Learning a new language and communicating it fluently to another person is a completely different ball game.
If you’ve ever done public speaking or any type of presentation in front of a crowd, you know how this feels.
There’s a sense of self-consciousness we feel when we’re speaking a foreign language with native speakers. We’re not sure if people will understand us, judge us, or if we’re saying something completely different than we intended.
The irony is that most of these doubts come before we even approach them, like the excruciating moments before we bungee jump.
Keep in mind that this is completely normal. This feeling of uncomfortability occurs anytime we’re learning a new skill: from swimming to playing the guitar, and so on.
Despite our lack of language knowledge, there’s ways we can improve how we communicate with native speakers.
How to Improve Your Communication Skills in a Foreign Language
1. Embrace the feeling of self-consciousness
100% of our own discomfort or self-consiousness comes from within.
It’s completely natural for a human being to feel uncomfortable, nervous, or fear.
In fact, it’s inevitable when you’re trying anything new.
The solution then is not to fight against the feeling of self-consciousness, but to embrace it.
Whenever you feel that butterfly hovering over your stomach, don’t be afraid to take one step back, but take two steps forward.
Here’s a few steps to take those steps forward:
a. Increase your self-awareness
One simple method is to practice being still. This isn’t to encourage you to enter a state of full meditation, but just observe.
You can do this with your eyes closed or open, standing or sitting. What’s important is that rather than reacting to everything that’s happening around you, we observe and reflect what’s happening within us.
The goal is to practice enough in order to spawn this self-reflection when we need to, especially during times of self-consciousness. It’s through self-awareness that we’ll understand most of the fears were made up in our own minds.
b. Make fun of yourself
A fun and effective way to embrace your self-consciousness is to poke fun at yourself. This is what professional comedians do all the time: to deflect potential harmful attention from themselves and to build empathy with their audience.
This can be in the form of self-deprecating humor or pointing out that you’re not skilled in something.
Humility is a rare form of communication and it rarely fails to build connection with whomever you’re speaking with because we all have faults we can attest to.
2. Shift your focus towards others
Once you’ve embraced that you may not be perfect at communicating in a new language, you should direct your focus on others.
This not only helps you from being distracted in your own self-consciousness, but it helps you build a connection with the person you’re speaking to.
Being present in the conversation can be the most effective thing you can do to improve your communication skills.
The best part about this is that it doesn’t involve any verbal skills, it just requires a shift in focus.
If you want to take it up a notch, you can focus on two things: listening and asking questions.
Show that you care about the other person’s day, struggles, life, and they’ll become your most loyal companions.
“Worry about how you make other people feel, rather than how they make you feel.”
3. Body posture
Body posture is something we often take for granted. But if we undersatnd how to use it to our advantage, we’re able to communicate in ways that we never could through verbal communication.
As many researchers have pointed out, 55% of our communication skills rely on body language.
38% is our tone of voice, and only 7% is what we say. This means you could have zero knowledge of someone else’s language, but use 93% of communication skills with whom you’re speaking to.
As Amy Cuddy points out in her TED talk, even though we may not feel confident, our body language can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and it can change how we feel about ourselves.
“Our nonverbals govern how other people think and feel about us.” – Amy Cuddy
This means that we can trick our brain to increase our confidence and optimism levels by changing our body language.
a. Power pose
Cuddy recommends doing what she calls a “power pose” before an important meeting, or whenever you feel nervous. The goal is to feel as comfortable as possible, while taking up space around you to make yourself feel bigger.
When Cuddy performed a study by telling half the participants to perform a power pose, and the other half a powerless pose. The results were astounding. This is the increase in testosterone and drop in cortisol after performing the power pose for 2 minutes.
Another powerful way to trick our brains is something we can do at anytime, anywhere: smile.
According to psychologists at the University of Cardiff, the simple act of smiling can make us feel happier. Participants who were forced to frown in this study, had lower levels of activity in the hypothalamus and amygdala — parts of the brain involved in emotional processing and responses.
Although no study has been proven to explain why smiling leads to increased levels of happiness, Judith Grob, a psychologist at Universiy of Groningen, states that it could be a feedback loop that works as simply as “I am smiling, so I must be happy.”
“When the face doesn’t aid in expressing the emotion, the emotion seeks other channels to express itself through.” – Judith Grob
4. Practice with native speakers as much as you can
We started the first part of this article with non-verbal communication skills, because as studies showed, it makes up 93% of how we portray ourselves.
Now let’s get to the verbal skills, and luckily this part is more straightforward.
The best way to improve your verbal communication skills, especially when speaking a new language, is to practice and learn from your mistakes.
There’s no easy way to do this but commit to yourself, and surround yourself in situations that will force you speak the new language. This can be from spending more time with friends who speak the language you want to learn, attending a local language meetup, or going online with your personal language coach at Rype.
5. Talk to yourself
i. Read outloud
Moreover: teach outloud
As research shows, people retain:
5% of what they learn when they’ve learned from a lecture.
10% of what they learn when they’ve learned from reading.
20% of what they learn from audio-visual.
30% of what they learn when they see a demonstration
50% of what they learn when engaged in a group discussion.
75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned.
90% of what they learn when they teach someone else/use immediately.
In other words, reading outloud helps us learn anything faster.
Whether you’re reading a Spanish textbook, watching a movie with subtitles, or anything that is written in your new language: read it outloud to yourself.
Not only does this embed the knowledge further into our brains, but it allows us to practice speaking verbally in the language. It helps us refine the tone of our voice, tweak the accents, and get more comfortable with repetition.
ii. Memorize a song in your foreign language
Nelson Mandela once said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
One way to do this in a fun and easy way is to learn a foreign song.
Vivir mi vida means Live my life in Spanish.
If you’ve ever had a great song stuck in your head, then you should be able to relate the power of music when it comes to learning a foreign language. When you fall in love with a song, we imitate everything from the tone of the voice of the singer to their accent.
It’s a powerful way to subconsciously teach our brains the patterns and meanings of the language, without even knowing we are doing it!
Find a song you like, sing along, heck… dance along. Most importantly, have fun with it.
Now we’d love to hear from you!
Which of these methods can you see yourself using to improve your communication skills?
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