Lingua East

People should hear your ideas, not your accent.

Category: communication (page 1 of 2)

Sound Serious in Email

Older professionals frequently complain of the email etiquette practiced by their younger counterparts.

Well over a decade ago, we moved away from writing lengthy letters with pen, paper, and the postal service, ditching snail mail for the computerized alternative: email.

Along with the switch to email came a shift in communication. With the click of the send button, your message can [almost] instantaneously appear in the recipient’s inbox. With faster communication came setting aside cursory language (i.e., I hope this message finds you well…) and small talk for more urgent matters. The brevity of the message speaks to the immediacy of the topic.

A good email is effective. It informs the recipient of the purpose for the message, providing or requesting information, with an appropriate level of interaction between the participants in an email thread. Here are some tips for writing effective emails:

Do not use unnecessary exclamation points.

If you are using an exclamation point, you probably only need one. An exclamation point is used to show that were you speaking, you would use increased volume for that word or series of words. Using multiple exclamation points can intensify your statement, but the more you use, the less credibility you have.

Never write in all capital letters.

In written communication, particularly on social media, in email, and in text messages, when someone writes in all capital letters, IT IS READ AS IF THEY WERE YELLING. Just as you probably don’t typically yell at people in person, you should never yell in an email. If you feel the need to write in all capital letters, then take a break from the message to calm yourself down before you send something you’ll regret later.

If you accidentally had the caps lock function in your keyboard turned on when you wrote something, then go back and edit it to be in lowercase. It is worth the extra effort.

Use semicolons.

The semicolon is used in two main instances. The first is when you have already used a comma in an item in a list.

Together they include such things as that the speaker and hearer both know how to speak the language; both are conscious of what they are doing; they have no physical impediments to communication, such as deafness, aphasia, or laryngitis; and they are not acting in a play or telling jokes, etc.

-John R. Searle, The Structure of illocutionary Acts

The second instance of semicolons is when you want to join independent clauses together in a sentence.

In such cases it is important to emphasize that the utterance is meant as a request; that is, the speaker intends to produce in the hearer the knowledge that a request has been made to him, and he intends to produce this knowledge by means of getting the hearer to recognize his intention to produce it.

-John R. Searle, Indirect Speech Acts

Consider the context and address the recipient properly.

Striking the right balance between formal and casual is an important factor in how your listener will understand you. Acting too comfortable can give your listener the impression that you do not care about the interaction, and acting more formal than is needed can come off as disrespectful or demanding – hopefully, not the response you want from your email recipient.

At the beginning of your message, address the person you’re writing to by name. It is politer to precede their name with a greeting (e.g., Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Evening, Hello). Use the person’s first name, unless you don’t know them or they have already addressed you by your last name. If you use a person’s last name, use one of the following:

Ms.           Mrs.         Miss         Mr.           Dr.

Unless the other person asks you to, do not use one of the above honorifics if you are using the person’s first name. With an honorific, the tone of the message is more formal. The less you include a greeting, the less formal your email will be. Using a greeting with an honorific too often can make the writer sound smarmy, decreasing credibility.

Do not use the person’s first and last names. Use either their first name or their last name with an honorific.

Write a concise subject.

The subject line should contain the essence of the message. Many people decide which emails to open based on what the subject is. The best subject to give your email is a brief summary of the email. If you are asking for something, put what you’re asking for in the subject line. Provide just enough detail to inform the recipient of the reason you’re email them and the contents of the email, but do not put everything in the subject line, either.

Make your email threads flow.

Just as there’s a beginning, middle, and end of a conversation, there is also a flow to email threads. Email threads are multiple emails exchanged between two people regarding the same topic, usually with the same subject line.

The text of the first email may begin with a greeting and a quick sentence wishing the person well. Something along the lines of I hope your summer is going well. If you want to engage the recipient on a more personal level, put this line in the form of a question (i.e., How is your summer going?).

Then, in the next paragraph, get to the point. The best emails are concise. However, if you feel you need to provide details, then provide them after you get to the point of the email – in this way, the details explain the point – then restate your point before the closing of the email.

