As Performance in English heads north to Yorkshire and to facilities being hired at the impressive Hawkhills conference centre, and close to the beautiful historic cities of York, Ripon, and the world-famous Spa town of Harrogate, our thoughts turn to food and the great culinary traditions – so little appreciated outside these small islands – of England.
Oldstead, beating Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in Buckinghamshire and Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir near Oxford.
In fact, England currently has the top two restaurants worldwide; while Maison Lameloise, in Chagny, France, came in third, and L’Auberge de l’Ill, Illhaeusern, France was voted fourth and Martin Berasategui, Lasarte, Spain, fifth.
The beautiful county of North Yorkshire has an amazing array of attractions and natural beauty, and – as a coaching client with us at The Hawkhills – you can also enjoy shopping in York or Harrogate, visits to places of tremendous interest, and the benefit of all sorts of entertainment.
…to world-class coaching…
Using English well in an international context is as important for native speakers of the language as it is for non-native students and other international users of English.
Whether this is because English happens to be the lingua franca of the organisation, company, corporation or community, or because those involved in any meeting have chosen to use English themselves, there is every chance that there will be people with differing ranges of experience and ability in the language, just as this would also be the case with people speaking French, Hungarian, Russian, Spanish, Mandarin, Turkish, Arabic, Swahili or Gaelic!
Who of us can say we would be confident to attempt to do all that we do in our own language in any other language? We can perhaps learn how to order a prawn sandwich or a taxi, or to greet someone at the airport, wish them a good journey or thank them for their help. This does not take long and is a sensitive and polite thing to do when doing business with others. It shows that we have made a little effort to learn about their ways.
Just as we can learn a few words, we can also learn about the cultures we interact with.
This process works both ways, because – though there is common ground within cultures for anything that we may need to discuss, and certainly room for exploration in a number of areas (or business would never happen or have been going on for thousands of years!) – there are also certain highly sensitive areas of “sacred ground” where discussion may be very difficult or even impossible.
Encroaching on these sensitive spots is risky and potentially rude. This is as true of the English-speaking culture as it is of any other.
The things that affect our identity are hard to define and having a well-researched book to refer to is essential; I recommend Richard Lewis’ excellent work for a clear and intelligent model when entering new ground in any culture.
Where the deeply-embedded elements of a culture’s specific core value system and the individual’s own modus operandi can have multiple layers that are not open to scrutiny, the language itself can give us the clues we need to how a people think.
We should take care with our words whether with other native speakers or with non-native speakers.
Careless language can be very costly.
A famous story is that of successful businessman Gerald Ratner who in 1991 wiped £500m off his share value with one speech, when talking of his own high-street jewellery, he inadvisedly announced it was “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich and probably wouldn’t last as long”.
Another story is that of the Topman clothing chain and the firm’s brand director, David Shepherd, asked in an interview in 2001 to clarify the target market for his clothes, he replied: “Hooligans or whatever.” He went on: “Very few of our customers have to wear suits for work. They’ll be for his first interview or first court case.”
The company later suggested that the word “hooligan” would not be seen as an insult among its customers.
Such careless words may seem amusing or tough but they have consequences. In 2006, John Pluthero, the UK chairman of Cable & Wireless, sent a memo to staff, which said: “Congratulations, we work for an underperforming business in a crappy industry and it’s going to be hell for the next 12 months.” He warned of job losses and added: “If you are worried that it all sounds very hard, it’s time for you to step off the bus.” Many did just that and found work elsewhere.
Another pitfall is translation and translation devices. They are not capable of understanding cultural and linguistic nuance. The ambiguity of translation is well summed-up with the example of a biblical quote, meant to express the struggle facing the industry at that time and to motivate the employees to make an extra effort, and that was used in an after-dinner speech translated into German
“The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”.
This came out as “The schnapps is strong but the meat is rotten”
Language is not a set of conditioned responses triggered by previous words, because we can change these patterns at will. This allows us creativity and individualism. Chomsky’s “poverty of the input” hypothesis tells us that what a child can produce in language is MORE than the input they have received via their parents or peers. This “new potential language” has come from within the child as he/she has acquired the deeper syntax. Somehow, the child knows that the structure “Daddy what did you bring that book that I don’t want to be read to out of, up for?” is the only right use of syntax for English, for this question.
