Friday, September 26, 2008

Fun Friday: Pronunciation Rhyme

Here's a short rhyme I received in an email. I'm not sure who wrote it, but it's a great example of crazy English pronunciation rules. Enjoy!

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through?

Well done!
And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead: it's said like bed, not bead--
For goodness' sake, don't call it deed!

Watch out for meat and great and threat,
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.)
A moth is not a moth in mother
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,

And here is not a match for there,
And dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there's dose and rose and lose--
Just look them up--and goose and choose,

And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go, and thwart and cart--
Come, come I've hardly made a start!

A dreadful language? Why man alive!
I'd learned to talk it when I was five,
And yet to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn't learned at fifty-five!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Public Speaking: 5 Mistakes Public Speakers Make

Have you ever been disappointed by the quality of some speakers at a conference? I think all of us have been in that situation. Here are the top 7 mistakes public speakers make and how you can avoid them.

1. They don't look professional
It really doesn't matter if you just started your public speaking career or if you're the biggest name on the block, the rule still applies: always look your best.

2. They read their speeches
There's nothing worse than watching a speaker read his/her speech. You shouldn't memorize your speech word for word, and there's nothing wrong with referring to notes, but please, don't read from start to finish!

3. They don't speak clearly
Remember to use large facial movements when you speak. Your mouth needs to open to speak clearly. Be careful that you don't speak too quickly and be sure to pause between points so we can digest what you've said and follow what you're saying.

4. They have illegible visual aides
Your PowerPoint slides, flip charts, white board or whatever you might be using should also be nice and clear. Don't clutter your visual aides with lots of writing that is too small for your audience to read.

5. They give examples that don't make sense to the audience
When it comes to connecting with your audience, do your homework. You need to know something about the people you are speaking to in order to use examples and stories that make sense to them. This is especially true when you're speaking to international audiences made up of cultures different than your own.

Do you see yourself in any of these points? Do you best to change your ways. Your audience will thank you.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Communication Etiquette: Post-meeting Follow-up

When you meet a new client for the first time, do you do any follow up with them after the meeting? It is common courtesy to send off a quick email (at the least) to say that it was nice to meet the person. Try to add a special detail from your conversation that shows you aren't just sending a form letter.

Here's an example of a short and sweet follow-up letter you could send:

Dear John

After so many emails back and forth, it was great to finally meet you today. I enjoyed hearing about your company and what you do, and look forward to working with you in the near future.

I hope your children feel better soon. It must be awful when both are sick at the same time!

All the best

The key is to simply be yourself. Don't think that you need to use impressive language or show off a huge vocabulary. Be as sincere as you (hopefully) were at the meeting.

Try to send your "great to meet you" mail as soon as possible. I try to send it as soon as I get back to the office (or home) from the meeting. Then when they get back and check their mail, my note will be there waiting for them. It makes a fabulous impression, shows that you care about the person and that you hope to build a relationship with him or her.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

English Language: Raising a Bilingual or Multilingual Child

For those of you who don't know, my husband is Danish, so of course we speak both English and Danish to our 3 month old daughter and have plans to raise her as a full bilingual. It surprises me how often I get questions and comments about our choice to do so.

Just last weekend after a Danish friend heard me speaking English to my daughter she shockingly said, "You speak English to her?! Isn't she going to be confused?" Another Chinese friend once told me that my daughter won't be able to speak "for years" because it "takes longer" when children learn more than one language at once. Even my husband has fears that our daughter will end up speaking Danish with an accent since she doesn't hear it as much as English.

Even though there are these (and other) fears, the truth remains that our children are growing up in an increasingly global world. More and more parents are trying to teach their children multiple languages from a young age hoping that it will benefit them in the long term.

So what do the linguists say?

First of all it's important to understand how children learn language. When we are born we have an innate capability for speech. Barring a specific speech impediment or physical disability we have the capability to produce every sound in every language perfectly. Over time a process called "perceptual narrowing" occurs where we begin to figure out which sounds we need for our own language(s) and we focus on those sounds and ignore any other sounds.

This is why language input is important from a young age. My husband's fear of our daughter developing an American English accent on her Danish is unwarranted because first of all, I don't speak Danish to her (more on that later) and secondly, my husband spends every moment he can speaking, reading and singing Danish to her. I also try to supplement that with Danish music CDs and videos in the background so she hears the sounds.