The ending of the email (the close) should include a quick sentence, ideally with a positive tone, such as Have a great afternoon! However, if the content of your email is not so positive, then ending your message in this way is not a good idea. Just as the quick sentence at the beginning of the message set the tone of the message, the few words at the end of the text serve to close the email conversation appropriately. When being genial, it is okay to use an exclamation point. It indicates friendliness and shows that were the sentence spoken out loud, there would be some upward rising intonation towards the end.

After the initial email exchange, subsequent emails can be less formal. The opening and closing friendly lines may be omitted, and you may choose to omit your greeting at the beginning as well. If you use the same sign-off (for example, Regards, [your name]), it is a good idea to automate your emails to end with this text. That will save you the time it takes to type out your name each time you write an email.

Put it together for good email communication

The next time you find yourself frustrated about an email communication, think about how your own emailing could be improved. Even in email communications, there is always room for improvement. Consider how you start the conversation, what you include in your messages, and who you’re talking to. Then, make them better. Before you click send, let them hear your ideas!

Handwriting Matters

When you want people to hear your ideas, the more modes of communication you have, the better. Just like speech, writing is a mode of communication; it is a way to transmit information to other people. Effective and efficient handwriting is easy to produce (especially with practice) and clear to the reader. Good communication is clear communication, so it can pay to work on your handwriting.

There are many options to get around writing by hand, thanks to the technological communication devices. Some people find tapping out notes on a cell phone or a keyboard to be faster. However, due to the minimal requirements of something to write with and something to write on, rather than having to find and wake up some agreeable electronic device and call up the right program to type in, handwritten notes are often not only faster, but more reliable and more personal than sending a text or typing and printing a document. Your handwriting is your mark: that piece of your identity that you impart on a piece of paper, a blackboard, a white board, a tablet, any surface, really, provided you have a writing implement.

The most important requirement of handwriting is that it can be read by the people who need to read it. If one letter is illegible, there can be big consequences. When an interviewer is unable to read a job seeker’s completed application, despite their qualifications, they could be denied employment. If someone does not clearly write their name or contact information on a sign-up form, they might not get what they signed up for. Failed opportunities and failed expectations can result from having poor handwriting.

The legibility of your handwriting (how easily it can be read) depends on how good your reader’s visual system is. Simultaneously, we see collections and their discrete elements. The brain’s visual system recognizes objects both as individual items [such as a letter on a page or a flower on a piece of fabric], and as a collection of items [i.e., a word in a sentence or a floral pattern on a shirt]. When it comes to the legibility of your handwriting, the person reading your note will look at each word and see both the word and its individual letters at once.

All letters in the English alphabet are a series of lines and/or curves. The visual system recognizes lines as either horizontal or vertical or a combination of the two (e.g., diagonal lines or curved lines). If the reader can anticipate a word in the sentence, then the brain identifies the letters in that as either matching the word’s spelling or not. If the letters don’t match the spelling of the expected word, there is a little extra processing involved and the word will be harder to read. (That’s why we notice spelling errors.) Try to spell everything correctly.

Just as a word can be anticipated in a sentence, a word can be anticipated from just some of its letters; specifically, the first letters. When you read something, your brain recognizes the word as a whole object and as a collection of its letters. From the first letters of a written word, the brain anticipates the rest of the word. Try to write the first letters of key words in your message, so that they are especially clear to the reader.

Some letters are more similar than others. Letters that are round, like C, O, and Q are more similar to each other than they are to H, T, and V. Lowercase d and l can resemble ol and uppercase I, respectively. Readers are more likely to confuse letters with similar shapes, so if you want people to be able to read your handwriting, give some thought to writing similar letters so that they are distinct and different.

When writing by hand, we can use the way people see the whole word to our advantage. Contrary to what your first-grade teacher might have told you, the size, position, and spacing of your letters is not crucial for legibility, unless there are many letters and they’re all different sizes and all over the place. In a given note, work on writing letters that are the same size and evenly spaced, without any overlapping letters. This makes for nice-looking handwriting all around, and it is a bit easier to read when it is an appropriate size and evenly spaced.

If you are looking for tips for handwriting practice, this site has some exercises that can help you develop handwriting that is easy to read.

Communication via handwriting is a powerful tool that should be practiced every day. Whether you are writing your to-do list for the day, a letter or note to someone special, or you write in a journal, handwriting is a valuable mode of self-expression. There is something about handwriting that is much more directly human than typing words on a screen (and the practice of sending hand-written Thank You notes tends to make a good impression on others and is always well-received). I encourage you to take the time to think about your handwriting and how it could be improved. Then, pick up a pen and let them hear your ideas!