Pace is a deciding factor. People are more inclined to get excited and emotional speaking their own language than speaking English, this is hard to lose in a foreign language, suggesting that the control of output and having to pace themselves, will affect themselves and others
There are several negative and positive associations: native speakers are imagined to have more sensitivity but often they have less. Consequently natives can benefit from observing how a non-native speaks, or try to compose themselves in FL to see how it feels.
Having a slower pace enables better listening and more self-composure. However the emotions inside the L2 speaker are likely to be very high and for the L1 speaker, having to modify their language to obtain better results may at times feel frustrating, too.
At PIE we can help you develop sensitivity to language that leads you to better outcomes. As a non-native we can show you how English works and how to use it effectively, in your own specific situation, according to different scenarios and your personal choices, understanding norms and idiosyncrasies.
Equally important, as a native speaker we can show you how good language management will lead you to better relationships, deeper awareness of communication and the avoidance of costly mistakes, and to a level of self-composure that is not over-confident but mature and manifested in a spirit of mutual respect.
English as spoken in Britain is a confusing thing at times.
U and non-U English usage (the “U” standing for “upper class”, and “non-U” representing the aspiring middle classes) was a curious debate that began in the 1950s.
During this debate, it was shown that the upper classes in Britain tended at times to use words that were more common with the working classes than they were with the middle classes.
Since the middle classes were keen to use “fancy words” (neologisms that made them seem fashionable and up-to-date) the upper classes sought to distance themselves from this by using ordinary (“common”) words instead!
Being “posh” was one thing, but sounding “posher than posh” was altogether “Non-U”.
The expression “U or non-U” was coined by the British linguist Alan S. C. Ross, professor of linguistics at the University of Birmingham, and soon afterwards, popularised, in an article and also her books, by the authoress, Nancy Mitford, from the famous family of socialites. Nancy Mitford was one of the renowned Mitford sisters and one of the “Bright Young People“ on the London social scene in the inter-war years, and wrote novels about upper-class life in England and France.
What the upper-class were doing was showing that they were, above all, not middle-class!
The complexities of a meal…
For example, when issuing an invitation, it should be written on writing-paper rather than note-paper (a decidedly middle-class word!).
And what about the correct term for the meal itself? Is dinner taken at midday or in the evening? What about lunch and supper? Lunch (or even luncheon) is in the middle of the day and dinner in the evening. To refer to lunch as dinner, or to use the term “evening meal” is to betray your non-U origins!
If a dinner guest praises the supper, then the implication is that the meal was insubstantial and unsatisfying. Never issue an invitation to high-tea, as this is an exclusively non-U invention. When stating the dress code, don’t use the terms dress-suit or evening-dress, but state simply: ‘We will be changing for dinner’.
On arrival, ensure that you praise your host’s lovely house rather than home. When introduced to strangers, the correct response to ‘How do you do?’ is to repeat the phrase. Giving an answer, such as ‘Fine thanks’, is a major faux pas!
During the meal
Linguistic etiquette during the meal is crucial. If you need to wipe your mouth, use your napkin, not your serviette. Never ask for the toilet; U speakers refer directly to the lavatory or the loo. Saying pardon me or sorry is frightfully non-U. Say jam, not preserve; vegetables, not greens; eat rather than dine; have a drink, not a refreshment. Have pudding, not dessert.
Partly this was due to the middle-class believing that French-origin words and expressions were more fashionable; but the established upper-classes decided to set themselves further apart by resolutely using the Anglo-Saxon vernacular.
Since the 60s
In the last few decades, much has changed and it’s far more likely that eating together will be a relaxed and fun event, and not so “strait-laced” as it used to be; and the language we use is far more laid-back. The main thing is just to “be yourself” rather than conforming to a stereotype.
