Attitude, not accuracy, the key to speaking a foreign language

Learning a new language as an expat? One expert suggests getting into the mindset of someone who doesn’t worry about perfection. Instead use the language as you would any tool – to get the job done.

Fear of failure

How well somebody communicates in a new language has very little to do with their language level and a lot more to do with their attitude. That’s the belief of Marianna Pascal, a communication skills trainer, who noticed that many of her higher level students froze up when speaking English. Why? For the same reason Pascal’s daughter dreaded going to piano lessons – they were scared of making mistakes.

Calm and clear

Among all of her students, however, she noticed an exception: an engineer, who had a relatively low command of English but seemingly no fear of failure. Whenever he tried to communicate his message he did so very effectively. Just as important – as communication is always a dialogue – he also listened attentively to the other speaker.

No self-consciousness

So Pascal began to wonder what was the engineer’s secret power. She guessed that the engineer was simply entirely focused on the other person, not himself. Therefore, if her high-level language learners could avoid focusing on themselves, and speak with less self-consciousness, they would communicate more effectively, too.

What’s your goal?

Can this observation help expats? Amongst our members, there are language learners with very different goals. Some – perhaps on a short assignment – are looking to learn the basics and no more. Some are determined to speak the language of their host country fluently so they can enter the workforce. But, no matter what your ambitions are, everyone needs to communicate with others. Pascal’s advice might seem to better suit low level speakers, who just wish to communicate with shopkeepers, taxi drivers or waiters. For those who are intensively studying a language and need to pass a test, the advice might not seem as useful.

Less pressure

However, if we focus on every expat’s shared goal – to be fulfilled and feel like a member of their community – the advice suits everyone. So there’s no harm in seeking out situations where you can relax and practise speaking with less pressure. That will make it easier to not  worry about making mistakes so you can communicate effectively with others.

View Marianna Pascal’s TedTalk

This article was originally published for the thousands of expat partners that Global Connection supports around the globe. It is reproduced here in its original form.