Lost in a Crowd

It’s a strange feeling, to be completely lost, surrounded by people and conversation, struggling to keep up and follow along. Participating in the conversation is much more difficult, with an array of unpleasant emotions. If you find yourself in a place where your second language is the primary means of communication, it takes guts to learn the language to a level where you can use it every day. You probably know what it is like to think hard about a great response to something someone said in conversation, only to come out with it too late.

The moment has passed, and your insightful, witty comment isn’t insightful or witty anymore. Sometimes a thin smile spreads across your conversation partners’ faces as they nod slowly at you, pausing a respectful moment before continuing with a conversation that has progressed further than your ears were able to follow. Other times, after adding your comment, the other speakers keep the conversation going, as if you hadn’t spoken at all.

It’s a feeling of powerlessness, to be left standing there, wanting to be a part of the conversation, but grasping to keep up with what others have said and to come up with a response fast enough for it to add meaning to the exchange. Being able to understand and communicate with others evens the playing field. Even if two people don’t see eye to eye on some things, they can get their ideas across and begin to understand the point of view of others whose knowledge and experiences differ from theirs. But it’s not easy.

It takes patience.

It takes practice.


It takes guts to speak up, to chime in, to share your two cents, to let them hear your ideas. And if you really want them to understand your message, it takes some attention to the way you say it.


So take the time to work on understanding the things about the language that are different from the language you grew up speaking. Maybe pronouns were optional, and you have difficulty with he and she. Many people will brush off you talking about your sister as he, but others might get confused.

When you are giving a big presentation at work, trying to convince your superiors of something you know will be great for the company, the difference between in and on may not be relevant to your ideas, but knowing it will help you be more persuasive.

And in those nerve-racking circumstances when it’s late at night, your phone is dead, and you need to ask a stranger for help, being able to explain your situation with clear pronunciation can make a world of difference.

The more you interact with native speakers and work on your ability to produce the language, the easier it will be to understand others in that language. Life is not as much fun when you are lost in a crowd of people you can’t communicate with. At Lingua East, our certified instructor can give you a road map to better communication in English. Join the conversation. Let them hear your ideas.

Joking Around in a Second Language

Recently, I found myself in Mexico, sitting at a table full of food surrounded by friends. Everyone was enjoying themselves, eating, chatting, and laughing. The mood was convivial. Speaking Spanish as a second language and having known most of the people there for close to a decade, I felt comfortable. Then I told a joke.

Silence.

The disappointing realization that no one had found my joke funny – or even understood it – crept through my mind, and I had to act fast to clear up the confusion that showed on my friends’ faces.

If you’re like me, you understand the value of a good laugh. Laughter has been shown to decrease stress, improve health, and it helps us connect and bond with others. While there are many ways to make people laugh, one of my favorites is with words.

There are good jokes and there are bad jokes, and then there are really bad jokes.

Some people tend to be more gifted at using words to make other people laugh. Even if you are among the jocularly gifted, if you’re speaking a second language and interacting with people from a culture you didn’t grow up in, then chances are good that from time to time you will tell a joke that people will not find funny.

Why do jokes fall flat in our second language?

People from different cultures tend to find different things funny – or not.

The joke offends.

Depending on where you are from and where your listeners are from, a joke that is hilarious in your culture could be either worthy of laughter, or, in the worst of cases, offensive to listeners from another culture. Jokes that offend usually do so, either with their content, the relationship between the jokester and the listener, or both of those things. The differences in what is and is not funny between Eastern and Western cultures have been explored and described. For an academic approach to the topic, click here.

Poor delivery.

If the content of your jest is not the issue, the problem might have to do with how you tell the joke. We’ve all seen someone tell a joke badly. Either they give away the punchline too soon or they stumble through the lead-in, forgetting crucial pieces of information. This part of telling a joke is universal. When telling a joke in a second language, you definitely want to use the right vocabulary and pronounce it well enough for your listener to understand.

Especially when it comes to one-liners, or zingers, when telling jokes cross-culturally sometimes, people use language behaviors that, while they may work in their own culture, do not work in the culture they’re communicating in. British culture, for instance, is notorious for its use of sarcasm.

