Q: How can I improve my English?
Language evolves and grows to adapt to the group that is living it – age, occupation and peer groups too. Your answer is to stay current and active. Live and practice your language skills.
Learn your language basics. This goes for native speakers and those new to English speaking, reading and writing.
New to English? I advise my students to listen to increase their experience of English. Tune your ear by listening to topics you enjoy and you’ll retain more of the language and be more comfortable when it’s your turn to speak or listen to other people. Choose books on tape, CD or MP3 and radio.
Watching movies? Older films and TV shows feature slower and clearer speaking. Your bonus is a better understanding of popular culture as well as hearing and seeing a language ‘live’.
Q: I get nervous when I don’t understand everything that is said. How can I add to the conversations around me and be accepted?
Here’s the deal on participating. First you listen and pay attention to what people are talking about. If you don’t understand something, it’s OK to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that clearly. Can you please repeat it so I don’t miss your meaning?”
Usually people talk about what interests them and will be happy to repeat it. When they do this, they usually use everyday verbal language. So, listen for the structure we learned in school, but be alert to local phrases and references from sports, culture, art and the news around you in that particular community or profession. Soon you’ll be ‘speaking their language’ and be ready to contribute too.
Q: I worry that my accent spoils my chances of good conversation.
Personally, I am a fan of accents because in my 25 years as a public relations specialist I looked for things that would differentiate my clients from others. Our special features are what make us memorable.
I do understand that when we just want to fit in we might feel vulnerable by sounding so different. Others frustrated, blame their accents for not getting a job or turning away possible friends. Your answer lies in being patient with others, but also being clear on what you offer.
EVERY ONE of us has an accent – to someone’s ear. Give people a reason to see past your charming accent – to you and to your message.
If you are very self conscious, or are not speaking CLEARLY then you should take measures to modify, or relax your accent so that you can make your contribution in your community or at your workplace can be heard.
Q What I really need is a job. I go to networking meetings when I can but no one is really helping me.
Fair or not, sometimes we must gather the energy to meet people more than half way. Even in situations where we feel at our greatest need, it is still wise to work to get people’s attention with a clear and positive message.
More on networking do’s and don’ts and ‘secrets’ in future columns. For now, do keep in mind the attitudes and suggestions given in previous columns:
Circulate. Listen. Greet people appropriately. See how you can be of service. Be clear about what you offer. Be clear about what you would find useful. Pick ONE thing to ask for specifically. Everyone is busy and they have their own goals, so keep it light but follow up. Smile and remember to say thank you. Someone has shared themselves and their time with you.
Thank you to readers of my Communication Culture Column in The Afro News who shared times when a family, an agency or an “angel” in the community helped them.
In the end, we all find ourselves on our own. Shopping. Working. Studying. Hoping for the opportunity to meet a friend. No matter how much money or support we have, each of us must find a way to connect to an individual or group.
I’d love to help you access the connective power of conversation and work with you directly. To present yourself effectively and improve your opportunities at work or in your social life, let’s connect. Send me your message on the Contact form.