English as a second language – a training dilemma?

Here at Rubus Associates, even though we are based in South Wales, we get involved in leadership and management training  all over the world.  We are often, therefore, in a learning environment with people who have English as a second language.  As professional people developers this is something we have to consider not just in the delivery of our programmes but in all aspects of the training cycle.

As you may, or may not be aware there are four stages to this cycle and they are identifying training needs, designing the solution, delivering the solution and finally evaluating the success of the learning event. So let’s consider each of those areas:


As part of the process of identifying the training needs it is important to clarify and confirm the level and competence of the people who require the training.  This will be vital for you in the design stage.  However if the course you are developing is advertised as an ‘open to all’ course then it is important that the requirements for attending the course are clearly specified, such as having achieved a certain level of qualification or be in a certain role within the business.  Clarification around terminology used to describe the course content and the ideal course candidate needs to be though through very carefully to ensure that the needs of the attendees are met.


Care needs to be taken here to use correct grammar and punctuation in the documentation as well as not using phrases such as ‘wishy washy’ or local sayings such as ‘where you too?’  These will just be too complicated and too confusing for an audience who is having to learn new theories and techniques as well as dealing with translating the information between two languages.  It is also critical in your design to consider the different cultural requirements of your delegates including religion, dietary and general well being.  For example prayer breaks will have to form part of your design and will have to be managed respectfully.


As a trainer you need to have done your cultural homework before starting the course so that you are fully aware of any situation that you may present itself.  Once you are delivering you need to consider the pace at which you are speaking and the use of correct English.  It is therefore very important that the notes that the delegates have and the visual aids that you are using are used to reinforce the key messages that you are conveying.  So remember to allow people time to read the slides/your flip chart; ensure that you write clearly and slowly on the flip chart and most importantly that you do not talk away from the delegates who need to see you facial expressions to assist in the assimilation of what you are saying.

You also need to be flexible around start times and break times to accommodate different cultural requirements.This can be frustrating for you as a trainer as you may have to cut short a session or exercise, but it is also about creating mutual respect and developing an understanding about what has to be covered, especially if the course is accredited.


The methods used for evaluation need to reflect the needs that were identified in the beginning and often need to be developed by the delegate’s organisation.  The first level evaluation that is completed (aka the Happy sheet) is a good base to judge immediate reaction however long term evaluation also needs to be considered.Our role as professional trainers should involve helping & supporting organisations to put robust evaluation strategies in place to assist them in showing an effective return on their investment. As has been stated before the language that is used on the evaluation sheet needs to be considered carefully to reduce any confusion and mis-interpretation.

So if you are about to embark on delivering to an audience whose first language is not English do take some time to ensure that the notes you provide as well as the actual training you deliver consider the needs of the delegates.

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

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