Manage your words well

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!

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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.

The Ratners Jewellery store in Regent Street, London, part of the chain owned by Gerald Ratner, which made a 112 million profit in 1990.

The Ratners Jewellery store in Regent Street, London, part of the chain owned by Gerald Ratner, which made a 112 million profit in 1990.

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.

happy hooligan

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”

turn off

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

Impact

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.

portfolio-style

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.

U or non-U

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”.

Mitford56
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!

formal meal

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.

dinner-party-clip-art

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!

These quizzes provide a bit of fun if you want to test yourself!

Let’s get physical

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!

Shooting

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.

Eureka

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.

House by the River

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.

What is Outcomes-based learning?2

 

Confidence in English

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?

nervous man

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.

fisherman fishing boat

He had been very quiet on arrival, it all came out when I took him out for a meal and he explained that all the English language teaching and correction and instruction in cross-cultural communication that he had received in other places; the do’s and don’t’s; all the sentences and key phrases to repeat; all the reams of photocopied vocabulary – that he sort of knew anyway passively –  the “enforced scenarios” he had to prepare for the next lesson, all the things we tend to find in schools were useless to him.
He told me how all the “cross-culture” training was making it worse; the endless corrections, more pressure, more theory; more “do’s and don’t’s and so on….  he needed to GET OVER THAT, but he didn’t know how.
 
I found the way with him, by judicious use of NLP visualisation and anchoring techniques, shifting his associated problems by dint of changing his emotional associations, dissociating him away from the issues, and putting new thoughts and connections in their place.
It worked, overnight, after a short “out-of-context” chat in a restaurant, eating fish together and talking about fishing – in a certain way.
fresh fish plate2

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.

giphy2

How do we measure success?

Bluebird water speed

What is success?

Certainly, from a coaching perspective, it is reaching one’s goals.

The famous holder of the world land speed record (and on water too), Malcolm Campbell, famously said:

“When you have reached your goal, set yourself another“.


Bluebird Proteus CN7 Donald Campbell landspeed record car
His son, Donald, continued the proud tradition of tempting fate and taking speed to the limit.

Some might say, it’s important to know when you have done enough!

We have met and worked with hundreds of people, some who needed to go “just that little bit further” and others who had a “mountain to climb” or who “made huge improvements in no time at all”!

Our job is, that by giving prompts and tools the client is empowered to make inner changes themselves; the coach is a facilitator, not some kind of guru!

Everyone is a kind of expert who can tell you how to do things and what to do. But actually the only expert on you is YOU.

Just as only YOU can interpret the messages in your dream, 20 people can give the same presentation but it will be different in each case. Some will connect with their audience but others will not? Why is this?

This is where a great coach can make a world of difference.

Acting when the time is right, making the critical decision, knowing when to act and when not to, and acting swiftly and decisively, or taking one’s time to think things through.

The difference between winning that business contract or not; the difference between being successful in something or not; between becoming excellent at something, and going far enough to know what success feels like.

 

donald campbell and k7 crew

What makes a good blog about “confidence”?

Julia B&W

Julia, our expert in voice coaching and performance skills in acting, says

“I guess the basic thing for attracting people to a blog is – if someone has a lack of confidence – they’ll be looking, not at blogs which talk about “acupuncture”, but at blogs that talk aboutconfidence“!!

“Talking about methods is useless without a ‘hook’ of a problem people want to address, such as confidence tools, communicating with confidence,  the projection of confidence…”

She continues: “…..people think acting is different, but it can help with meetings and business in fantastic ways!”
 
“There’s the issue of confidence…  when feeling nervous, the actual confidence which comes from knowing you can handle a meeting does not imply that the methods a person uses will create total confidence without nerves, but that the adrenaline or nerves are controlled – like a trained animal!”
 
“I’m thinking of acting as an example… and I did give talks too as a child – it was scary but I did it, the English Speaking Board; you had a prepared talk then the examiner would discuss other things you were interested in and define ONE. It was quite something really! there were other people there too, an audience of family…”
 
For her – whatever the age – being stuck in front of a load of people and an examiner was daunting… and at PIE we use NLP and hypnotherapy too, to overcome issues..
 
“The prepared talk was fine, then the imptomptu talk was shorter and I recall I had a few minutes to ‘create’ a structure in my head… I was young! I remember my mum in the audience all red faced but proud!  I think that elocution helped because it gave a focus too regarding HOW I was to convey the talk.”
 
 
“There were the background tools of emphasis and pacing and how to make the voice carry to the back of the room, and the breathing also to control nerves… picking a subject and making it interesting; picking out main points… That is what people identify with!”
 
“Otherwise a blog is a professional ‘paper’ and detached from their own experience; it is about connecting so they see their own problem in it and see how you’ve addressed it.”
 
In “the Third Tribe”, Chris Brogan is quoted as saying that the heart of good blogging is addressing people’s pain. Most of us are familiar with the saying “People don’t google ‘aspirin’; they google ‘headache’.”
 
As coaches, we’re solving the problems that people would google!