Inadequate set-up. | They don’t translate.

Many jokes rely on a shared context. If you don’t know the background information, you might be the only one who isn’t laughing at the punchline. This is particularly common in a second language situation.

If your audience doesn’t know the context for your joke, then it won’t be funny. In a second language situation, many references to pop culture may not be shared, so people may be confused when you evoke the Eugenio Derbez line from Familia P. Luche and start calling your friend Bibi, asking her why she isn’t a normal girl.

What to do when your joke has bombed.

In conversation, when we tell a bad joke, we have several options.

Move on.

Especially if the conversation is fast-paced, sometimes just ignoring the bad joke and moving on with the dialogue is the best thing you can do. Lighthearted jokes do not contain information crucial to a conversation (although they can), but rather they serve to lighten the mood.

Explain the joke.

Different cultures find different things funny, so it may be the case that your listeners understood the joke, it just didn’t tickle their funny bone in the way they’re accustomed to. If you have the opportunity to explain what you meant by your joke and what made the joke funny, then doing so may help your listeners to understand your thought process a bit better, and to shed some light on cultural differences in humor.

Acknowledge the joke was a dud.

From time to time, in order to stay humble, it’s important to be able to laugh at ourselves. A simple statement like, “that sounded better in my head” or “man, I was really hoping you would laugh at that” can communicate to your listeners that you just made a joke and they missed it.

Whatever you do, do it quickly.

Unless your listeners ask for a detailed explanation, it is best to keep the recovery from a failed joke brief, so the conversation can progress.

 

In the case of my failed joke, as the pause of confusion continued, I quickly explained my use of sarcasm and the conversation was up and running again as if the pause had never happened.

If you’re interested in working on your communication skills in English as a Second Language, then let’s talk. Making positive changes in your ability to use English effectively really isn’t that hard, it just takes some help.

No Kidding Man

Getting Your Message Across

Imagine you are a powerful person. You have command over many people and your responsibilities are great. Decisions you make directly affect your organization. Your ideas help the organization to move forward in its mission and goals.

Now, how are your communication skills?

If you are unable to communicate effectively, your messages could be misunderstood or misinterpreted. In the wrong environment, these situations can have serious implications for you, the organization, and others affected by the organization’s actions.

There are many types of intelligence, and not everyone is born with great communication skills. In fact, most good communicators have worked on their skills to improve their abilities to connect with others and share their ideas. With attention and practice, anyone can improve their communication skills.

Communication intelligence entails thinking about and analyzing your own speech and communication, and constantly making small changes to get your message across more effectively. When you have high communication intelligence, you can consider what your body is doing to give you that unintended rough tone of voice, and make the necessary changes to connect with your listener more effectively. With high communication intelligence also comes knowing how to choose the most appropriate word order and phrasing (i.e., when you’re speaking and when you’re breathing; how you put words together in running speech between breaths) to get your message across to the intended audience.

There are so many components of spoken communication that – unless you happen to be a speech coach – it can be hard to consider everything that affects how your listener hears your message. However, if you can examine and learn to use your own communication skills deliberately and accurately, component by component, then you can become more aware of how to deliver your message in the most effective way possible.

Gaining communication intelligence is not something you do over the weekend. It’s a continuous process of learning to connect with others. Aspects of spoken communication you can change include:

  • Rate of speech
  • Pauses
  • Phrasing
  • Volume
  • Stress
  • Word choice
  • Tone of voice
  • Voice quality

 

Try This

Here’s an exercise you can practice to increase your communication intelligence, so you can hear how each of the aspects of spoken communication affect your message:

Record yourself explaining an idea in a sentence or two. Do this many times. Each time, try changing the different variables listed above. Play with your rate of speech by producing some of the words faster or slower than others. Add pauses to different parts of the sentence and listen to how a longer or shorter pause adds meaning to the message. Alter the volume of your voice and try to produce the sentences with different tones of voice. Try using different words to explain the same idea. Listen to each version that you record, and observe how changing just one aspect of communication affects your message.

 

As you gain confidence with the different aspects of communication, you’ll have greater control over how you communicate your message to different listeners. Pay attention to other speakers and take note of how they combine the aspects of communication to get their message across. Actors are experts at this. As you’re watching your favorite show or movie, observe how actors use the aspects of communication to add emotion and subtext to their lines.

