Presenting in a foreign language

There is no shortage of advice about how to make a great presentation. Take the following presentation tips for example:

  • Show your passion
  • Start strong
  • Keep it short

But if you are one of the thousands working in a global environment then you will know that it’s hard enough giving a presentation in your own language, but when it comes to delivering a presentation in English, it can be really tough. You feel exposed, like the almost naked man in our picture!

naked speaker

Maureen McGuinness, in a guest post to The Naked Speaker shared her experiences of presenting in a foreign language.  Here is a distillation of just some of them.


Don’t translate word-for-word. Resist the temptation to write the speech in your native language and then translate it. Not only is this a waste of time but also you will create a Hunglish piece. What is idiomatic in Hungarian isn’t necessarily idiomatic in other languages.

Every language student will tell you that you need to think in the language to become fluent so put the dictionary and electronic translator down. Start thinking about what you would naturally say in the target language.

It’s also important that any notes or brainstorming is written in the target language. Your audience will be remarkably aware of whether you’ve translated something word-for-word or written it yourself at your level of fluency. This also means that the speech will be easier to memorize as it has more meaning to you.


Take more time for preparation to make room for checking correct vocabulary and syntax. If you have time then present it to a native speaker of that language.

Practice reading it aloud more than you would in your native language. Correct pronunciation and intonation and stress is crucial.

Don’t overcomplicate the presentation. You need to demonstrate your ability to use common phrases fluently.  To help with the flow you should always know your signpost words well in the target language.

It’s essential to have a strong and coherent structure. This is important when presenting in a foreign language because you cannot think in it as freely as you can in your native language.

When presenting don’t get bogged down by grammar mistakes. If you’re constantly thinking about grammar rules then your mind isn’t going to be focused on the content of your speech. It’s more important to speak a language fluidly than trying to correct your mistakes.

Make minimal use of notes. In your native language, notes that are full sentences can be distracting but usually you can go back to your talking point easily enough. In a foreign language it can completely throw you.  Excessive notes can delay or obstruct your free-thinking in the target language.

Overall, like all public speaking the more you do it the better you become. People may see presenting in a foreign language as a barrier but according to McGuinness once you’re at a certain level of fluency it is less intimidating than you first think and really enhances your spoken language.




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