Five tips for speaking English while wearing a mask

Do you have to wear a mask because of the COVID-19 virus?  

This often makes face-to-face communication more difficult, especially when you’re speaking another language.  When the speaker is wearing a mask, it can be difficult to hear what they say.  This is made even more difficult because they’re also social distancing.  What’s more, when you can’t see the other person’s face, it is difficult to know how they feel about a topic.  Maybe they’re smiling and joking.  Or, maybe they’re not.  Below are five tips on how to communicate effectively in English while wearing a mask.


Get listeners attention effectively

This may be more difficult with a mask on. You may have to speak a little more clearly and loudly as the listener will likely be further away from you (but be careful not to shout).  It’s also a good idea to slightly raise/wave your hand and make more eye-contact than you usually would.


Show you’re listening

It will be more difficult for the speaker to know if you’re listening while wearing a mask.  Show you’re listening to them by using more non-verbal signals such as eye-contact, nodding, or even raising your eye-brows.   Also use more short verbal reactions such as ‘Uh huh’, ‘Really?’, or ‘I see.’

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Check if you don’t understand

It will often be more difficult for you to hear the speaker, especially if they’re talking quickly or quietly.  Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat things using language such as ‘Pardon?’ or ‘Can you repeat that?’ Another way is to simply put your hand up your ear to show you can’t hear (see Fig. 1 gestures).  If you don’t understand the content, check with the speaker using phrases such as ‘What do you mean by ______?’ or ‘Do you mean ______?’


Rephrase things

Maybe the listener asks you to repeat something or maybe they didn’t understand what you said.  Instead of saying the same thing again, try to rephrase it using different words. Or, maybe you know the topic you are talking about is difficult, then rephrase it without waiting for the listener to ask.  To rephrase things, try to use language such as ‘What I’m saying is…’ or ‘What I mean is…’  You can also check the listener is understanding your speech using phrases like ‘Does that make sense?’ and ‘Are you following me?’


Use body-language & gestures

When wearing a mask, try to use gestures and other body language more to help you communicate.  But be careful, some gestures that might be common in your culture might have completely different meanings in English-speaking countries.  Some common gestures used in English speaking countries are show in Fig.1 below (body language/gestures)




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