LANGUAGE BARRIERS AND THE POTENTIAL FOR GROWTH
I specialise in coaching professionals operating in multiple languages and today I’d like to applaud these amazing people. Communicating in a second or third language is a hugely underestimated ability. The additional mental workload that it requires shouldn't be taken for granted. So, first I’d like to pay my respects for the remarkable job you do. I've witnessed first-hand the hard work, heard about the setbacks, and of course celebrated your fantastic rewards. This daily challenge offers the potential for immense growth and opportunities.
OH SO FRUSTRATING
Those of you who have to suddenly switch from one language to another, will know how stressful and complicated it can be even for the most basic interactions.
As well as the obvious headaches like misunderstandings, getting tenses wrong and mispronouncing words, using a second language can bring you down emotionally and drain your energy. It’s hard to accept being less articulate and effective than in your native language, it can even undermine your professional identity.
WHY IS IT COMPLICATED?
The non-native speakers of English I coach come to me convinced they need to improve their English to perform well. Of course, that may be so, but very often it isn’t. In fact, these days most people I deal with know a lot of English, at least enough for the tasks they need it for; it’s just that they aren’t using it well.
The main culprit is foreign language anxiety – as the name says, a form of anxiety specific to speaking a foreign language, which you can have even if you’re not usually an anxious person. A common reason for this is negative experiences; I hear a lot of accounts of being ridiculed or shamed in language lessons at school for example.
The second offender (there are others but not for this post!) is lack of enjoyment or positive experiences in the language. This can be connected with the above anxiety, but not necessarily. So, now we get to the good part.
HOW COACHING CAN HELP
Coaching offers the support and a framework for clients to turn down the anxiety and turn up the enjoyment. Clients dig deep and get a clear and complete picture of their actual communication skills and the negative forces that are holding them back. Here's an outline of the steps I take my client's through.
Get to know your speaking and listening habits, notice what works and what you can improve. Learn new ways of communicating, first in the safety of the coaching setting and then in your work environment. Learn more English.
Tune into your body and your emotions. Notice the signals the nervous system sends you when you’re feeling anxious, energised, or calm and focussed. Use your breath or posture to shift your feeling.
Listen to your negative self-talk and old stories with self-compassion. Pay attention to the facts and update the stories to reflect your new reality.
Finding fun and enjoyable things to do along the way, things that genuinely interest you will inspire and motivate you to drive the transformation.
STRONGER PERFORMANCE, RELATIONSHIPS AND WELLBEING
As clients master new ways to communicate in a second language, the learning impacts their first language conversations, which in turn leads them to be more at ease, creative and successful in all aspects of their life. The mindset they develop through the coaching also has benefits beyond communication. It's inspiring to see how this work, which begins with a brave decision to commit to overcoming a language barrier, becomes a stepping stone that leads to greater fulfilment and happiness at work, home, with family, friends – everything gets better.
I challenge you to make a small improvement in your next conversation, and remember, every conversation counts!
A good read for non-native speakers of English on presenting Tips of the Tongue: The Nonnative English Speaker's Guide to Mastering Public Speaking by Deborah Grayson Riegel and Ellen Dowling
An interesting and related episode of The Happiness Lab podcast by Prof Laurie Santos with Andrea Wachter: Stepping Off the Path of Anxiety
Study on conversation and well-being by Prof. Matthias Meh, University of Arizona in Tucson