Then, get out and use the aspects of communication to do the same. Go on, let them hear your ideas!

Cultural Communication for Exceptional Service

Human relationships are the source of business success. These relationships can happen in many places. They occur among staff members, they develop between your company’s representatives and guests, and they serve as the backbone of customer referrals. The human connection is the most valuable part of your business.

Every facet of business matters. To succeed in business, one must be constantly striving, working to improve in every area without leaving any aspect of the business behind to stagnate. That’s why it is so important to work on communication skills. There is always space for improvement.

Every facet of business matters.

Every facet of business matters.

Consider the hotel industry. Hotel employees deal with guests from all over the world, perhaps with the majority of visitors coming from one or two foreign countries. Operators work very hard for years to select the best quality linens and furnishings for the accommodations, and staff works tirelessly around the clock to provide guests with other special features that make a stay at the hotel an unforgettable experience.

What so many business operators overlook, unfortunately, is the crucial importance of communication skills. After all, hotels and other service-oriented businesses rely on the customer experience more than anything else. Customers can experience the best in activities and accommodations, but if their interactions with staff are less than stellar, then they will be significantly less likely to refer others to the hotel.

Negative experiences are memorable.

Negative experiences are memorable.

Negative experiences are memorable. Studies show that we remember them more than positive experiences, and with greater detail[1]. In fact, guests are more likely to talk about their negative interactions with the staff than they are to rave about the excellent quality of the Egyptian cotton bath towels or the LED temperature controls for water fixtures in the bathroom. We have to work harder to provide memorable positive experiences.

Particularly when dealing with guests from other cultures, we come up against cultural expectations that we often do not even know about. These cultural expectations can occur in the unlikeliest and most mundane of interactions, such as a server checking on dining guests. When these expectations are violated, people notice, and they remember.

The best way to prevent individuals from your organization from inadvertently violating guests’ expectations is to educate yourself in cultural communication. Just as you make an effort to stay on top of industry news through publications, networking, and working with consultants, if you are in a service industry behooves you to work on communication skills. Especially if you provide services for international guests, communication is one area you do not want to leave behind to stagnate.

What matter most are the connections forged between people.

What matter most in the service industries are the connections forged between people. Read any business book and you’ll find countless examples of companies that sell product at higher prices than competitors, but still experience success due to an unwavering commitment to customer service. The companies that are able to persevere through tough times and turn profits, year after year, are not the ones that base their basic operations on shrewd economic principles with dead-eyed employees fulfilling job duties, nothing more, nothing less. The companies that are able to find true longevity and success are the ones that focus on people – that means both the customers they serve and the individuals they employ.

In order to provide value to your customers and excellent customer service to your guests, you must invest in your employees. Part of their training in operations and company culture should include a section on communication skills. If you serve international clients, special training in cultural communication can set your organization apart from the competition.

We all want to be the best at what we do. Employee training in cultural communication can be extremely valuable to your organization. Have a consultant train your staff once and you’ll see lasting customer service improvements that quickly recover the cost of the service. Companies of all sizes reap the rewards of communication skills training through better, more responsive customer service.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can increase profit margins with cultural communication training for employees, contact us. We provide consulting services to select organizations looking to build customer relationships through effective cross-cultural communication. Help your company make a name for itself through the human connection.

We provide consulting services to select organizations looking to build customer relationships through effective cross-cultural communication.

[1] Mickley, K. & Kensinger, E. (2008). Emotional valence influences the neural correlates associated with remembering and knowing. Cognitive, Affective, and behavioral Neuroscience, 8, 143-152.

Mickley Steinmetz, K. & Kensinger, E. (2009). The effects of valence and arousal on the neural activity leading to subsequent memory. Psychopsyiology, 46, 1190-1199.

7 Communication Tips for ESL Speakers that Work

If you speak English as a second language, then you have run into situations where someone did not understand you. What did you do when that happened? Were you able to adjust your communication style to get your point across successfully, or did you say, “Forget it,” and move on with that disappointing feeling that you had an idea you wanted to share but you couldn’t? I know what it is like to communicate my ideas in a second language, both successfully and unsuccessfully. I know you have great ideas, and I want you to be able to communicate them successfully.

