Clarity is influenced by a number of things. You might immediately assume that we are talking of ARTICULATION, which refers to the movement of the tongue, lips and other muscles in the mouth. While that certainly is one important aspect of speech which helps us communicate clearly, there are several other things to consider.

BODY LANGUAGE refers to the gestures, facial expressions and posture we have, and how we use space and time. This varies across culture considerably. For example, how we take turns in conversation is different. Some cultures will tend to speak sooner than others, often starting before the speaker has finished their idea, while others will leave space after someone speaks. Canadians, in the business environment, will usually speak as soon as someone else has finished. The degree and type of gesturing also varies – some cultures gesture a lot and use a lot of space around them while others gesture minimally and use little space. Smiling is another important communication technique. Have you noticed how Canadians tend to smile a lot, like a dog with its tail in the air indicating friendliness!

EXPECTATIONS and ASSUMPTIONS are also very culturally-based. The degree to which people act and speak in the way we expect them to really influences how we interpret them. For example, Canadians tend to soften critical feedback. If someone comes from a culture which says things very directly with no padding, it will probably be interpreted as rude and very strong feedback. Another example is lunchtime in the office. You may be used to having long lunch breaks, socializing a lot with your workmates and expect to eat in groups. Canadians often tend to eat at their desk or go out alone or perhaps with one friend. So new immigrants may feel their workmates are cold and rude or don’t like them.

Finally, PARA-VERBAL ASPECTS refer to the music of the language, including volume, timing, pitch, melody, phrasing, etc. You can see from this slide that how we group the words in a sentence can completely change the meaning. Volume is another difference across cultures. Canadians prefer to keep a low voice in the office. Little intonation can be interpreted as depression and good intonation will help you hold an audience’s attention.

It is important to develop an awareness of how cultures vary in these areas. If you do have issues with clarity, our advice is to speak slowly so you have time to enunciate, speak with a pleasant tone of voice and not too loud, and smile when appropriate. This way, if there is some potential misunderstanding, the listener will understand that there is no intentional negative meaning intended.

Continue to learn about how people in your culture communicate differently from the average Canadian in these areas. It is not easy to discover our assumptions and expectations so be easy on yourself and others. Observing, reading and discussing will all help. Good luck!