Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Overcoming stuttering by accepting it

Their ranks are small: A tiny percentage of childhood stutterers stay that way as adults, but little is known about the condition.  But for adults who speak with a stutter, the stigma--and anxiety associated with it--may be the biggest barrier to progess. So says this thoughtful article on "Syllables and Self-Esteem" in Bostonia magazine, describing a program at Boston University that works with stutterers to get them to practice their stuttering, talk about it and even announce it to their audiences. One law professor, a longtime stutter said of the therapy: 
The effect has been amazing....The number of times I’ve had a speech block has decreased almost entirely. I’m not trying to hide, not ashamed. I’m not as fluent as other people, but it doesn’t mean I’m not fit for my job.
Check out the article, a useful resource if you stutter or know someone who does.

"How should I present in my second language?"

This month, I want to know "Who are you? What are you looking for here?"  Follow the link to share your reasons, questions and  speaking challenges. Here's one from Cate, who wrote that one of her challenges is:
...presenting in your second language. I hate presenting in French because I feel like I don't express myself as well as in English and I'm much less comfortable with back and forth. I'm getting pushed into it anyway, so I need to find a way of getting more comfortable in it.
French is my second language, too -- I'm lucky to have a village in the north of France, Gravelines, with my family name (the picture above is a Georges Seurat painting of the canal there).  But I comprehend and hear French faster than I can speak, until I get warmed up--and I'd be nervous about presenting in French.  In the same way, many of my trainees come to English as their second language, and I've even trained an American who was giving a speech in Chinese.

One great perspective for speakers and for speechwriters who pen talks for non-native speakers of any language is this essay by William Zinsser on "Writing English in a Second Language." (Speakers, just substitute "speaking" for "writing" and it'll work.) In it, he says:
I have four principles of writing good English. They are Clarity, Simplicity, Brevity, and Humanity.
The thing is, Zinsser might say (and has said) that about any other type of wordsmithing, and I say you should apply those rules to public speaking in any language, even your own.  An audience of any culture can appreciate a non-native speaker who can keep to those guideposts, and heaven knows we've all heard speaker in our own languages who couldn't keep to these rules. 

But I know Cate's looking for more help than that, so here are some additional ideas to try:
  • Seek out and understand the qualities of your second language.  Zinsser and his students describe different languages as full of adjectives, or loaded with proverbs. How do the people of your second language express themselves? Then focus on those words, idioms and expressions. Know the role those words play and use them accordingly.  Being able to toss out a "tant pis" (never mind) or another colloquialism can win over a skeptical crowd and establish your credibility.  In French, your gestures and facial expression may be half the engine for powering your words--learn some basic gestures that go with the words you are using.
  • Practice with a friend whose first language is your second language.  Ideally, find a friendly critic who won't grill you over small points, but who can advise you on a few shortcuts, grace notes and niceties to add that will win over your audience--and who can identify any truly embarrassing errors.
  • Practice with a friend who doesn't understand that language at all.  I don't speak Chinese, though I know some words and more about the culture. But in coaching my client who does speak Chinese, I could identify word patterns that were repeated too often, or areas where she seemed to get uncomfortable and trip up--prompting a rewording or change in approach.
  • Recruit a partner for the Q&A:  The "back and forth" of questions and answers--extemporaneous speaking at its most challenging--is tough enough in your own language.  Find a colleague or even an audience member who can help you translate, and let the audience know that's what you're doing.  They'll appreciate the effort.
Also know that the usual rules--for example, that the audience can't see your anxiousness, allowing you to fake your confidence--apply in any language. Check the links below for more helps that work across borders, and share your tips for speaking in a second language in the comments.

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Related posts:  Finding words in a new language

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Take charge of your introduction

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