To help you communicate better as an ESL speaker, I have come up with the following tips. Try them out, you may find that some work better for you than others. Leave a comment below about which tips like the most (or least).conversation

  1. Slow down your rate of speech.

Many people speaking English as a second language find that they are better understood when they slow down their rate of speech. You don’t have to speak one…word…at…a…time, in fact, that may make your listener look at you like you have six heads. But, if you can produce the same words over a longer period of time, your listener will understand you better.

I certainly found this to be the case as a small child communicating with an aunt from Peru. When she spoke to me at her normal rate of speech, it was extremely difficult for me to pick out key words in her message. But when I asked her to repeat and she slowed her rate of speech, I understood her perfectly.

  1. Use “clear speech”

“Clear speech” is a technique that involves speaking with exaggerated movements of the tongue, lips, and jaw. You may have to think about what happens in your mouth when you produce certain speech sounds to be able to successfully use clear speech, but with practice, you’ll be able to turn it on and off when you need it. It feels strange to speak using the clear speech technique, but it can help you get your message across.

  1. Lose the fillers

A lot of us use “fillers,” words or sounds like “um” or “ah” when we’re speaking without even thinking about it. Fillers do not add any meaning to what we say, and can be distracting to listeners. When you speak with an accent, you may be using filler sounds from your native language that are especially distracting to listeners. This can make it extra difficult for your listeners to understand your message.

I was recently at a convention with thousands of other speech-language pathologists. I attended a talk by a very intelligent, extremely talented clinician. The talk was packed full of valuable information, but the clinician used the filler “right?” at the end of every other sentence, and sometimes even multiple times within the same sentence. This made it more difficult to keep track of the flow of the presentation, and I suspect the speaker had no idea she was doing it.

  1. Communicate in a quiet area

There is a lot of research about the interaction between accented speech and background noise. In short, if there is a lot of noise in the surrounding area, your listeners will have a harder time understanding you. Turn off the television, move away from the crowd, and stay away from the speakers blasting music. If it is easier to hear you, it will be easier to understand you.quiet-communication

  1. Use transition words

You can use transition words strategically to introduce topic shifts to your listeners. When you use words and phrases like “on the other hand,” “that is different from…,” and “that reminds me of…” These phrases serve to flip a switch in your listener’s brain that prepares them to understand a different set of vocabulary from what they might otherwise expect.

  1. Pause more

Public speakers use pauses to give their message more power. You can use them to the same effect. Use pauses between phrases and to separate your ideas. You can even use this pause time to plan what you are going to say next, or to prepare yourself for a transition or clear speech.

  1. Say it another way

If your listener asks you to repeat what you just said, it can sometimes be helpful to rephrase your message. Your listener may have had difficulty understanding just a couple of the key words in your sentence; if you can use different words to communicate the same meaning, you increase the chances that your listener will understand you. (This is also a great way to show off that impressive vocabulary you’ve worked so hard on!)

bubblesNow that you have read about these tips, get out and practice them. Figure out which ones work for you and which ones you already use. Keep these tips at the ready to communicate with greater success. Let them hear your ideas.

Understanding Multilingualism

Being able to speak more than one language is a wonderful thing. When you are multilingual, you can communicate with many more people than if you learn your native language and end your communication development there. When you are able to communicate with more people, you earn the remarkable opportunity to learn about other cultures, other ways of life, and all sorts of wonderful things. Multilingualism expands your world.explore1

Learning another language helps people to understand one another. We are all on this planet together, and the better we understand one another, the better we can cooperate to make the world a better place for everyone on it. Multilingualism helps people to spread urgent news from one part of the globe to another rapidly, so scientists can collaborate and share their remarkable discoveries with the rest of the world, and governments can come to agreements about difficult situations.

Furthermore, knowing a foreign language allows you to immerse yourself in someone else’s culture, to fully understand and appreciate the customs and traditions, foods, music, and even get a better understanding of how the way people from that culture think. Psycholinguists (most notably Benjamin Whorf and Edward Sapir) have thoroughly discussed the effects of language on thought, and have come to a general consensus that at least some of the aspects of our language shape the way we think.

processingSome people do not understand the unique benefits of knowing more than one language, and they may view foreign accents as a negative thing. While looking down upon foreign accents is certainly not the way the world should work, it is the reality. While we cannot easily change the way in which others view our accents, one thing we can do is to work on our accents to change the way our listeners process our speech.

talkWhen we hear spoken language, our brains work to translate the spoken words into ideas with meaning. Our brains can usually recognize whole words, sometimes entire phrases, and translate those into their respective meanings. When the speaker has a noticeable accent, however, that recognition process is slowed down. The listener’s brain may have to break down the words further into the separate sounds of speech before putting them back together and translating that cobbled-together series of speech sounds into words with meaning.

