sculpture conversation etienne pirot

One Chance to Wow!

Photo credit: Image by Nasalune-FcK from Pixabay

The modern globalized world requires conversation. Often that conversation happens in English. People often say, “You only get one chance to make a good impression.” When English is your second language,  how do you make a good impression? There are a lot of factors to take into consideration, like culture, so keep in mind this is from an American perspective and this list might change greatly if you were meeting someone from somewhere else.

#1 Appearance

People say you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, and that might be true. However, I find it is much better advice to dress for the job you want, not the job you have, and dressing well for a first meeting is the most important thing you can do. First impressions, even superficial, visual ones count. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

#2 Genuine Smile

It is so nice to meet someone who is smiling than someone who is not. Smiles are contagious, so often starting with a smile you will find the other person smiling back at you. This is a good time to mention that eye contact is good as well as a firm, but not overly strong handshake.

#3 Remember Names

The most beautiful sound in any language to any person is the sound of their own name. I don’t believe anyone is bad at remembering names, I believe people are bad at caring about remembering names. It’s easy to say, “I cannot remember names,” than the hard truth, “I didn’t remember your name because I didn’t care enough.”

Please take note that a name is like a new word, and it just takes repetition to memorize a new name. Dale Carnegie had a great technique he used to remember names, called a name association. You simply come up with a small phrase, rhyme, or associate their name with someone else you know to help remind you of their name in your head during the conversation.

#4 Small Talk

One of the biggest requests I get from students is to work on small talk. This comes easier to some cultures and some people than others. I will write a whole post on this topic in the future. My advice is to have some ice breakers prepared. These can be jokes, questions, anecdotes, or related to the reason for the introduction.

#5 Ask Questions

If you are good at speaking English or if you are not, it is important to ask questions. This shows that you are interested in the other person, and are actively listening to the things that they are saying. If you are not confident in English, I always recommend this because it takes the focus off of you, and allows you to listen to the other person. I advise using open questions that start with: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How..? Closed questions that result in yes or no should be followed with an open question. If your conversation partner isn’t talkative, you could get trapped with a long list of yes and no responses without getting the conversation started.

Everyone has something they like to talk to about. I will lastly remind you that most people’s favorite topic of conversation is usually themselves.

#6 Contact Information

If it is appropriate and you don’t already have the person’s contact information, be sure to ask politely for their contact information. A simple, “May I get your contact information?” will do. Thank them for their time, let them know it was nice to meet them, and if applicable, that you look forward to seeing or speaking to them again in the future. This goes for emails too! English speakers just love thanking each other, showing gratitude, and well wishing until next time.

Do you have any tips for introductions? Funny stories from a bad introduction? A good cultural exchange the first time you met someone? Share them in the comments!

Motivation is Key

What is your motivation for learning English? I bet your teachers in school never asked you. A widespread problem among English learners is that they feel forced to learn instead of wanting to learn. Any teacher will tell you that you cannot teach a student who isn’t motivated. Here, I will discuss some top reasons given for learning English, as well as some new motivating benefits of language learning.

Top Reason 1: Your job

English is the international language of business, sure. That’s not why anyone wants to learn another language, most of us wish we didn’t have to work and could pursue other interests or spend more time with our families. Given the choice between your free time and learning English, you are more likely to choose anything else over English. Additionally, there is no correlation between speaking English and making more money at work. As this research from Wharton (University of Pennsylvania) and former consulting agency LECG Europe concluded in 2005, a second language may only add 2% to your salary.

The truth is many companies pay for their workers to improve their English. Free education is a gift that would be valued by many people globally. Additionally, work can provide opportunities to practice your English, so you don’t have to save that practice for when you get home.

Top Reason 2: Future Travel

English is a common language in many parts of the world. You can travel to many countries where they local language is difficult, but restaurants, attractions, and other businesses are prepared with translations offered in English. Sometimes people want to prepare for a trip, retirement plans, or visit an English speaking country. The problem with this lies in a procrastinator’s favorite phrase, “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?”

Travel doesn’t have to be in the future. Studying abroad can be as easy as opening the internet. People used to have to drive, take ships, and ride horses to experience another culture and language. Immersion can be created within the comfort of your own home, watching videos, reading, and surrounding yourself in English. It’s never been easier.

Top Reason 3: Everyone else is better

Students often compare themselves to other people they know who can communicate in English with less of an accent, more confidence, studied abroad, or had bilingual parents. You don’t have these experiences, maybe you never will, so what is the point in trying?

You don’t have bilingual parents, or maybe they didn’t have time to teach you. You didn’t study abroad, or you have a thick accent. It’s never too late! A recent study at MIT proves that adults can master a language to nearly the same level as a child. Children do not learn better (okay, maybe pronunciation) but they also have more time. Children are not going to work, paying bills, making dinner, or doing the laundry. If you had as much free time as a child, you might advance as quickly if not quicker in a second language.

Also, no child has ever complained to me about Dora the Explorer speaking Spanish. Adult students are sometimes more stubborn than the open-minded child who wants to try everything and isn’t afraid to make mistakes.

Now for some motivating truth:

Truth 1: Learn at any age

If you didn’t learn English yet, there is still time. I didn’t start speaking French until I was 24 years old. I taught myself Spanish after age 30, and I’m currently working on German. This goes for so many multilingual people out there. You can learn later in life, and you are often a better learner than you were as a child. As this study states, your life experience, maturity, and dedication can be bigger motivational factors and aids to helping you learn better than that of a child.

So much has changed since many of my student’s were in school, and that goes for what we known about learning a language. That is why so many teachers focus on speaking and communicating rather than drilling the different tenses and drowning students in grammar. You still need tenses and grammar, but there are better ways to put this into practice.

Truth 2: Immersion now

So you didn’t study abroad, you don’t have bilingual parents, but you do have the internet! You have the ability to immerse yourself, and create some of the same experiences you would have if you lived in an English speaking country. It’s as easy as changing your settings on your email, applications, and programs you use every day. Email? Learn how to ‘send’, ‘reply’, and ‘mark as spam’. Instagram? In English, follow some English speakers, learn some new hashtags. The list is as long as the amount of time you spend in front of a screen each day.

Old school? I’m still a fan of labeling your space with Post-It notes until you can name everything in your apartment or home with ease.

Truth 3: You can do it!

There are lots of reasons people don’t succeed, but the number one reason is often self-doubt. It’s never too late to learn a language, it simply takes motivation, time, and practice. You will learn and it will take time, don’t give up! Don’t compare yourself to others! While some people seem to learn with ease, everyone will tell you it took them time to communicate basic words, practice to make full sentences, and lots more practice speaking to feel relaxed in a new language.

Do you have a reason you struggle to learn I didn’t mention here? Write in the comments and I’m happy to give some advice and suggestions.