Last week I was working overseas and flew with a “budget airline”. The stewardesses were very charming, but when they started to speak on the Public Address system, something very strange happened and I wondered if they were speaking to be understood by their passengers, or whether they were just speaking.
Before the flight starts, the stewardesses go through a process of telling the passengers where the exits are and then demonstrating how to fix oxygen masks onto themselves as well as life jackets. Yet through all this announcement, I wasn’t zoned in because it didn’t appear to be in English. I suddenly realised that they WERE speaking in English, then repeating phrases in Hungarian!
The problem was that a) the speakers were speaking too fast. b)Their pronunciation was very very poor c) They didn’t use the rhythm and emphasis on words that we use in English so it was very very difficult to tune into the meaning of what was being said. In fact on the way back, I saw a steward reading the script as fast as he could. I doubted if he understood what he was saying and it was incomprehensible to me and my fellow UK passengers.
As you know, I respect anyone who is speaking a language that isn’t their mother tongue. I have studied in Italy and know how difficult it is to speak to be understood, and I also know how EASY it is to speak faster and faster because you are nervous – making it more difficult to be understood!!!
But I also recognise that any language has its own unique rhythms and shape of sentences, which enable listeners to be able to understand the meaning of what a speaker is saying. For example, in the German language, the verb is at the end of the sentence, so German speakers keep the energy going until the end of any sentence, to ensure the listener knows what to do! Whereas in English, the ends of sentences tend to drop in energy. But in both languages, as with any language, it isn’t a series of noises that are fired out at speed!
Speaking a foreign language isn’t JUST about learning the vocabulary and grammar, but also the pronunciation and the rhythm of the language. In our Accent softening for business training, we coach individuals to improve their pronunciation of words, but also to practice how emphasising different words in a sentence make them easier to be understood. We teach them how to make sounds that are unique to the English language as well as correcting pronunciation and improve the vocabulary range they use.
If you have a colleague, team member or friend who would benefit from this training, please contact me or call 0800 0938 464. I would be delighted to discuss different options – both face to face and online.