This process of understanding accented speech takes a little bit longer than the process of understanding speech produced without an accent. Researchers[1] have found this to be true. Furthermore, this effect of hearing and understanding accented speech varies depending on the word choice, and perhaps even the topic of conversation. More predictable words will be processed faster than words that are unpredictable. Whether a word is predictable or not depends on context; that is, the other words that are in the sentence or phrase. Researchers have found that when words contain inaccurately produced speech sounds, listeners are better able to identify these errors in words that are highly predictable (for example, in the phrase “shag garpet”) than in words that are much less predictable (“rag garpet”)[2]. Although this processing delay is only in the order of milliseconds, it can have a big effect on communication.

Luckily, there are some things that we can do as speakers to make things easier for our listeners. These tips are similar to the tips I shared in my post about communicating with people who are hard of hearing. If you want to learn tricks for getting your message across with an accent, click here.

Multilingualism[1] Munro, M. & Derwing, T. (1995). Processing time, accent, and comprehensibility in the perception of native and foreign-accented speech. Language and Speech, 38, 289–306.

[2] Cole, R. A., & Jakimik, J. (1978). Understanding speech: How words are heard. In G. Underwood (Ed.), Strategies of information processing. New York: Academic Press.

The Hidden Meaning of Small Talk

Different cultures treat workplace communication differently. Many people working in the United States for the first time may be shocked at the casual nature of conversations between colleagues and their superiors. In the United States personalities really come out (ever heard the phrase let your freak flag fly?), and while a subservient attitude toward the boss in all situations may be a norm in a native country, that is simply not the case here.

Small talk is a crucial aspect of communication. The brief conversation you have every morning with your colleagues in the hall as you make your way to your desk may not seem to matter much, but it does. If you learn the hidden meaning of small talk in US corporate culture, you can use it to your benefit.

Pro tip #1: Remember personal details that your coworkers mention in small talk (such as names of family members, pets, hobbies), and ask about them later.

Small talk is a good way to form a personal connection with each of your colleagues, no matter what level they may inhabit in your organization. This personal connection will affect how they interact with you on more professional matters, and will impact their attitude toward working with you. That is why it is important to make a good impression – and to maintain that good impression – through small talk.

Pro tip #2: Show others you are interested in what they have to say. You can do this by making a comment on what they have said and encouraging them to keep talking such as, “I didn’t know that, can you tell me more?”

Another function of small talk is to set the stage for future interactions. For example, as members of your team and a few other departments are arriving in the conference room a few minutes before a Monday meeting, the group may engage in light conversation about what they did over the weekend. This conversation, while seemingly unrelated to the meeting that is about to occur, sets the mood. This conversation helps everyone there to relax and to open up so that when the meeting does begin and the conversation turns to more important matters, everyone there will feel good about participating, and will be more willing to share their ideas in an open discussion.

Pro tip #3: During small talk, stay calm. To maintain an overall positive attitude in the group, do not interrupt others, even if you really want to. Let them finish what they are saying before jumping in. (This is a good rule of thumb for any interaction.)

It is not uncommon for small talk with the boss to be on a more personal level. In other countries, it might be unthinkable to discuss relationships outside of work, activities done in your free time, and current events, but in the United States, these topics are fair game. It is certainly not recommended to be open about everything; every company is different.

Pro tip #4: Observe others in your company engaging in small talk and use their conversations to guide you.

small talkThe best way to figure out what is appropriate is to listen carefully to topics that others bring up in conversation and use those topics as a gauge. Of course, you should only share information that you are comfortable with sharing. The main point is to engage in casual small talk with as many members of your organization as possible, so that you can forge those personal relationships that will help you to excel in your position.

Pro tip #5: Make an effort to engage in pleasant small talk with everyone in your organization. This will help to set you apart as someone everyone wants to work with.

Small talk can open doors to greater opportunities. It is never a waste of time to engage in small talk with a person, especially if you do not know that person very well. By having a casual conversation with someone, you can, little by little, learn more about him or her. A casual conversation can also help that person to learn more about you. The more they learn about you the more likely they may be to volunteer to help you with that project you’re trying to get off the ground, or to introduce you to a higher-up in the organization you’ve been hoping to speak with.

Small talk is a skill that you can learn, like a yo-yo trick, or playing the banjo. One of the best ways to learn and improve your small talk skills is to watch others and pay attention. Listen carefully to the topics they discuss and their word choices. Look at their body language, hand gestures, and facial expressions, and listen to the tone of voice used.

Pro tip #6: Practice small talk. Practice it everywhere and with everyone you encounter. Practice with strangers (unlike in other places, talking to strangers is a completely acceptable thing to do in the United States). Practice with the grocery clerk, the librarian, and that lady at the café who remembers how you like your coffee. The more you practice, the closer you will be to mastering small talk.

FontCandy (50)Everyone does small talk a little differently. Using your observations of many different people, develop your own small talk style. The comments you make, the way you raise your eyebrows, what you do with your hands, and the tone of your voice when you say, “Wow!” all come together to make an impact on your listener. Your small talk style is unique to you.

The best way to really learn something is to seek out someone who can help you. A speech coach can help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses in the area of small talk, and can help you practice and perfect your small talk. At Lingua East, we want to help you succeed, and we’d love to help you develop your own small talk style. Contact us to master those small conversations that can lead to something bigger.

Accent Modification Services at Lingua East

At Lingua East we provide a range of communication training services. The service that is most near and dear to us is accent modification. Our accent modification services help individuals speaking English as a second language to improve their pronunciation and clarity, so they can have greater success in their professional and recreational lives. We have firsthand experience of that uncomfortable feeling you get someone identifies you more by your accent than your ideas. We believe that if you bothered to learn another language, then you obviously have some great ideas Let us help you communicate better.

workbooksOur accent modification service starts with a thorough assessment. We will ask you to pronounce different words, sentences, and to read longer passages, so we can learn more about you and your language history, your speech production, and other characteristics of your communication. For our clients, part of the assessment just feels like a conversation. But for us, it is a time to analyze your typical speech. Most people communicate in more than one word at a time. We tend to pronounce words differently when they are in sentences, or connected speech.

After we’ve explained to you the results of your assessment, we’ll work together to come up with some realistic goals for your speech. This is a collaborative process, and we want the goals to benefit you most at work or wherever your English matters most. We’ll discuss how the different aspects of your speech affect how others hear and understand you, and come to an agreement on the best targets for accent modification training.

Goals are selected on an individual basis. Your goals may be different from your friend’s goals, even if you share the same native language. At Lingua East, we pride ourselves on providing customized training to optimize success. Your training objectives are expertly designed, just for you.

The training process is easy and fun. Training session activities, like goals, are specially designed to help you master the accent and communication skills that can take you to the next level. Activities may include word drills to perfect your pronunciation of frequently used work vocabulary, simulations of professional conversations (for example, explaining the setup of a new database to a coworker), work with kazoos, or more. Activities are selected with consideration for each individual client’s communication strengths and needs.

Outside of training sessions you will be asked to complete practice activities, based on your objectives. These activities serve to give you greater independence with your new communication skills and help to solidify concepts addressed in training. The tasks also save you time and money by helping you to advance your skills and get closer to meeting your goals outside of training.

Researchers have demonstrated that change in second language skills cannot occur without feedback. Knowing this, our licensed, certified speech-language pathologist will walk you through the accent modification process, giving you the correct level of feedback, each step of the way. We will even teach you something new about pronunciation, using visuals to explain challenging speech sounds. Feedback is a big part of learning (just ask B.F. Skinner). Wherever you are in the process, we adjust our feedback, so you can experience maximal learning.

conversationSometimes the way we talk can interfere with how others understand us. When you come to Lingua East for accent modification in Charlotte, it’s all about you. From assessment to goal selection to training activities, our accent modification services are custom designed for you, the individual. We refuse to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to accent modification, simply because we want you to be as successful as possible. After all, we want them to hear your ideas, not your accent.

We are now offering a discount of 33% off accent modification services until February 28, 2017. Contact us to take advantage of this deal today!

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