The very first time your instructional education eventually dips you into the combat, equipped with a weapon you’ve never had to fire before, you’ll comprehend to an agonizing degree of personality that studying a foreign language and utilizing a foreign language are two different things.
You will transcend the awkwardness and obstacles of such an event with better elegance and agility if you keep the preceding methods in mind. You’ll be speaking, reasoning, dreaming, debating, influencing, funny, composing, singing, dating, interacting, and ultimately winning in your new language before you know it!
1. Prepare, but don’t memorize
I learned this the hard way. Do NOT memorize! If you have to give a presentation, focus on internalizing the information, because you will get nervous and you will forget what you’re saying if you bank on rote memorization.
Instead, read widely and deeply on your given topic. Build your knowledge naturally so you can speak to it naturally when the time comes. Common themes and ideas will emerge the more you read (in both languages) and focus on developing a deep understanding of your material. Extract 3 main anchors of thought from your research and keep those as your guideposts for the presentation.
2. Lean on your mother tongue
When developing a presentation of any kind, focus on making sense in your mother tongue. Regardless of the language of delivery, the most important objective of communication of any kind is being clearly understood — and you do this best in your native language.
Next, practice impromptu translations of the most important ideas in your structural layout. Rehearse, but don’t write down any translations. If you get stuck trying to express an idea, look up the one or two keywords that unblock the flow.
3. Use the words you know
Especially at first, keep it simple. Rather than stumble over a complicated word or sophisticated grammar structures, gain fluency by relying on the vocabulary you’ve already mastered.
For example, I had trouble saying “desarrollar” (to develop) in Spanish for a long time, so I chose to say “crecer” (to grow) instead. My audience got my point and I sounded smarter by presenting my thoughts fluidly rather than pumping the brakes over one particular tongue twister. I also had trouble with the subjunctive tense, so when I was in doubt, I stuck to present tense until I picked up the right verb forms from listening to native speakers.
4. Practice common daily scenarios with a native speaker
If you know, for example, that you will be conducting surveys, working with similar kinds of patients, having frequent dialogues about financial markets, or fundraising, make sure you find a native buddy to role-play these scenarios with you until your responses are second nature.
5. Don’t get hung up on the grammar…or your accent
You will probably always make slight grammar mistakes and have an accent as a non-native speaker. Embrace it, because it is part of your identity as a foreign speaker of the language. While I always strive for the best pronunciation I am capable of, I am aware that I will always sound a bit, well, foreign. The most important thing is to understand and to be understood and to use your skills as the medium for exchanging ideas and experiences with other speakers of that language.
6. Don’t lose your personality
There may be a tendency at the onset of working and living in your new language environment to get stiff when speaking. You’re focused on digging up and stringing together the right words in the right order in the right accent — and it’s stressful work at first! Remember to smile, breathe, use humor when you can, and let your personality shine through the words themselves.
7. Be able to laugh at your mistakes
Being a non-native speaker, you have a lifetime of mistake-making ahead of you, so get used to it sooner rather than later. It’s not unheard of that I even completely invent a word in Spanish when sitting with the CEO of a major Paraguayan company. I know I’ve done it when a sudden hint of a smile creeps across his lips and his eyes twinkle, breaking the seriousness of our discussion on his bank’s debt-equity ratio.