Steve Flinders: Do you believe in ghosts?
TEXT & PHOTO: STEVE FLINDERS
I don’t personally, but I’ve met lots of people who are haunted by the ghosts of their English teachers. They are non-native speakers of English who feel that their English is not good enough for the jobs they do.
When they speak the language, they cannot escape the ghost of their old English teacher, squatting on one of their shoulders, waiting to pounce as soon as they make a mistake. Their English may be perfectly adequate for their professional needs, and yet they are so afraid to speak that they or their companies spend large amounts of money on language training to deal with the anguish.
Older French and German people suffer in particular because, in the past, the school systems in both countries emphasised not communication, but language accuracy. The problem is compounded by the fact that when they sign up for language training, they say they need more grammar. In other words, they want to try to learn in the same way as had failed them before. I prefer the maxim: “If what you’re doing isn’t working, try something different.” They should step back and rethink.
In fact, it’s not language training they need but counselling – a friendly voice to boost their self-confidence and to demonstrate to them that their linguistic glass is, in most cases, more than half full rather than almost empty, as they believe. They also need to put the issue of their language ability into the wider context of what competences we need for good international communication.
Yes, they need an operational level in English, but that alone won’t guarantee success. We should also be competent in the professional communication skills needed to present, meet, negotiate and socialise in whatever lingua franca we work in. We need to learn skills and behaviours which will serve us well in different intercultural settings. We need interpersonal skills to be able to establish rapport, build relationships and manage conflict across cultures. We need to learn how to work in international teams and harness the energies of diverse groups of people.
These are exciting challenges but a far cry from the notion that the correct usage of the present perfect tense is the key to professional success. If you’re a non-native speaker, don’t worry about what other people may think of your English. Just brush that ghost from your shoulder and enjoy discovering your own international communication style.
Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally:
Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally: firstname.lastname@example.org. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Discover Benelux.
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