Managing meetings in a second language

Managing meetings in a second language and how to get the most out of them

Edited by Anna Sobell


Meetings. Love them or hate them, they’re definitely not going anywhere; in fact, it’s estimated that UK employees spend around 10 hours per week preparing and attending meetings, conference calls or video calls. It’s therefore essential that this time is used as efficiently as possible, which can be particularly difficult when leading a meeting in a second language. In light of this, we’ve put together some techniques and strategies to handle meetings in a second language.

Leading meetings in a second language is especially tricky in the conference call scenario as you don’t have any of the visual signals or body language to help you communicate and more easily understand the people you are listening to.

The great fear is that we may not be fully understood or fully understand what is being said to us, and if we are leading the meeting the pressure can be even greater – at worst we may lose control of the situation and the confidence of those participating. This is something to be avoided in any business situation!

Is there anything you can do to keep control of the conversation?  Yes, there is.

Start as you mean to go forward

If you are the chair, take control from the start. Introduce the topic and check who is online- ask them to say hi/introduce themselves briefly. This gives you and everyone else a chance to hear and get used to all the different accents you’ll be hearing throughout the meeting.


You can’t control the meeting and concentrate on taking the minutes.  Delegate the minutes.

Point to point

Introduce each agenda item or point and identify the person who will introduce it.

Wrap it up

At the end of each item, thank the presenter and ask for contributions.

Conclude and sum up

Once each agenda point has been raised and discussed, it’s always a good idea to sum up the key conclusions and actions. However, this task could also be delegated to the minute taker.

Follow the steps above and everything should run smoothly…in a perfect world. But in reality, things don’t always go according to plan. So, the final three points are tactics for keeping the meeting on track:

Hang on a minute!

Native speakers often don’t realise how fast and indistinctly they speak. Many non-native speakers of English, for example, complain that when they ask the speaker to ‘please speak more slowly’, the native speaker just repeats at exactly the same speed!  Try this.  Ask for slower speech but explain why. ‘Could you please slow down, you’re speaking very quickly and I think I missed something’. The explanation usually gets a better result.

Keep it relevant

Sometimes, people spend too long on a point and a non-native speaker convenor might not know how to shut them up, politely!  Perhaps the best thing is to simply say, ‘Sorry, we’re very short of time. Could you sum up briefly, please?’

Curb those tangents!

Finally, what to do when someone insists on talking about something completely different, unrelated or irrelevant? Well, you have to interrupt and say, ‘Sorry, can we get back to the agenda?’

Here at Language Services Direct we offer a wide range of MasterClass courses, including one on Meetings; find out more about the series and how they could benefit your organisation here.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to take a look at these too:

Language training or translation – what’s best for business?

Business language training – why it makes sense

Business language training: group or 1-to-1?

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