as you can expect that his speed rate will be slower or that he will use well-known expressions to describe the tool.

Connect on a deeper level with your clients

Communicating with an accent can be an ice-breaker

Communicating with an accent can be an ice-breaker and create more informal talk. For instance, clients often interrupt me during a demo and ask if I am French. It can surprise them as first as we are a Dutch company. So they might expect someone with a different accent. Once they get the confirmation, some will say a few words in French. It creates a bond between us. This has another advantage: they will remember the demo better by associating it with an unexpected event. It leaves an impression!

At Easy LMS, we are proud of who we are, and we want everyone to feel the same. We embrace our differences!