Fear is a powerful motivator. It can be the fuel that causes us to change something, as well as make us react to perceived dangers or obstacles. It floods our body with a fight or flight chemical cocktail that works like speed, alcohol and cocaine combined. It is hard to think, we are in react mode and more often than not our head brain cannot be reached. We have a choice, which means fear can paralyze us. It can keep us from moving or speaking unable to decide or think; in a state of hyperawareness where our nerve endings are vibrating and our brain has been detoured to the construction lane.
Have you ever been out in public in a situation where if you speak you will be overheard by more than one person? Do one of these thoughts go through your head? Everyone is listening/looking at me. They will know I don’t speak English well? I can’t think of anything to say in English? I have no words? I will make a mistake? When we are on this small stage it’s easy to get stage fright. Why? Mostly because we doubt our ability to speak English well. We think people will judge us or misunderstand what we want to say. We see the worst-case scenario. We will get stuck and can’t find words to express ourselves and then what? Let me share with you 5 things you need to know about speaking English in a group:
1. It’s not Nascar, really, it’s more of a bumper car race. Your listeners, who are your friends, co-workers, clients, etc. are also sharing your lane. Some people, as well as some cultures are reckless bumper car drivers. They will speak over you, cut you off, or change lanes (i.e. subjects) in a willy nilly fashion. It’s hard to keep up with them. They are the bumper car drivers that end up causing you to hit the wall in the conversation. But have no fear you can jump back in the conversation at any time and at any position because this is not a life or death race. I repeat this is not a life or death race!
2. “You tell me that, but Bee, these are my clients, my bosses, my customers and they are listening to me and hear my mistakes and I will be humiliated.” First of all, you have information that they need, so they are listening intently not to your mistakes, but to your information. If you have information that they need they will not think less of you because you do not speak English fluently. You are an expert in your field, and in your native tongue. This is not your native language, so both you and they have to work twice as hard to understand one another but you’re both doing the work to make the communication happen.
3. Don’t doubt the generosity of your listeners. They want you to succeed even if it’s for selfish reasons. They need the information or the customers or clients that you have. People will try to help you find the words. Let them. Don’t feel you have to know everything. If you have a smart phone look up what you want to say. There are now very clever translating apps that can help you. Don’t be afraid to depend on your listeners as well as technology to help you get over the rough spots where you can’t find the words. Accept that you need help and keep talking until what you want to say becomes clear.
4. Don’t underestimate body language, hands and feet speak as well sometimes as words. Or draw a picture. Don’t limit yourself in your communication to your words. If you are on a conference call use your tone of voice as much as your words to convey your meaning. We all know how to sound apologetic on the phone or simply say sorry. Smile, they can’t see it but you can hear in someone’s voice if they are smiling or frowning. Be overly apologetic, but get your message out there. I mean, say "I’m sorry", but I don’t mean continuously say “My English is so bad." ignore that and keep trying to communicate. They will appreciate that you are trying especially if they don’t speak your language. They need you and your information! Be as prepared as you can for the conversation, but don’t beat yourself up for not speaking the language perfectly. Communication is a partnership and all of you are participating in the transfer of knowledge.
5. Understand failure is not the end of the world. It can give you a sense of freedom if you realize no one is perfect and that you are speaking a foreign language to help the communication take place. If we all only spoke our own languages communication would be impossible which means progress wouldn’t be possible. Whatever fear you have of speaking in a group imagine what is the worst thing that could happen. Visualize how you would handle it. Tell yourself you are prepared and that it will go well. Self-talk can help you prepare yourself for conference calls as well as deal lunches and other group activities where you have to speak English.
“That’s all, really??” That’s it! Speaking English in public is about just letting the person or people you are with know what you are thinking. Being able to speak in a group of three or more can be stressful, but it can also be a chance for you to take the highway of English and step on the gas. It might feel like a Nascar race; a race of life and death at 200 miles an hour but it isn’t. It is more like bumper cars. A bit chaotic, but if you relax it can be exciting as well as fun.
There is plenty of research about personality types which is getting noticed by mainstream science. Personality tests are starting to actually change the way some HR teams and companies hire. What kind of person are you and will you be good for the team, will you fit in, and are you a leader? Personality tests like Myers-Briggs and the Big 5 are informative and useful.
I’m not going to do a Myers-Briggs or Big 5 analysis. I’m going to present to you an informal analysis of types of teachers that can strain your patience and will to learn; present their pros and cons and how you can benefit from each type if you remember the quick tips that I’ve listed below.
The Storyteller- The storyteller is the English trainer who has a thousand stories, they are a wealth of experience. They have been to Tibet, backpacking in Spain, and met Chancellor Angela Merkle the day they visited the Reichstag. They are absolutely fascinating.
Pros- They are able to maintain your attention. They are giving you a window to their world. You can’t imagine one person has such a wealth of experience.
Cons- The English lesson becomes a *monologue.
Tip- *Existentially they offer, life lessons. If you listen to them, just like you would listen to an audio book your English will improve simply by *osmosis.
The Chatterbox- The chatterbox, unlike the storyteller is not telling stories. S/he is simply rambling on and on about whatever pops into their head while you’re in the lesson. Every answer they give turns into a 5-minute talk about some aspect of there life, dating habits, colonoscopy or whatever random topic they think of. They are the trainers that will even trap you in the bathroom and talk until it’s time to go back into the class (In English, of course!).
