Speaking and Listening: Finding your Voice in all of your Languages

Being the only non-native speaker of the language used in class can be intimidating and you may be tempted to be silent. However, not participating in class discussions limits your experience and the experience of your classmates. Your contributions from a different cultural perspective add to the diversity of ideas and enriches the classroom conversation. In addition, class participation may be part of your grade. The information on this page offers some tips and suggestions on increasing your participation in class, making presentations in a language other than your first, and being understood and understanding in and out of the classroom regardless of the language you are speaking.

Participating in class discussions

Thinking of a question or an answer quickly in a second (or third!) language can be difficult. The word or phrase you want may not come fast enough, or you may need to translate something. You can ease some of that pressure with a little bit of pre-planning. As you are doing the reading or assignment for the next class, think about questions you can ask and write them down. If you have that list available during class, you won’t need to translate the phrases on the spot, and the words will be in front of you.

You can also think about what the professor might ask and be ready to answer that question if it comes up. Professors tend to ask two types of questions:specific factual information from your homework and deeper questions about what you think of the topic. You can prepare for both by predicting what they might be. For the longer answers, you might even practice what you’re going to say in advance to make sure you know the words and grammatical forms to say it. Additionally, you might meet with some of your classmates to discuss the topics and what your professor may ask. As a bonus, all these strategies might also help you deepen your understanding of the topic.  

Preparing presentations

One of the biggest mistakes all students make when giving a presentation is speaking too fast. Speaking quickly with nonstandard pronunciation increases the possibility that your audience will struggle to understand you. So, slow down, pause, and give your audience a chance to absorb what you are saying. You can also help your audience follow you by placing keywords or images in a presentation or handout. 

That being said, do not write your whole presentation on Powerpoint slides or a handout. Students who read their presentations tend to speak quickly, in a monotone voice, and to look down, causing their voice to project toward the carpet instead of their audience. Rather than reading, use the same keywords you have in your presentation to remind you what to talk about and practice until you don’t need the whole speech written out. Remember, your audience doesn’t know exactly what you were going to say, so if you change your wording or skip a few lines, they won’t know.  

 Wesleyan provides support for practicing and creating presentations at the Presentation Studio. You can practice with a trained consultant who will provide feedback and advice. In addition, you can make an appointment to go over the assignment and plan your presentation. For more information, go the the Presentation Studios website: https://www.wesleyan.edu/cpi/presentations/

Resources for key phrases that might help during discussions: 

Scripted phrases for English discussions: 


Phrases commonly used in STEM classes: