Lingua East

People should hear your ideas, not your accent.

Category: communication (page 1 of 2)

The Basics Matter

Sometimes we have to go back to the beginning in order to progress. This is true of any skill. If you want to truly master a skill, you cannot breeze through the beginning and start working on it where it gets hard. You have to master its basic parts first. Once you have mastered the basics of a skill, then it will be easier to master the more challenging parts.

Any great musician understands the importance of playing scales. Being able to produce the correct notes at the right pitch with good quality is not as easy as it looks. But once a musician masters a scale, they are much more prepared for a complicated composition.

The same is true of pronunciation.

It is remarkable how just a single sound, produced slightly less than perfectly, can result in production of a word or a sentence with a completely different meaning from the one intended by the speaker. We have all experienced funny situations in which one word sounded like another, changing the speaker’s message.

The Lingua East method of speech training divides speech into several levels, beginning with the basics and advancing to the complex. Many speakers are able to communicate with native listeners using complex language, but a few small deficiencies in the more basic levels reduce the effectiveness of their message.

We are able to target individual basic skills that need strengthening in order to maximize the effectiveness of the speaker’s message. This can be frustrating, because it feels like we are working on something we learned years ago. And that is true. But mastering the basics is an important part of communicating well in a second language.

If you are ready to be a better speaker of English as a second language, then sign up for a free consultation to see if speech training is right for you. The consultation can be in person in our Charlotte location or over the web using Zoom. There we will listen to your goals for English communication, and make some helpful suggestions for getting started.

The Two L Sounds

Did you know that in English words, there are two ways that L can sound? Sometimes the two pronunciations are referred to as dark and light Ls, but I prefer to think of them as schwa (ǝ) + L and regular L.

Schwa + L – Tongue Placement: Back of Mouth

Sometimes L makes its own syllable. This tends to occur when words end in an /l/ sound like incredible, careful or magical. In these syllables (-le, -al, and -el), there is a vowel sound produced before the /l/. This vowel is an unstressed schwa, ǝ. When L makes an appearance in this syllabic form, it is produced as efficiently as possible after the previous consonant. For this /l/ sound, the tongue is raised in the back of the mouth.

There happens to be another time the /l/ sound can be produced with the tongue placement in the back of the mouth. This occurs when the L is in the middle of words such as in although, mistletoe, and albeit. This does not mean that every time there is an L in the middle of a word it is produced at the back of the mouth; there are exceptions to every rule, and the syllable structure of the word matters.

Regular L – Tongue Placement: Front of Mouth

The regular L sound occurs when the L is included in a syllable with other sounds, such as in the words language, cantaloupe, and love. In this context, the /l/ sound is formed just as in the above case of the schwa + L, but it can be paired with consonants to make a blend, or it can be paired with any vowel – either before or after the /l/.

Typically, the /l/ sound is produced with the tongue raised and its tip flattened against the bony shelf behind the top front teeth. With the tongue in the front /l/ position, there should be some space on the sides of the tongue where the air – and sound – can flow through. This tongue placement for the /l/ sound is most commonly found at the beginning of words (love, little, and lose) and in some words that have an /l/ sound in the middle (allow, yellow, and xylophone).

This kind of L can be in stressed syllables (like in the word language). In fact, a word that might typically have a schwa + L (magical) can be pronounced like a regular L, with the tongue raised in the front of the mouth, when it is stressed or emphasized in a sentence.

Do You Have Trouble Pronouncing Your Ls Clearly?

Our speech trainer helps clients improve their pronunciation of American English so they can communicate effectively at work and in the community. With easy-to-understand explanations, visuals, and technology, our clients are guided to excellent pronunciation of English that native speakers understand. Sign up for a free consultation below to see if speech training is for you. With evening and weekend hours, we can accommodate any schedule, whether in-person at our Charlotte headquarters or online.

Want to be understood? Listen more.

Listen to this article while you read.

We all want to be understood. We humans are a social species, and being able to understand one another has its benefits. One of the struggles of learning a new language is being sure that native speakers of that language understand you. The more pressing our message, the more important it is that our listeners comprehend our speech.

Careful listening allows us to pick up on cues from a conversation partner about a couple of things. By listening closely to the other speaker, we can glean information about what is important to them. In some cases, we can find out about what they may or may not know. If you listen extra carefully, words and phrases the other speaker uses to refer to the things you are both talking about can be quite informative.

It can be difficult to correct someone’s speech. When the conversation is flowing, it can be distracting and downright annoying to have someone interrupt you to say that you used the wrong word. Consequently, most people try to use subtle corrections, if any at all. A subtle correction may be the same phrase you just said, repeated back to you with a word change, or just a single word.

