How To Explain Yourself Clearly

Last Updated on February 11, 2022 by Estrella

Photo by Samantha Hurley from Burst

One of the concerns ESL students have is how to explain yourself clearly. You want the other person to understand your thought process. Yet, despite your efforts, they are missing some essential part. You repeat yourself, maybe explain it another way. Still, the other person does not understand.

So frustrating! Is it possible to learn this skill? Or is it just a matter of time until you master your English? This article is written for ESL learners wanting to explain clearly to an American.

Ways to explain yourself clearly

I believe there is something you can do now to help yourself in this area. You probably have some ideas of which English skills you want to improve in addition to explaining yourself clearly. This could be pronunciation, intonation, word order. If so, you have a head start, and can tend to those areas at the same time.

In my observations, when my ESL students have trouble being understood in their explanation, it helps to work on one or more of the following skills.

Start at the beginning of the story

I know what I am talking about. It’s natural to assume that you follow my story. But what if I start in the middle of my story and assume you can follow me?

By summarizing the explanation, giving it a beginning, a body, and an end, it would be easier for another to understand your thought process. I know, when you are feeling enthusiastic, it’s easy to jump in at the middle. Try this technique next time someone looks puzzled, and see if it clears things up for them.

Cultural thought process

An excellent article in CALLearning addresses this topic quite well. Cultures around the world have different ways of expressing their thoughts. Americans tend to be direct. Not all cultures are like this. If you want to communicate more effectively, take their cultural thought patterns into consideration, and observe the results. Here is a link to Communication and Cultural Thought Patterns.

Individual thought process

Like cultural thought process, individuals within the same culture also have diverse thought process. Just as an example, an engineer has training to think through a problem in certain ways. So if you are explaining something to engineers, using their trained thought process would give you an edge. Some people do much better with analogies, metaphors. The more you know about the person’s interests and way of thinking, the easier it is to explain your ideas in a way that makes the most sense to them.

Stay on the topic

Since this article is written for ESL learners, I will assume you want to develop this skill to communicate more effectively with Americans. Stay on the topic. If you need to digress a little in order to make a point, tell your listener at the end of that story “my point is…” and tell them the conclusion. This is especially helpful if you are making a presentation at work or in class.

Join Toastmasters

Toastmasters is a wonderful organization to help people improve their presentation skills. There are chapters that meet at work, in restaurants, in churches. You can find a club that’s near you and see if you feel comfortable with the group. Visit several groups and compare. Then join one group and practice your skills. Toastmasters has specific training tools that will hone your skills to be clear in your explanation. Speeches are timed, and presenters receive immediate constructive feedback. You will become a more articulate speaker here.

These are just some ideas of how to explain yourself clearly. This will help you at work, when you want to share your ideas with a co-worker or in a group meeting. If you are in college, improving this skill will help you feel more confident participating in a discussion. And since participation takes up at least 30% of your grade in some college classes, this is one of the best skills to master.

If you find this article helpful, here is another one on Public Speaking Tips for Immigrants.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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