Foreign languages
Being an effective communicator is about clarity, not correctness. Source: Pexels

Did you know that for every native English speaker in the world, there are five non-native speakers? Approximately 96 percent of all English conversations involve non-native speakers. You could say that this language is an essential tool to navigate today’s world.

That’s why communication skills trainer Marianna Pascal has trained thousands of Southeast Asians to communicate effectively over her past two decades in Malaysia. Having observed several approaches to speaking in English, Pascal shared how the secrets to mastering foreign languages can be found in everyday behaviour.

Here are some tips from her speech at TEDxPenangRoad.

Use foreign languages as tools

Pascal noticed that many non-native English speakers feel pressured when interacting with native speakers. However, she says that proficiency level should not be a barrier to getting your message across.

“In schools all around the world, English is not being taught like it’s a tool to play with. Students are judged more on correctness than clarity,” she said. “Instead of looking at a foreign language as an art to be mastered and perfected, think of it as a tool you can use to get a result.”

Languages are essential tools we use to navigate everyday life. When we begin to view them as such, we are able to shift our perspective and move past any fear or insecurity.

Foreign languages

Like playing video games, mastering foreign languages requires an unfettered focus on the common goal. Source: Florian Olivo/Unsplash

“Speak like you’re playing a video game”

Pascal came up with this philosophy after observing a gamer play a first-person shooter game at a cyber cafe. His focus on the goal impressed her, and she found herself drawing parallels to communication.

“Even though this guy was terrible, even though his friends were watching him, there was no embarrassment. There was no feeling of being judged. There was no shyness,” Pascal said. Often, our fear of making mistakes keeps us from using foreign languages – but the best way to learn is to practise.

In Pascal’s experience, there are two types of communicators. “One has a high level (of proficiency) but is totally focused on herself and getting it right, and therefore very ineffective. We’ve got another one, low level, totally focused on the person she’s talking to, and getting a result – effective. And therein lies the difference.”

Focus on the other person

Non-native speakers can alleviate the pressure of speaking foreign languages by placing importance on clarity over correctness. Instead of holding each other to levels of proficiency, focus on delivering your message to the other person in the simplest, most efficient way possible. 

“How well someone communicates in English has very little to do with their English level. It has a lot to do with their attitude towards English,” Pascal said. Therefore, let go of your ideas of right and wrong and make connection your priority in communication.

In the expert’s words, “When you speak, don’t focus on yourself. Focus on the other person and the result you want to achieve.”

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