As most know, English is a mix mainly of Anglo-Saxon and French words, linked back to Latin. The latter are more elaborate, mannerly and intellectual in sound; the former, more direct and down-to-earth, “calling a spade a spade”. Whereas the common man might say “look into what’s been going on” or “get back to me when you can”, the more erudite person would say “explore recent events” and “please respond as soon as you are able”.
In this we can see the tremendous importance in spoken English of verb forms as contrasted with the use of nouns and adjectives in ordinary language. The peculiarity of U and non-U was to allow the upper classes to get away with sounding common!
The sometimes hilarious elements of the so-called “British class system” are well illustrated by the much-loved TV comedy series “Keeping up Appearances“; it makes good listening practice too!
The environment matters
The environment matters
It’s important to get a sense of real involvement and hands-on connection in what we do.
People begin by accessing the questions of time and space relating to when they do things and where they do them.
At PIE we use many techniques, some of them borrowed from voice training and from coaching acting skills, to anchor goals in really deep ways.
Most people have a common perception of time and space, although it is coloured by cultural distinctions and expectations. The key area where people and peoples differ is in how they do something, and this comes down to core values and their sense of identity.
Some clients like to get active and stretch and move around – but the training room, with lines of chairs and lack of access to the outside – may not allow that; others feel secure by making written notes of everything, and feel nervous in performance. As part of the coaching experience, we offer plenty of opportunity to explore whatever interests you!
In today’s world there is a tendency towards burnout and apathy, dissatisfaction and even depression (with all the medical issues this involves) due to organisations not connecting, but overloading staff in unnecessary ways. Getting the right pathway to the best performance relies entirely on knowing those you deal with and caring about their comfort and ability to express themselves creatively.
I recall a client whose own preferred approach was to check his notes before making any kind of utterance. He referred back to them no matter what, he preferred not to speak unless what he had to say was perfect. He reached the limit of this approach one day when he jumped out of his seat and made a true breakthrough!
Getting physical, means providing space and time for deep-level expression. At PIE we choose the best possible environment and allow the exploration of every aspect of growth.
How you do something, according to your own belief system, refers to language in particular, since how we use language depends entirely on which language we are using. The question of “how?” is therefore a more complex question; and, by extension, the question of why we do that is more complex still and depends entirely on who we are, our identity, our sense of self, our cultural persona.
As coaches, understanding this in a sensitive way and listening to the gradually changing processes of language in each of our clients, we get to know who we are dealing with. It’s important to get the chance to experience that in a physical way and get a real feel for it. The more enjoyable and deep this experience, the better the outcome.
Don’t tell me what to do! – help me find it.
We sometimes feel we know what the other person means to say, or is trying to get across, and so advise them consciously or unconsciously towards solutions that we think work for us, and therefore would like to work for them. When we don’t understand, our first question is “why?” – but does this really help?
The author and coach, Nancy Kline, provides a good list of what not to do, when another person is speaking, which is quite useful in helping us eliminate bad habits. These include:
- Don’t finish the other people’s sentences.
- Don’t interrupt them in mid-sentence.
- Don’t look overly critical.
- Don’t fill in the pauses with your own stories and anecdotes.
- Don’t add information and ‘rules to follow’ during these listening phases.
- Don’t distract them by – perhaps unintentionally – looking at the clock, sighing, etc..
These seem like good general rules, but bad habits die hard! When helping someone to reach their goals, our own goal of “good helper” might take priority. Putting it more positively:
- Allow people to finish off their ideas
- Let them get to the end of their sentence
- Show interest in what they are bringing up
- During pauses, pay attention to the thinking process that you are observing
- While listening, develop rapport and collect important information
- Encourage speech and think of deep questions.
If we want to really know what the best solution is, and to help someone reach it, the more time spent knowing what they feel and how they see the world, the better. One does not climb a mountain without a map of the terrain. What if there is a smoother path, a quicker one, or a more picturesque one? How do I know what you prefer if I don’t take the trouble to ask? And how do I know what you are willing to change, unless you tell me?
I work regularly with managers and leaders who need to overcome difficulties of miscommunication – frequent where English is the lingua franca for business and negotiating. Finding ground for exploration working up from stable common perceptions is a very important skill, and one that, in the emotional heat of the moment, can be lost.
