How do you communicate when you don’t speak the language?

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Dessau, Germany

Every year for the past four years, my Easter has looked like this: my partner and I head to Germany, where he is from, and spend a few days visiting family and friends. We see beautiful countryside, visit castles, get fresh air, eat a lot of bread, meat and cheese and drink a lot of beer. Here’s the catch: I don’t speak German. And several members of his family (most notably his mother and father) don’t speak English. And while other friends and family do speak English, naturally (and understandably) they would prefer to speak German.

As a voice and communication coach whose job it is to analyze and play with language, being in Germany and being often unable to communicate is always a humbling experience. While it has definitely been hard, I also believe it’s one of the most important experiences of my life. Language and conversation is my most precious way of connecting to people— you learn a lot about yourself when your language, or your typical means of connection, is taken away from you.

So what to do when you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know the language? How can you communicate? You may not choose to spend your life with a partner whose first language is different than yours, but we will hopefully all get the experience to visit and/or work in other countries and cultures, so let’s consider some useful communication tools when your first language is stripped away from you:

Learn the language!: Ok, this may seem obvious, but if you are going to visit or work in another culture, take steps to learn the language. Depending on how much you are going to be immersed in the new culture, this can seem overwhelming at first. For the first couple of years with my partner, I was so overwhelmed by the idea of learning German that I avoided it completely, because I felt like I had to become fluent immediately. Now I am a lot more realistic with my goals. There are many ways of flexibly learning a new language on your own timescale for a reasonable price. I have worked with Rosetta Stone, which is an excellent computer resource, and for the last couple of years I have made a commitment of practicing German on an app called Duolingo for five minutes every day. That doesn’t seem like much, but it’s the consistency that matters. The last few times I’ve been in Germany I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve been able to understand and speak, and it has meant so much to those around me that I have made this effort.

Breathe with the vulnerability: Not knowing or feeling comfortable in a language can feel extremely vulnerable, especially when you are the only person in the room who is in that situation or when you are in a new country where you need to get around and don’t know your surroundings. It’s helpful to keep breathing and feel grounded in the space you’re in. Whenever you start to feel vulnerable or lost, feel where your feet are touching the floor, or if you are sitting, be aware of where your sit bones are supporting you in the chair. Put a hand on your belly and feel how it moves towards your hand when you breathe in and away from your hand when you breathe out. These actions will help you ground and keep you from panicking. They will also make it easier for you to listen when you are trying to grab hold of a language you don’t totally understand.

Be aware of your body language: When you don’t have access to verbal communication, body language becomes even more important. For my first few trips to Germany, when I didn’t know German at all, I had no idea how to interact in group conversations. Do I look at the person talking and act like I am listening when he/she knows I have no idea what’s being said? I found myself nodding my head when people were talking (a habit I have in my own culture that I am trying to be aware of— we often nod to signal we are listening but it’s something I try to be mindful of, because it signals agreement when that’s not always how I feel), and then feeling ridiculous because I was nodding at people when they knew I had no idea what they were talking about! So what to do? If you are in a group conversation, use your body in a way that looks engaged and like you are listening, even if you don’t understand. It will help you pick up new words if you are trying to learn the language, and it will make those around you realize you are making the effort to learn. Everyone likes when you make an effort to learn something about them, including their language. You can even turn it into a game for yourself. Watch how they use their bodies in communication. Notice if you are naturally mirroring them, or try mirroring them and see what that feels like. This helps you stay active and engaged. If you totally break eye contact or stop listening, it gives the impression of boredom— perhaps not an impression you want to leave when you are visiting another culture.

Intercultural communication is an increasingly necessary skill in this ever-globalizing world. While many people do speak English, it’s not fair to always expect them to do so, especially when you are in their culture. So if you find yourself, whether for professional or personal reasons, in a different culture where the first language isn’t English, hopefully these tips will be helpful to you!

Do you have any other thoughts about how to communicate when language is taken away? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Take good care,

Christine

Articulation Work for Camera

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Yet another Anchorman classic

Hey Friends,

I couldn’t help myself and had to use another Anchorman reference for our second sequence for camera work. This is the sequel to our post from a couple of weeks ago about Voice for Camera.  The first sequence focused on your vocal power, and this one focuses more on your speech clarity. Both are important to being understood. This is a great sequence if you work on camera or you are using microphones at live “performance” events (whether that be acting or giving presentations).

