Language Directions Newsletter
The Importance of Small TalkCommunicating in American English in workplace-related subjects, while challenging, can be accomplished with practice and effort by immigrants working in a corporate or medical business environment. Carrying on ‘’small talk’’ is something quite different. Casual and unscripted conversation with native speakers of American English is an essential component of language development and social integration. Social conversation is especially difficult for Chinese immigrants. A new study, by Research on Public Policy in Canada has found that Mandarin speaking immigrants had made little or no significant progress in their clarity of speech, fluency, and intelligibility after seven years in an English-speaking environment. Researchers also found that the Mandarin speakers in their study had significantly fewer conversations of significant duration with native and non-native speakers of English than did their counterparts from other language backgrounds. There are many possible reasons for this gap in communication. Mainland Chinese learn English from textbooks through reading and writing with no opportunity to work on listening and speaking skills. As an American high school student, I learned French in this manner, with 90% of classroom instruction as grammar and translation. To this day, I am unable to comfortably conduct a conversation in French, although I can read it and write it fluently. If people are uncomfortable with being able to speak and comprehend English well, they will feel discouraged or afraid about participating in a conversation because they are afraid that others don’t understand them. Better to keep their dignity….and their silence. Additionally, silence is considered by the Chinese to be a virtue reflecting humility. Unfortunately for them, in the West, people tend to expect and appreciate participation and speaking out, so their silence or discomfort is not received well by colleagues or supervisors. To a greater or lesser extent, the experiences of other immigrant groups can mirror the challenges faced by the Chinese and the American workplace suffers from the lack of small talk and camaraderie between native and foreign-born speakers of English. A focus on listening, speaking, and pronunciation in workplace language training is a good way to break down these fears. Providing a ‘’safe place’’ at work with an instructor who is not a co-worker who might judge them negatively can be a powerful help to immigrants who speak English only during the day for business and resume use of their native language when they return home at the end of the day. To foster the soft skill of engaging in casual conversation, break room or cafeteria tables can be set aside in gathering places as “English Only” tables. This can serve both to encourage the immigrants to speak socially to one another in the common language of English as well as to invite native-English speaking co-workers who wish to interact more with those whose native language is not English. Common gathering rooms can become more ‘’mosaics’’ than “silos” of various language groups. Communication is a two-way street. The burden of communication should not rest solely on the shoulders of the non-native speaker. Native speakers should not “zone out” or shut down when they are communicating with someone who speaks with an accent, but seek more sensitive interaction. Creating a relationship’ with a sensitive, trusted native speaker will go a long way towards helping the skilled foreign-born worker overcome his conversational and listening challenges
Upspeak is Not Speaking UpUpspeak is NOT Speaking Up Upspeak ( Uptalk) had its beginning in the era of the Valley Girl in California. It has since spread its tentacles across the years to wrap around the speaking habits of both women and men of all ages. Why is this phenomenon significant? Because Upspeakers unknowingly compromise the quality of the competent, knowledgeable leadership image that they want to project.
Columnist Hank Davis writes, in The Uptalk Epidemic,
“It’s a nasty habit. It is the very opposite of confidence or assertiveness. It’s gotten all out of control. These days, even statements about which there should be no question or doubt are presented in this tentative, timid and deferential manner.”
When statements and assertions sound like questions, your credibility and competence can be doubted. When you give advice or offer an educated assessment of a set of facts, the perception of your expertise gets chipped away when you sound like you are asking a question. Would you want to be represented by or rely on the advice someone who sounds unsure and tentative? Tentative is the dark side of Confident. Your voice should reflect everything you want your listener to believe about you. You have substance. You are in control. You are knowledgeable. You have the answer….not that you are unsure of yourself and are seeking validation.
In less than a second, the time it takes to say “hello,” we make a snap judgment about someone’s personality, says Jody Kreiman, a UCLA researcher who studies how we perceive voice. On hearing just a brief utterance, we decide whether to approach the person or to avoid them. I would add that in that same split second, we decide if that person has “gravitas” and has the expertise to solve our problem, address our concerns, represent our interests.