For this reason it is important to choose questions carefully and – often – to avoid the question “why?” until we have collected a lot more information first.
Where are we?
Where do we want to go?
How long do we have?
How long have we already spent?
Who are the best people to have involved?
What common ground do we have?
What makes the other person say what they do?
What are they not saying?
What is their aim?
What do they want to avoid?
What are they willing to consider changing?
What will they never change?
How can we proceed?
Being able to step back in one’s mind and having the firmly-anchored physical resources for doing so, are equally important (and very distinct). What may seem like a mountain to climb may be anything but.
One of my clients not long ago was the kind of person you’d look at and immediately think they were totally in control and confident.
The Financial Director of a multi national company is usually bursting with inner confidence, yet, after finding out that he had to start using English for his board-level presentations, he had discovered that he was extremely nervous about doing this (especially in larger groups or more than about 4 people ) – something he’d never have thought would happen! So how did I help him?
He understood that it is an important thing to be able to communicate internationally; he knew that because we live in this increasingly interconnected world, using English enables you nowadays to be more successful by accessing more opportunities and connections, and that this was in any case necessary for him to retain his position….
He recognised the importance, in our rapidly-changing world, not only of “connecting” with other people who live in different countries, even with their culture and their way of thinking, but also shared with others the feeling of how tremendously enriching to life this can be. He realised how valuable the new “global” aspect within his organisation, was and is.
But this was not exactly the problem. If anything, knowing all this and being reminded of it, as his company underwent significant and far-reaching changes internally and externally, was adding to the problem even more!
This hard-working man loved fishing; his English was relatively low-level but adequate for the task of reporting to his Board; and he was terribly blocked; afraid; sweating in front of his audience; his voice shaking, he was very red-faced.
It worked, overnight, after a short “out-of-context” chat in a restaurant, eating fish together and talking about fishing – in a certain way.
Sadly some may have had the experience after previous training and learning, of feeling worse than when they arrived – both on paper tests, and in real life – and therefore very dissatisfied. Poorly-devised training or blanket solutions (one-size-fits-all) can indeed make things worse.
As a proviso here, language schools do have their place but often cannot offer that specialised coaching which meets each individual’s needs….and being with clients of other nationalities does not always offer the right combination of guided acquisition and pleasant immersion in the language and culture which makes for more effective and rapid acquisition.
That is why at PIE we use many different techniques and according to the specific needs of the client. We use absolute discretion, go wherever needed, and spare nothing in terms of flexibility and total listening to the client, to ensure that the outcome is good.
How to be a Brit
The Hungarian journalist and BBC reporter, George (György) Mikes – pronounced / ɱ ‘i: ke ʃ / – commented wryly in his book “How To Be An Alien” (1946), a classic of “British humour”, when – as a foreigner in England – he realised the importance of having a “suitable” accent:
“My dear, you really speak a most wonderful accent, without the slightest English!”
Who am I?
As many academics have shown over many years, the whole concept of one’s identity as a person cannot be separated from language. Languages express emotions, facts, notions of time, space and morality, in different ways, and arise as the communication surface structure built on generations of history, tradition, law, belief and education. How we perform depends on first how we understand, process and compose language.
There is the larger question of how English, as an international language, can serve to perform acts of identity that are specific to one’s own language. As linguists have tried to show, all languages share some deeper, innate, structure or else how could the same human being, theoretically, be born anywhere on the planet?
Mikes started his famous book with the words “In England, everything is the other way round”.
Culture itself cannot be entirely systematised, despite the efforts of anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists. Along with dress and other customs and habits, language is the outside sign of what a person deems themself to be. Actors, who play the part of another culturally different person, in the theatre, see this very clearly.
Consequently, as soon as we open our mouth, we “give away” something about who we are and how we wish to be perceived by others. The process of “acculturation” – the process of internalising the implied rules of a “discourse community” – is something that anyone who lives or works with other language groups or nations, understands from day one. Culture “shock” can be one outcome of this difficult process. Bridging differences effectively, means using language very skilfully and being sensitive to culture.