Listen carefully to the words that people use. Are they the same words that you are using in the conversation? If this is the case, then you and your conversation partner are probably on the same page. However, if the other person is using different vocabulary, then take note. It could be that the words they use are more appropriate than the words you are using in the conversation. Or, the words used by your conversation partner may give you insight into their thoughts and feelings about the topic of conversation.

You can convey the same idea in different tones, depending on the way you say it. For example, when discussing a shared project, there are several ways to talk about taking away components of the project.

Saying you want to cut a component out is a fairly neutral way of saying you want to take it away. Using the phrase pare down indicates a desire to take something away in order to minimize, or simplify the work. A stronger way to communicate the same idea but with greater intensity is to eliminate something, or to rip it out. If someone uses either of these phrases, it is likely they feel strongly about the subtraction of the component being discussed.

Good listening skills are not something that you can acquire overnight. Like most communication skills, listening takes practice. The best way to practice listening in a second language is to talk to people. Having a real-life conversation not only gives us the opportunity to get to know someone, it is also a great source of feedback for our speech. Even if your partner in the conversation does not explicitly correct your speech, by listening carefully to what they say and how they say it, you can learn a lot.

Glossary

pressing: urgent, important, critical :: The more pressing our message, the more important it is that our listeners comprehend our speech

to pick up on: to notice or recognize something :: listening allows us to pick up on cues from a conversation partner

glean: to get, to find out :: we can glean information

downright: absolutely :: it can be distracting and downright annoying to have someone interrupt you

subtle: hard to notice, not obvious  :: most people try to use subtle corrections

on the same page: having a shared understanding, agreeing about something :: you and your conversation partner are probably on the same page

take note: pay attention :: if the other person is using different vocabulary, then take note

insight: intuitive understanding :: the words used by your conversation partner may give you insight into their thoughts and feelings about the topic

to depend on: to be decided by, to be determined by :: You can convey the same idea in different tones, depending on the way you say it

acquire: get, develop :: something that you can acquire overnight

Use Language to Make a Difference

Around the United States and the world, there is discontent. This discontent is particularly strong in the immigrant community. It takes a lot to leave everything you know to move to a new country and culture. For that reason, I have an immense respect for immigrants. They are powerful people.

That discontent, when harnessed, has the power to significantly change the status quo for the better. Whether that be related to policy or cultural ideals doesn’t matter. What I’m talking about is the sheer power of that discontent. However, in order to make a change, some organization is needed.

No matter what you are doing, no matter the size of your organization, it is important to clearly define what you want. When you do this, other people can get behind the thing you’re pushing for, adding power and momentum to your cause. That is how to make a difference.

Define What You Want

There are two approaches to defining what you want. The first is specific. For example, “I want my tap water to be 99.99% free of heavy metals, inorganic compounds, and bacteria.” There is no question here about what you want.

The other approach to definitions uses language that is not so clear, language that is vague. The benefit of vague language is that it has the power to appeal to more people. Compare the specific example above to this: “Clean water.” This does not specify where the water comes from (maybe out of your tap, maybe not), nor does it make clear what “clean” actually means. However, while the people across town may or may not be okay with the water coming out of your tap containing a little bit of this or a trace of that, they are likely to agree across the board that “clean water” is a desirable goal.

Spread Your Message

Once you have defined what it is that you want, telling others about it can help you gain momentum, forward progress toward achieving your goal. Now there are more ways than ever to share your ideas with the world. Social media and messaging platforms, email campaigns, and the traditional low-tech communication mediums (i.e., printed flyers, articles and books, billboards and signs, and talking to people face-to-face) are all effective ways to spread your message.

Even if what you want is to achieve a personal goal, telling someone else about it can increase your accountability and improve your chances of achieving that goal.

Act

Even the most clearly-defined message does not make things happen. People have to hear the message and act on it. As much as I love language, I still agree with the old saying that actions speak louder than words. Once you have defined your message and gotten it out there, it’s up to you to do the things you need to do in order to create the positive change you have already envisioned.

How to Speak English Fluently without Fear

When it comes to speech and communication, there is a lot more emotion involved than many people realize. In fact, part of my graduate level training included study and supervised practice of counseling techniques with a focus in counseling multicultural populations. Communication is such a pivotal part of our existence, it can be distressing when we are unable to effectively communicate who we are (or who we want to be) to others.