When I was learning about first language acquisition during my time at university, the one-parent, one-language system was still widely recommended. What this means is that each parent should only speak one language to the child (ie: I speak English, my husband speaks Danish) so that the child doesn't get confused. More recent studies suggest that children actually don't get confused and when they switch between two languages or use two languages simultaneously (this is called code switching) it is a sign of mastery of the languages.

Personally, I still feel that the one-parent, one-language system is the best way to go. This is purely based on my own experience with language. I personally find it confusing and feel that my language skills are diminished when my husband and I switch back and forth between languages. I feel that it's harder to master a language if you allow yourself to "fill in the blanks" with another language. Code switching is actually a much more involved process than "filling in the blanks" and has many nuances, but we won't discuss this here.

I also choose to only speak English to my daughter because it feels more natural speaking my native language to my child. No matter how fluent you become in a foreign language, I truly believe that you will never be able to express yourself in exactly the same way as your native tongue permits.

Many parents are scared to introduce multiple languages because they fear it will "take longer" for a bilingual child to start speaking or that there could be "language delays" in the child's speech. There are no linguistic studies that support this argument, and that's that!

So what can you do if you want your child to grow up bilingual or multilingual? Here are a few ideas:

1. Make sure that your child has live interaction with language speakers. Videos and music can be supplemented but will not be as effective as a real person.

2. Read to your child

3. Talk about many different subjects in many situations in order to build a larger vocabulary.

4. However you choose to introduce two languages (one-parent, one-language or speaking the minority language at home) be consistent.

5. Gently guide your children in the two languages. Don't be harsh or demeaning when they make mistakes (and they will). You want them to develop a love of languages, not be scared to speak them.

6. Remember that learning languages is hard. We always say that children learn languages easily, but remember, they usually can't carry on meaningful conversations with strangers until they are around 5 years old! Adults can actually master languages much more quickly! Give your children the time they need to be comfortable with language.

Once you make the decision to raise your children bilingually, stick to it! A language is the greatest gift you can give another person. You can open new doors and opportunities for your children that might not have been there could they not speak additional language. I'm sure that, one day, my daughter will thank me - in Danish and English.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Public Speaking: Master the 3 Vs for Speaking Success!

When you are preparing your speech, don't just think about the words you use. Believe it or not, they're the least important part of your message!

When we communicate face-to-face, only 7% of our message is conveyed by the words that we use. This is called the Verbal element of our message. Our tone of voice, volume and pronunciation make up the Vocal element which conveys 38% of our message. The largest piece of the message pie goes to the third V, the Visual element. This comprises our gestures, facial expressions and body language and conveys a whopping 55% of our overall message.

The key to successful, influential communication is knowing how to make these three Vs work for you.

When you first meet a person, your three Vs should be perfectly aligned. When you say, "It's nice to meet you," it shouldn't just be a phrase. Your tone and body language should also mirror this sentiment. If they don't, the person you met will know from your first words that something is "off."

When you are speaking in public, you also need your 3 Vs to mesh. If your body language says one thing, but your words and voice another, your audience won't trust you or your message. You can't preach about confidence, but look and sound insecure. You'll come across as being superficial - the kiss of death for any public speaker.

Of course there are times when you might purposely mismatch your 3 Vs. Sarcasm is a good example. When your words and your tone don't match, tone wins and your message is understood as being sarcastic. For example, you could honestly say, "I just love pizza!" Or if you've had pizza five nights in a row and someone asks if you want pizza for dinner you might sarcastically say, "You know me. I just looooovvvveeee pizza..." Even though your words say that you love pizza, your tone and the delivery of your message sends quite a different message.

I've mastered another use for the 3 Vs in my relationship with my husband. He asks me if he can go golfing on Saturday and I say, "Sure, honey, if you want to." My words are positive, but the tone is just slightly off. Not off enough to be sarcastic, but just off enough that his little feelers go out and he knows something bad is happening, but he's not quite sure what. When he puts the message together with my blasé body language he figures out that maybe Saturday isn't the best day to go golfing. I don't think I'm the only woman that's mastered this tactic! I'm probably just the only one who's honest enough to admit that I know what I'm doing!

Try observing the 3 Vs in action when you speak with different people in different situations. As you begin to tune in to how people convey their messages you'll find that it's easier to adjust your own.