Skip to main content

Speaking in Your Not-So-Native Tongue

5 steps to giving a presentation in a foreign language.

By Lars Sudmann, DTM

If you’ve ever been asked to give a speech or business presentation in a foreign language, you know the level of insecurity this request can bring. I often hear: “I am OK when I present in my native language, but in English/French/Chinese/(add your second language here) … that’s another story.” I will share my process for giving presentations in my non-native languages.

First, I will make two assumptions: one, that you have a presentation more or less ready and now need to deliver it in another language, and two, that you have some experience in the other language and can speak on a moderate/intermediate level but have not yet reached a fully fluent presentation level. (Giving a speech in a language that is totally new to you is another matter.) Follow these five steps and take advantage of my favorite tools.

STEP 1: iPhone it!

Record your speech in your native language on your smartphone or other device that can give a recognizable file format as output. You ideally want to use a lapel microphone so that your hands are free while you are talking.

STEP 2: Dragon it!

Now you need to transcribe the speech. You can do this yourself (it takes a bit of time) or send it to a transcription service (there’s some money involved here). A good alternative, yet one that still involves spending a little money, is to Dragon it, i.e., purchase some speech recognition software, such as Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking, that turns your speech into a text file.

STEP 3: Google it!

Google Translate will give you a first draft of your speech in the language of your choice. The first draft part is actually really important. Although software is available worldwide, you cannot yet fully trust any translation. If you don’t pay attention you will end up with very funny sentences that will likely amuse your audience for the wrong reasons. That’s why you need step four.

STEP 4: Upwork it!

Go to a freelancer platform, such as Upwork (formerly known as Elance-oDesk) or, and search for a copywriter that copyedits and corrects text. You want to carve out the rough edges that Google Translate left in your speech. Now you should have a decent text in the language of your choice.

STEP 5: mYngle it!

Now it’s time to practice your speech. Here, platforms like mYngle can help. You can work with language teachers over Skype in virtually any language. First, contact a teacher, schedule a first lesson and then ask if they are OK with you giving presentations through Skype. Practice a couple of times, first reading out loud, then reading a bit less until you’re more or less fluent. Voila.

While there is no little pill that can magically transform you into a fluent speaker of another language, this exercise can broaden your professional and ¬≠personal horizons.