When speaking our native language, communication comes relatively easily. However, when speaking a second language, it can be more difficult to convey your message. It takes guts to speak up in a second language, whether you’re asking for directions or trying to engage someone in conversation. Embarrassing situations are inevitable. Feelings of failure may come up.

…speaking English fluently without fear is something you can learn to do. After all, you learned English, a language that is notoriously difficult to learn.

Speaking English as a second language becomes a challenge when feelings of fear turn the simplest interactions into stressful situations. It can be easy to give in to the fear and stay quiet. But just as you have overcome other challenges in life, speaking English fluently without fear is something you can learn to do. After all, you learned English, a language that is notoriously difficult to learn. Say goodbye to fear and speak English with confidence with these tips.

  1. Speak English as much as you can.

If you want to speak English fluently without fear, then you have to ensure that you can speak English fluently. Use your English everywhere you can. Talk to strangers. Talk to people you know. Go to English conversation groups, like the one hosted by Lingua East on alternate Tuesdays. Seize every opportunity to use your English. The more you do that, the more you will develop your communication skills.

  1. Get comfortable with your fear.

As you’re using English is different situations, pay attention to how you’re feeling. Take note of where you feel your fear, and what it feels like. Does it feel heavy? Does it feel light? Maybe you feel it in your stomach, or in your chest. Maybe it feels like you’ve just jumped from a tall height; maybe you feel your heart beating faster and the blood pumping through your body. Notice the scary script running through your mind. Later, when you’re not engaged in conversation, examine what was in that scary script, what the fearful thoughts were. They’re going to laugh at me. They’re going to think I’m stupid. These are thoughts that many speakers of English as a second language have. I’ve had the same thoughts when speaking a second language. And the truth is, sometimes those things will happen. Sometimes people do laugh, and sometimes people think we’re stupid… even when we’re speaking our first language. But that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you work through these difficult experiences knowing that with every mistake you make, you learn something new and become a better speaker because of it.

“They’re going to laugh at me. They’re going to think I’m stupid.” These are thoughts that many speakers of English as a second language have.

No matter what it is that we do, we all, at some point, doubt ourselves. We doubt our abilities and our capabilities. We hear a small voice in the back of our minds, whispering negative thoughts. This is the voice of fear. But we learn from experience that we shouldn’t listen to that voice; we learn, little by little, to conquer our fears. This happens whenever you want to learn and gain proficiency at something new, whether it’s snowboarding or an artistic endeavor or speaking a second language. When we confront our fears and move ahead with the things we want to do – getting out on the slopes or learning watercolor techniques or picking up the phone for a phone call in a second language – we take control of our lives, and the fear subsides.

  1. Identify situations that are particularly difficult.

When dealing with fear around speaking situations, you may be able to identify moments, people, and places that pose particular difficulty. These are the scenarios that make your heart beat faster and your palms sweaty. Maybe it’s talking to your child’s teachers at school, communicating with your doctor, or taking your car in to get serviced. These are likely interactions that do not happen every day, but tend to be rather important.

Once you have identified the situations that cause extra difficulty, extra fear, you can begin to practice scripts for how they might go. You might find it helpful to write the script down. Try to think of all the things you might want to say and the potential responses from your listener or listeners. Practice saying these sentences to increase your comfort with them. Try saying them with different tones of voice, at different speeds, and with different expressions on your face. Get silly with it. This can help to reduce the tension and fear associated with these lines.

For an extra challenge, take each line of your script, and come up with an alternate way of communicating the same message. This might involve using different words with similar meanings, or changing the grammatical structure or word order of the sentence.

  1. Practice patience.

As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You may not be able to completely eliminate the fear from speaking English, but you can definitely reduce it by a significant amount. Just be patient, keep working on your communication skills, examining your fears, and practicing the difficult scripts, and little by little, change will come.

  1. Keep a journal.

Aside from the personal benefits of journaling, writing down your experiences in English can strengthen your ability to communicate your ideas in the written language. Written practice in recounting events that you might want to tell friends about can help you get the words just right, so when you’re in the middle of a conversation, the words will come to mind more easily… without any memorization!

 

Just like most things that seem scary at first, the closer you get to them, the more you learn about them. The more often you try something, the less scary it becomes. Each time you speak up in English, it gets a little easier. When speaking a second language that you learned later in life, mistakes are inevitable. You can still speak English successfully with mistakes – it’s not about being perfect, it’s about getting your message across. In order to do that, you have to conquer your fears and speak out.


If you liked this article, you might also like these:

What Sets Lingua East Apart

Accent Modification Services at Lingua East

 

8 Confidence-Boosting Tricks for Better Communication

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!

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