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This is the first article of my “Improve your Speaking Skills” series: a delicious and ethical guide of my tried-and-tested methods and tips for speaking with more confidence (no false promises here like LEARN ENGLISH IN ONE WEEK! You gotta put in the work and good things come to those who put in the effort).
Speaking in a new language throws you all types of curve-balls. Engaging in authentic oral communication can be frightening because we are often diving into the unexpected and that can be quite scary. And while we can’t plan for everything, we can actually plan for quite a lot.
Anticipation has become one of my go-to methods for preparing myself as best as I can for interacting with natives in their mother tongue. It gives me a solid foundation to work from and helps me deal with the unexpected with more confidence.
When I know I’m going to be in a situation where I’ll need to communicate with natives I make a type of game-plan. I think about the situation I’m going to find myself in and I think of the language (and customs!) I’ll need to be familiar with before going in. Let’s take an example from my actual life.
I moved to France not too long ago and I still don’t feel 100% confident when communicating in French. I still have to think before I speak, I still forget the odd conjugation or word and my mouth hasn’t quite gotten used to a lot of the French sounds.
However, I have to live my life here and that involves communicating with the locals. Right now I’m seven months pregnant and I have a doctor’s appointment on Sunday.
That’s quite a scary situation: going to the doctor in a language you’re not 100% comfortable in, so how do I make situations like a this easier and less stressful?
Find the Vocabulary I’ll need
First I consult one of my vocabulary books to get a base, but I don’t just use a book. I go to YouTube and the internet in general and search both material for learners and material for natives. For example I’ll look up: les rendez-vous avec le gynecologue grossesse 32 semaines
Eh voila! I suddenly have a list of awesome authentic resources to help me prepare both my vocabulary and for the situation in general. It’s important to try and do this both through written resources (so you can take notes more easily) and through audio (this is where YouTube comes in handy: type the same thing into YouTube as you did on Google search).
I make notes of the most relevant vocabulary including: vocabulary the doctor might say, vocabulary related to pregnancy, vocabulary related to the healthcare system, vocabulary to describe how I’m feeling and any problems I’m experiencing etc
Think of Questions People Might Ask me
The next step is thinking of some of the questions people are likely to ask me in that situation. One of the problems I have with oral communication is understanding questions, it’s like my brain suddenly tries to run away when I have to answer a question…
If I can anticipate their questions, I can anticipate my answer. For example, I can be pretty sure that the doctor will ask me how I’m feeling so I think of a few different ways that they can do this and I also think about my response.
Ask for Clarification
Planning, well… doesn’t always go to plan so make sure you know how you can ask for help or clarification if you haven’t understood something. It can be as simple as asking “Sorry, I don’t understand. What does “X” mean?” or “Can you explain what X means?”
Even asking them to write something down can help (this depends on the situation of course). Sometimes we understand something when we see it written down or if not we can quickly look it up in WordReference to clarify what the word means.
This is just as important as anticipating the language that’s going to be used. Let’s say we’re going to the supermarket. A very simple task we do all the time, but what things could you anticipate in this situation?
For example, I buy a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables. That normally involves taking and weighing the produce before going to the till. However, where and how you weigh your stuff can vary from supermarket to supermarket.
Before I did my first shop in France I looked up “peser” (to weigh) and “caisse” (till) and “balance” (scales) and I thought about how I would need to ask where and how to weigh my fruit and vegetables; pardon, est-ce qu’il faut peser les fruit et legumes a la caisse o il y a des balances par ici?
I felt much more confident about asking because I already had the sentence formulated in my head and was also more receptive to the answer because I wasn’t stressed about forgetting a word or saying something outright ridiculous.
WARNING: You Can’t Plan for Everything
While this hack will help you in many situations you can’t plan for everything. One of the beautiful (and sometimes scary!) things about communicating is that new and unexpected things will always arise and we have to adapt.
But anticipating the language you’ll need for certain situations will often always be relevant for other situations (take the supermarket example; weigh and scales are very useful words for everyday life). Eventually, you won’t need to anticipate many situations (if any!) because you’ll be more comfortable in the language and speak with much more fluency.
And don’t feel that you have to plan for every possible situation when you’ll be using the language because everything in life can’t be neatly planned out in advance.
I hope you found this advice useful! Please comment & let me know what your thoughts are regarding this language hack.
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Curve ball: something unexpected
Deal with: phrasal verb meaning resolve/ manage a problem
Odd: in this context it means occasional
Get used to: become accustomed to
Come in handy: be useful
Till: the place where you pay at the shop (US: cash register)