Many of my coworkers are of foreign origin. I have to often work with such a coworker whose first language is not English. His spoken English is thickly accented and the written English often has errors. As a part of my job, I have to read documentation created by him and do the tasks in those documents "frequently". As a result, I lose a lot of time in communicating and that sometimes results in errors. The person reviewing his docs before they come to me also does not seem to comprehend the language errors.

I have worked with similar people, but their English was okay. But, IMHO, this coworker needs to do a lot of work to become proficient. How do I work with this person and still get work done without getting bogged down by challenges in communication ?

PS- I have worked with a few (but not too many) people who have similar communication problems. My gut feeling is that our hiring bar is getting low. But, that is not something I can control.

  • There is a similar question workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/85247/… and people claim that good communication skill is almost never about the language so I would rephrase the title of your question.
    – Grasper
    Feb 21, 2017 at 14:20
  • @Grasper no that question is really saying that the phrase good communication skills is not a code for saying good English - there are many native and good English speakers who are not good communicators (many more than those who have poor English)
    – mmmmmm
    Feb 21, 2017 at 22:44

1 Answer 1


How do I work with this person and still get work done without getting bogged down by challenges in communication ?

I'm not sure what you are expecting for responses, but the obvious answer is to try harder to understand this person so that you can get your job done.

Sometimes, I find that people communicate better when I sit down with them in a quiet location and ask clarifying questions. Others respond better via email. You'll need to see what works best for you and this coworker.

I find that even very unfamiliar accents become easier to understand over time. And even written English with errors becomes understandable once you realize the kinds of errors typically being made. It's just a matter of communicating enough to get to that comfort level.

Remember, if you are having difficulty understanding him, he may very well have similar difficulty understanding you. Try to be patient and work hard toward a common understanding. You'll both benefit.

  • 2
    In addition to this, if it's really a more common problem at your workplace it might be a good idea to propose sending people on an English course. We do that at my workplace and it benefits both the company and the coworkers following such a course.
    – Stefan
    Feb 21, 2017 at 10:17
  • 1
    he can also try to learn a little bit of his native language so he can put himself in his shoes. It will make the foreign coworker more comfortable, thinking he is interested in his origin which will result in better conversations. Many times difficulties speaking English is not due to the lack of education but stress from speaking, especially if the natives give blank faces expressing they don't understand.
    – Grasper
    Feb 21, 2017 at 14:49

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