Languages: What is efficient communication?

The last week and a half I have come across several situations where people have questions when it comes to communicating in another language; « will I be able to explain my mentor what I really mean? », « I would prefer a coach that speaks the same language as me », « will I be able to transmit the training content in what is my fourth language? », « what language level can I expect from my foreign staff? »

All very relevant questions in our criss-crossing international world. We want to say what we mean, and we want others to receive what we send – which can be hard enough even when we speak the same mother tongue..

It is good that we strive to communicate efficiently, and at an advanced level when speaking a foreign language. But.. these days I find that we often need to be pragmatic and rather go for « what is good enough ». Which brings me to another question; how do we know what is good enough?

I wonder whether the answer lies in asking two key questions;

  • Did I express what I wanted? (even if it took longer than you wanted)

  • Did the receiver get the message that I wanted to transmit? (you’d better check )

Getting a « yes » to both, in principal communication should be good enough, whether it is oral or written communication. If you get « no » or « maybe », ask yourself what you could have done differently. And if you are a manager of someone who is trying to learn your language, you can ask these questions to your employee to help him/her progressing.

If you convey uncertainty, that is what will be received. If you talk with confidence, even knowing you make lots of mistakes, the receiver will look beyond your flaws and listen to the message you are giving (well, in reality you can’t win them all, some people don’t like others messing with their language, but you can comfort yourself with that they are losing out on some funny perspectives). I have seen people delivering speaches in really poor English, but with such charm and ease that a strong accent, mistakes, asking people for help to find words, and strange translations only added colour and fun to the presentation.

And what if you have an accent? It is likely it will never go away, so just take it on board as part of your personality! Some people do succeed in copying the accent of the language they are learning, which is good to have as a goal, but not a must. Main thing is that people understand you, not that you sound exactly like them.

For those of you who are so lucky to have English as a your mother tongue, I would recommend to start learning another language. When traveling you will likely connect with people at another level, you get great brain exercise (!) and you will probably start communicating more efficiently with all those foreigners who are trying hard to master your language.. (e.g « creative » explanations are easier to understand when you have to be « creative » in another language yourself)

In short: Effective communication in a foreign language in my eyes means; receiver and sender understand the same thing, and there is willingness from both sides to be creative and open (– and some humour doesn’t hurt either… ) Bonne chance! Good luck! Lykke til! Viel Glück!

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