Posts Tagged ‘tomorrows trends’

The Importance of Small Talk

Communicating 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

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Success After 60: Language Specialist Starts Custom Skills Company

Desktop Globe“I couldn’t stand the idea being retired at 60,” says Sharlene Vichness. “I just had to do something!” Rather than take up a hobby or two, she started Language Directions, a full service on-site language skills and cultural awareness training company.

Today, nine years later, her award winning, Roseland, New Jersey-based company holds contracts with the military and government organizations, corporations, universities and hospitals nationwide.

Vichness began working as a language teacher right out of college, but later switched to legal publishing sales. During both careers, she observed a huge gap between the language abilities of native English speakers and those who learned English as a second language. “I’ve always loved languages,” says Vichness. “I saw a need that wasn’t being met and decided to meet it.”

Her first step was becoming a certified accent reduction specialist, because accents can get in the way of career advancement. Many highly skilled and valuable employees have difficulties with the pronunciation challenges American English can pose when some of its sounds do not exist in their native languages. The result is that native speakers of English have trouble understanding their foreign born peers. For instance, law firms sometimes employ very good attorneys who grew up with an accent that gets in their way in court.

Her first opportunity came through phone call from a firm looking for someone who could teach a course in Spanish for financial professionals. “When she asked me if I could do that, I said, ‘Sure!’ she laughs. ”Then I set to work and found the perfect person to do it.”

Vichness says she always says “Yes” to opportunities. “You want to train a Farsi speaker to teach fire safety?” she asks. “Give me enough lead-time and I’ll figure out a way to get it done.”

Look professional from day one

Having been in sales, Vichness knew the importance of presenting a professional image. Her next step was to have a polished, professional looking website built. “If you embrace technology, you can look professional from day one,” she says. “Technology can make one person look like a big company.” You won’t see a picture of Vichness on her website because she wanted to brand her company, not herself. “I want Language Directions to live and grow and thrive after I finally do retire,” she says. “There will still be language and cultural needs to be met after I’m no longer able to meet them.”

Vichness developed a model of working through strategic alliance companies, effectively doing work for the clients of her clients. “We now do all the language training for corporate clients of  Rutgers University Office of Continuing Professional  Education,” she says. “We also work with New Jersey Manufacturing extension program, teaching English as a second language and accent reduction training to factory floor workers companies want to elevate to supervisory positions but can’t train in English. “We developed training  methods using bilingual subject matter experts,” Vichness explains. “They teach fire safety, OSHA regulations and procedures and Microsoft Office in Spanish, so workers whose English isn’t yet good enough to learn these subjects in English can get the training they need in their native language.”

Cultural awareness is often critical

One day Vichness came across a job posting for language training on a military job site. She signed up as an interested vendor and became a military subcontractor, and now provides 30 hours of language and culture training to American advisors to Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. “Our training teaches them survival in Dari and Pashtu, the two major languages of the region, how to eat a meal, how to interact with elders and women—basically, how to stay out of trouble in a host country by not violating their cultural expectations,” Vichness says.

Language Directions also does a lot of work in hospitals. “We teach a Spanish for healthcare class for hospital personnel who work with Spanish-speaking patients and their families,” says Vichness. “They learn basic and essential communication up to the point where a medical interpreter is needed. We also run a course called Intercultural Interactions, which helps people behave in ways that don’t offend people from other cultures.” For instance, in some cultures, when the patient is a woman and is accompanied by her husband to the consultation and/or examination, the healthcare workers are expected to speak only to the husband, not to the woman. Not knowing cultural restrictions such as this can cause problems.

Vichness says she can provide native speakers in any language who possess the desired expertise. When a major food retailer needed to teach a large number of workers safe food handling processes in their native language of Haitian Creole, Language Directions supplied the teachers.

Communication, not language, is the challenge

The challenge for supervisors is not in learning the language of foreign-born workers, but in learning to communicate with them, Vichness points out. “We routinely teach food handling courses, which are mandatory in New Jersey, in Chinese, Spanish and Korean because those are the main languages spoken by workers in restaurant kitchens,” she says. “If you want to have a safe, clean meal, they need to learn what’s required in a language they understand. My rule is that everyone teaches his or her native language only.”

The expanding awareness  of the need for language and cultural awareness that Vichness has helped to expand continues to present her with a plethora of opportunities. “Every day is different,” she says. “I never know what we’re going to be asked to do, and I love it.”

“But what I love most about my own business is that I never have to listen to comments like, ‘We’ve never done it that way before’ or ‘I don’t think we should try that.’ We just move forward and do it.”

Be aware of how much energy success requires

So, would Vichness advise others to take the road less traveled after age 60 by starting a new business?

“I would absolutely encourage anybody who thinks they have something unique that the market needs to go for it,” says Vichness, whose business is grossing about $1 million a year. “If you have a good idea, it’s never too late if you are willing to put in the sweat equity.”

“A lot of people, when they get to this age, want to kick back instead of putting in what’s required, but every business needs nurturing. It’s like raising another child. If you neglect it, you’re going to pay the price.”

– December 4, 2013 By 

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