I’ve personally witnessed Upspeak at the highest levels of Fortune 100 companies, and I’ve heard it used as a reason to deny a promotion or discredit an idea. A wise career move is to take the time to analyze your own speaking patterns and snuff out Upspeak. Record yourself in a variety of speaking situations and LISTEN objectively. Become your own audience. Elicit feedback from a trusted friend or colleague. To be perceived as a leader and person of substance, you must not only LOOK like a leader with a polished physical image, you must also SOUND like a leader with a polished Vocal Image.
Women in International Trade Roundtable EventWhen: September 18 @ 8:30 am – 10:00 am | Free
Where: Sobel & Co.
293 Eisenhower Parkway
Livingston, NJ 07039
Communicate to Build Trust
Led by: Sharlene Vichness, President, Language Directions
People do business with people they trust. But what happens during international transactions? How good are you at communicating across different cultures? Join us for a light breakfast, networking and a discussion on building your likeability by learning to make others comfortable in a multi-cultural business environment. You can increase your effectiveness and add more value to your relationships!
Click Here to Register
Smart Hacks for Successful Travel
Summer is a time of travel and travel is a time of interaction with cultures, custom, and languages different from those we know. A small amount of preparation for these travels, paired with a large degree of awareness of best practices while travelling (foreign OR within the US) can reap big rewards and make you a wise and welcome tourist. Picture yourself as a ‘’native’’ of your region. What makes you most likely to want to help someone who needs directions or assistance? If someone were to approach you on the streets of Morristown , speak to you in Russian, and expect you to understand and respond, criticize your city or country, how would you feel? Anxious to help him or her? I don’t think so… and yet, many travelling Americans expect everyone to speak to them in English and do everything the same way “we” do it. Granted, English is an international language and is widely spoken, but attitude is everything. Have a good one. Here are a few things that you can do before and during your trip that will build rapport and make your travel easier and more pleasant.
Before you leave:
- Take some time to learn some ‘’survival’’ words in the language of the country you are visiting. There are so many apps with sound that make it easy. Good Morning, Hello, Please, Thank You, Excuse Me, I’m sorry, or asking for Help, paired with a big smile, can work wonders.
- Learn the “Question Words” of Why, Where, Who, When, How Much, How. With matching body language, you’ll be able to communicate on a basic level.
- Do some basic cultural research. The web is chock full of customs and other cultural information. Learn a little about where you are going. Focus on American behaviors and gestures that might not be welcome where you are travelling. You can also find this basic information in Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands (Morrison), an exhaustive book about interactions in 60 countries. Being clued in on what is important to the residents of the country or area you are visiting will help you avoid accidentally offending someone or embarrassing yourself.
When you are there:
- Remember to smile, lean in to show friendliness, and don’t be afraid to use the words and phrases you’ve learned. Don’t worry about how well you say them. Your effort will be appreciated and welcomed. Use your foreign words frequently, especially Please and Thank You.
- Play “Charades.” Use your body and your voice tonality to communicate non- verbally. You’d be surprised how far this goes toward understanding, paired with the combination of limited English ability on one side of the exchange and limited native language ability on the other. Work towards common understanding with a smile and ‘’open’’ face.
- Be cautious in your interactions. Avoid politics and religion and never criticize or mock the customs or religious beliefs of the country you are visiting….even if the local person does! Just because they may speak negatively of their government or religion does NOT mean that you can agree or add your comments. Be wary on touchy subjects! Offending locals can be uncomfortable at the least and dangerous at the most.
- Be appreciative of all that is offered to you and avoid making negative comparisons to what you have or eat ‘’at home.’’ Enjoy what is unique to that country or region and do not appear to question its quality.
These hacks, developed throughout a lifetime of foreign travel and extensive conversation with foreign expats here in New Jersey, will help you to be the enlightened, savvy, and welcome visitor, both in other regions of the US and abroad. Happy travelling!!