Pros- You hear a lot of English. You can pick up idioms as well as ideas for small talk.
Cons- You move at a snail’s pace through the material you need to learn and feel you are falling behind. This can be falling behind your personal goals, or actual goals set by a course or training.
Tip- You have to learn to rein this trainer in. S/he is galloping full speed ahead and you just have to say, “Whoa, slow down.” You need to bring them back to the theme and the present. This trainer is not opposed to being reined in. So, use your power to get you through the material you need to get through in a timely manner.
The Smelly Trainer- This trainer always smells like he’s had something exotic for lunch or s/he is walking around with cheese in their shoes. When s/he stands over you explaining some language point, all you can do is smell their lunch, their cigarettes/pipe, and/or their cologne. They seem not to have a sense of smell or any sensitivity to smells.
Pros- You can learn about what they do, what they’ve eaten, how many cigarettes they smoke throughout the day. As part of some kind of psychology study in English.
Cons- It can shut you down and stop you from learning because your *sense receptors are overwhelmed.
Tips- Beg for a window to be opened to let in some fresh air. Carry mints and kindly, offer them one. Even ask, “Have you just come from the gym?” They may offer, “Why do I smell?” Then simply say, “A little.” They have to deal with the impact of their odours on the environment. These days it is more acceptable to want to have a space which is odour free.
The Tester- The tester knows about every English qualification test that is out there. S/he has worked through them and has a thorough knowledge of every English grammar rule known to (wo)man. Perfection seems to be his/her aim for you. They correct every a/an slip that you make. Do you need this level of perfection? Is it hampering your fluency and ability to speak freely?
Pros- Your English will improve if you listen to their pronunciation and digest their grammar rules. They are a living rule book, and you can improve if you follow them as best as you can. You may not reach the moon, but you are bound to get that next level if you stick with them.
Cons- It makes the language less enjoyable when it is broken down into grammar *porridge and served cold.
Tip- Get the language and grammar put into perspective, ask them as often as you need to, “Will I need this?” “Will I not be understood if I say…?” and simply tell them, I don’t need to be perfect, I need to be able to communicate my point. There is a difference and perhaps this is a discussion you need to have with your trainer to make sure you’re both on the same page.
We are all personalities; however strong personalities (be they trainers or classmates) can tip the balance in the classroom from a learning environment to one that is less *conducive to learning. You have a right to tip the balance in your favour in your learning environment.
Monologue - a long, … speech by one person during a conversation. Dictionary.com
Existentially-philosophy pertaining to what exists, and is thus known by experience rather than reason…” The Free Dictionary
Osmosis- A gradual, often unconscious process of assimilation or absorption. The Free Dictionary
Sense receptors – an organ having nerve endings, (… the nose) that respond to stimulation. Vocabulary.com
Porridge- oatmeal …or cereal boiled in water or milk. The Free Dictionary
Conducive-making a certain situation or outcome likely or possible. The Free Dictionary
When I’ve tried to talk to colleagues and students about culture- more often than not -I get the answer that people are too diverse to be able to put them into any sort of classification. Is it true that we can have no idea how a group of people who share the same culture may be similar?
Is it true that culture has become irrelevant? Is there nothing for you to learn about culture that would help you converse with someone from another culture? I remember when I was moving to Germany, I wondered how they would react to an African-American woman, and my grandmother said, “Honey, they got cable T.V. .” Growing up, I remember watching “cable” where the exotic “natives” hunched over some small kill that they were eating at an open fire. Always filmed from a distance as their language and ways were unknown. The camera filmed their backs as music played and the commentator labelled the group “Still a mystery”.
I think the answer to the relevancy of culture is two-fold: although globalization has helped more affluent cultures to open their electronic borders and to travel to more destinations cheaply and easily, this access has not reached every corner of the globe. Developing countries are underrepresented, as well as cultures that are ruled by dictatorship or oligarchy.
As a language learner, how much should you try to learn about a national culture? Most nations are not globalists but nationalists. Watching regional news channels as opposed to CNN or the BBC. Cultures are built from within the borders of communities. For example, only some years ago you could find American city children who thought eggs came solely from the grocery store or had only seen flowers wrapped in cellophane. Agricultural cultures would find this disconnection bizarre. You can still see Germans carrying six-year-olds through the airport, while you see American four-year-olds in the airport carrying their own luggage. Upbringing definitely informs how a person thinks, but for the most part it reflects the culture the person was born into.
We are all different in a million ways, nevertheless we can gain some insight into how someone might behave applying some knowledge of culture. Culture, however, is not synonymous with skin colour. A person’s colour cannot tell you what culture they were brought up in, as there are Asian Canadians, Black Scotsmen, French Arabs, and so on and so on. Thinking we can just look at someone’s skin colour and know their culture is like thinking we can tell what someone had for breakfast by the way they smile.
We should talk to one another about our cultures, and how we were raised. We should strive to have an open mind to beliefs that differ from our own. It’s easy to forget as cultures converge on one another in the office and on the street that people are coming from different understandings about what is normal. Cultural misunderstandings are still prone to happening. Culture is not a soup where you can boil everyone down to a bland grey mush. Culture is more of a sizzling stir-fry, where we should seek to build on one another’s differences, blend together and include everyone.