Au pair blog

Communication with a non-native English speaker

Communication with a non-native English speaker

Dear Host Family,

Even you have assessed the proficiency of your au pair's English as part of your selection process, their communication skills might be not as good as you would expect.  However, you will need to give the au pair time to come to terms with speaking English every day. With your support you will see the au pair's confidence and ability improve dramatically in the first few weeks.

Here are some ideas to help your au pair to be getting better day by day.

Do not ask “do you understand?” Ask comprehension-checking questions.
It is human nature to say “yes” when someone asks if we understand – even if we do not. This is especially true when we are feeling embarrassed or under pressure, which au pairs may feel during the beginning of their au pair year! So, after explaining a new concept to your au pair, it is not helpful to ask, “Do you understand?”

If your au pair responds correctly, then you know that you were understood. However, if she does not, it is clear that the concept needs to be explained once again. Try showing her, writing the lists out, or both. Some au pairs may benefit more from a demonstration or written list than verbal instruction!

Speak slowly and clearly and avoid idioms.
We have a tendency to “swallow” some of our letters, especially Ts and Gs. If your au pair does not understand something you say, try pronouncing all of the letters as clearly as possible. Au pairs may also be slow to pick up on figures of speech. For example, if you tell your au pair she has been “on the ball” lately, she might not know how to take that! Don’t just speak louder! This can be insulting to the au pair, and it is not helpful for understanding.

Repeat main points in multiple ways
If your au pair does not understand what was said, phrase what you already said in a new way. For example, you might ask “Do you need directions to school?” If this does not elicit the response you are looking for, ask “Do you know how to get to the kids’ school?”

Simplify
You may be making a concept more complex than it needs to be! Do not expect your au pair to be able to catch a nuanced hint, especially when she is new. We often do not like to be direct with criticism. However, if your au pair is not picking up on hints or suggestions, you may need to respectfully yet bluntly tell her, “Please turn off all the lights when you exit a room.”

Give it time!
As the year goes on, your au pair will get to know your family’s needs, personalities and communication styles better. Simultaneously, her English will improve. This is all good for communication!

 

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