I want to share with you a key insider’s view on your English Communication skill.
When you first start out learning English, everything is already made for you. Teachers teach you how to say a word and how to say a grammatically correct sentence. You learn vocabulary from lists of words on weather, fruit, business, etc. You learn how to speak in a certain way by imitating songs, movies, shows, dictionaries to model after how native speakers talk. You learn how to speak in uniform with the whole class.
When I started working with high performers like the leaders of Grab company and other professionals working in international environments, guess what they have troubles with?
They say they can’t learn English the way it is imposed on them.
This goes against all of the things we’ve believed in about how to learn English, doesn’t it? But it makes sense once you start understanding the root of the problem.
When someone is a high performing professional, a top player in their field, they have developed a certain way to communicate themselves, their point of views, and their message. They are aware and mindful of who they are, what their speaking style is, and how they communicate with other people. They might have a charismatic sense of humor, a warm voice, or a powerful edge that they want to keep in their second-language communication.
In that case, learning how to speak in a certain way is not good enough. My high-performing clients have shared with me that in a traditional way of English teaching and learning, where they are provided with ready-made models, they feel forced and confined.
Take a moment to think about it: are you suffocated if all you are taught is how to speak a certain way without consideration of who you are as a person, and how you can be helped to communicate in a way that is both effective and authentic to your personality?
Perhaps that’s why you feel like you want to speak as fluently as a native speaker, but something’s holding you back.
That something may well be the fact that you can’t ignore yourself and just merely imitate someone else!
One of my clients said, “My friends and teacher told me that my English speaking was not good enough, and I should learn to imitate native speakers. I tried hard, seriously, but it did not work for me. I thought there was something wrong with me […] Now I know there is an alternative way to develop my speaking and showing who I am.”
Most of my clients have tried going to English centers, schools, apps, group lessons, etc. But they haven’t had their needs met. Yes, they want to be able to speak English, but more than that, they want to freely speak in their own way. It seems like the whole industry has ignored this desire of each of us to communicate our authentic selves. When the need is not met, it’s there and keeps lurking around while you try to improve your English, until the day you decide you can’t be forced in your own speaking anymore.
Are you having this burning pain too? If any of these thoughts have crossed your mind:
- I want to emphasize that word to express my emotions but I don’t want to sound like a robot.
- I want to sound less monotonous, and I’ve tried to imitate movies. But what should I do when discussing things that don’t come up in movies?
- I want to variate my intonation, but “rising at the end of a yes/no question” is not enough.
- I want to deliver a memorable, emotionally powerful talk but I can’t control my pronunciation and expression.
- I don’t know how to speak a word in different ways. I just know the one way that I learnt from my teacher/dictionary.
- My speech doesn’t sound natural (but I don’t feel like imitating the way Trump <or insert a certain native speaker> speaks!)
- I want to speak like a native speaker, but it’s hard. (that might be because you don’t think and speak the way they do so maybe you need an alternative.)
then you probably have this need that hasn’t been verbalized. Subconsciously, you have the need to be you.
Now let’s not misunderstand this for having to speak everything your own way to the point it’s not English anymore unless you want to invent a new language. But I’m not talking about it here. The point is, when you learn English, don’t just stay at the surface – the imitation level. It’s a good start. After all, the saying goes, “fake it until you make it.”
Disclaimer: Of course, it’s completely okay if you decide to stop there. If being able to merely express your thoughts is what you need (talking to customers in a shop), it’s no point wasting your time on the more advanced matters (communicating to the regional team, gracefully taking control of your presentation). Instead, I advise that you focus on the foundational aspects to help you improve your speaking fast.
But if you want to grow, to not only speak and respond but to communicate in an effective, intentional, artful, and persuasive way, to develop meaningful relationships…
What I advise you is to go beyond the imitation level.
Dig deeper for the under-the-surface principles that help you understand how the sound of English is made, how to take control of your rhythm and intonation, how to make word choices that are effective and artful.
Imagine you can speak a word in as many different ways as you want, not just the one way the dictionary teaches you.
Imagine you can take control of your speech and deliver a powerful talk that affects the room not only logically but also emotionally.
Imagine when you talk to your partner, colleague, boss, investor, and you feel so confident in the conversation because you have mastered your pronunciation & your word choices, and can express your thoughts in a way that communicates who you are.
This is an intricate, sophisticated matter, and it goes way beyond the “being able to express my thoughts and opinions” level. And, I’ll be frank here, it takes work. The thing is, once you’ve grown to a certain point, being able to communicate who you are is no longer just a choice. It’s a need that you have to meet. It’s the need for your ultimate freedom.
Back to my college time, when my former professor told me “You need to get an American accent to get a job,” I refused not because I didn’t want a job but because getting an American accent is not an option for me. It’s like putting myself into a box that I don’t belong to. Certainly, my pronunciation is influenced by the years I lived in the U.S., but I don’t speak the way Americans do because the metaphors, the examples, and the logic I use are different. (Guess if I have a job now, ha!)
For me, this makes the process of communication more beautiful as it celebrates the diversity of cultures, personalities, and accents brought to the table–which is what communication is all about in the first place. It is liberating as you communicate in your way and people like, trust, and develop a relationship with you because of the person you are.
The more you grow, the more aware you are that your freedom to communicate in your way, in any language, matters.
I’d like to know what you think.
Do you want to speak in the way that expresses your sense of humor or your personality?
What’s your experience with learning English? Does the way you’ve been taught English just shove the information down your throat and expect you to talk like a parrot?
What’s your style when you communicate in your mother tongue? If so, does your communication in English express that style?