For the learner of a second language, there results from this the thorny question of how to “sound right“. In some ways this leaves one free to choose the model one prefers, to “sound” correct in whatever circles that person happens to frequent.
It’s quite well-known that the use of question “tags” is a feature of spoken English:
“It’s a lovely day, today, isn’t it?”
“Oh yes, they said it was going to rain, didn’t they.”
“It’s so nice when it’s hot, isn’t it.”
“Yes I love it, don’t you?”
As George Mikes observed, “In England, you must never contradict anybody when discussing the weather.”
Similarly, the words Yes and No – straightforward as these may seem – are loaded with difficulty, and cultural overtones, when we say “Yes” but mean “Maybe”; or when we say “No, I don’t mind at all” – and mean “That’s absolutely fine!”
In addition to the vexed question of “British understatement”, there is the related issue of the “proxemics” of a given culture and the register of particular words and phrases. How should we “act”? How close should we stand to another person? How soon is it appropriate to ask a personal question? How direct or indirect is it appropriate to be? The exact combination of phonetic training, listening to sounds, using the voice and breathing in order to “come across” with confidence and fluency, is something that requires a thorough analysis and discussion.
Contact us to find out more!
“You can talk the talk but can you walk the walk?”
Introducing “embodied language skills“
As far back as we can trace, notions of proper conduct have been shaped by individuals, rather than by committees. Their starting point has been behaviour – often at mealtimes or during the public “stroll” – which has been seen as a reliable indication of how people are likely to behave elsewhere and of their character.
In a culture where civility, integrity and respect are given high status, the words that we use and the way we behave cannot be separated.
When we speak, we also act. There is an inescapable link between our choice of words and their specific intent.
If it is cold in the room, we could say “It’s cold in here, can someone close the window please?”; or we could say; “Who left the window open?”; “Does anybody mind if I close the window?” even “It’s a bit chilly isn’t it, does anyone feel the same as me?” or “Why don’t you close that window for me?”
Whether we like it or not, how we are viewed by others is a combination of how we choose to dress, groom ourselves, eat, stand, walk, and move, and how we speak.
Some say “Manners maketh Man”.
In learning a language, well, and making strong positive impressions on others, this is not simply a matter of learning certain cultural “rules” or “customs” – thought these are certainly useful to know – but in identifying how we wish to fit into a situation and what our own values and sense of identity are.
The “embodied” skills that surround leadership and other powerful roles, come with a range of language registers and techniques.
We provide Personal Action Plans to bring to bear the latest tried and tested ideas of Neuroplasiticity, Integration training, Somatic coaching, Leonard Energy Training and the very important U-Theory, incorporating ‘the Blind spot of leadership’ and ‘Leading from the emerging future’.
“You never listen!”
How often a frustrated teenager might say that, and, in business too, how often people might be thinking this, but they do not say it – and barriers are building up, unseen?
A child might have listened a hundred times to the being told he/she should clean their teeth every night. But do they do it?
As the saying goes, it takes patience to listen but it takes real skill to pretend that you are. And while this is not something we recommend at all, many people are good at pretending! All the outward signals are there to convince the other person ……
In today’s busy world, where time is always pressurised, arguably there is a lack of true care for others in society. We “listen”, but is there any inner processing going on?
Plus, what works with talking to children doesn’t not necessarily work the same way when dealing with business associates etc.. If we are not listening, what alternative does that give to our colleagues?
Good listening matters at every level.
Everyone likes to think they know best, so, listening to what another person needs to say, attentively, is not just a real skill, it is also potentially a means for powerful change. How do we do it, when our own heads are so full of stuff we are desperate to get done, and get said?
It is important to remember that not everyone wants to be the one “up there” doing the spotlight work and receiving the credits. There is equal importance in what we do to help people achieve their own personal goals, wherever they work.
That goal might be to speak and understand English fluently and effectively, whether they are the Managing Director, in the back office, or at the front of house in a retail role. Having the right skills to really hear what is being said, can change the way an entire organisation works.
Actually, when there is good listening, all sides listen and benefit.
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Peter & Julia
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