Let us know how it goes!

Take good care,

Christine & Lindsay

 

Be a Springtime Blossom! Tips for Spring Allergies and Vocal Care

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Hello Friends!

First of all, Happy Spring! We are very happy to see flowers blooming, the days growing longer, and even getting that little bit warmer in London, although like all early spring days things are certainly changeable. For some (including me), this changeability can cause imbalances in the sinuses and, trying to be as tasteful as possible, hefty production of mucus, which can leave my throat itchy and uncomfortable with post-nasal drip and bring an unhealthy rasp to my voice. It’s not fun and can impact range, breath support, and resonance. But no one should miss out on the fun of spring and of course there are always ways to support ourselves through pungent, pollinated times.

To that end, we thought it would be helpful to share some strategies for coping with the allergy and sinus challenges spring can pose. Because we are not ENTs or allergists these are not medical suggestions but natural means for relief that we have found effective. Please ensure you seek the advice of a doctor for your allergies, especially if you’re being severely affected. We just hope these thoughts will encourage some mindful self-care.

1. Starting with the obvious and eternal advice: HYDRATE

We regularly mention hydration on this blog so I’ll stick to the spring-relevant points here. When temperatures are going up and we’re feeling warmer and perhaps sweating a bit more, drinking hydrating fluids is very important for overall health. In the case of assisting allergies and sinuses, maintaining a good level of hydration can dilute mucus thickness and combat the drying effect that allergy medications like antihistamines and decongestants have on the throat. Just remember drinking water does not instantly hydrate your throat, vital organs reap the benefits first. By some measures it takes at least 20 minutes for your throat and vocal folds to feel any benefit of drinking water while some sticklers say overall hydration is only achieved after 4 hours. Don’t drive yourself crazy with these timelines, just drink throughout the day. A glass of water first thing in the morning and before bed will help too. Spring is a great time of year to make some trendy water infusions so pile in the mint, strawberry, and cucumber!

2. Take a sinus rinse…NETI POT

We could probably write an entire manifesto on Neti pots. Using them has been a game-changer in terms of caring for our voices while living in a big city and suffering from sensitive sinuses. Because they only use salt packets and water we’ve found them to be a great alternative to nasal sprays. Neti pots and salt packets can be found in the allergy treatment sections of drugstores or on Amazon. A written explanation of how to use them is difficult but luckily the amazing Adriene Mishler of Yoga With Adriene has a video on the subject. Check it out and see what you think. For our part, we’ve looked back.

3. Soothing Smells…AROMATHERAPY

This is a simple suggestion, but sometimes experiencing lots of congestion during warmer weather can feel very oppressive. A little essential oil action can go a long way. My preferred oils for this scenario are peppermint and eucalyptus. Just putting a few drops on a tissue, holding it to my nose and gently breathing in goes a long way. I also like to place a few drops on my pillow before bed. Whether it’s essential oils or a lavender infused eye pillow, soothing smell and sensory stimulation can be an easy way to alleviate pressure and provide yourself with some lovely smells!

4. Maintain useful habits…BREATHE AND MOVE

When we don’t feel well it’s tempting to feel like moving should be put on the back burner. Despite this, stretching and tying movement to breath offers the chance to find gentle relief through working muscles and moving the breath, which will gently work on the throat and sinuses. Turning to Adriene again, this is a sequence I like to do when I’m feeling particularly bad (it’s really great for a bad cold as well as allergies).

5. Fresh air, plenty of sleep, good food…SELF CARE

When your allergies are making you all kinds of sniffly don’t shut the windows and stay in a stuffy room, let some air in and get outside. It will help you acclimate to the changes in pollen levels and avoid the dust you find indoors. Pair this with getting enough sleep and eating plenty of good vitamin-packed foods. Dust off that nutri bullet, personal blender, giant blender and make some smoothies! In short, find ways to give yourself extra healthy support.

Please let us know what you find most helpful and we would love to hear your favorite strategies!

Take Care and Be Well,

Lindsay and Christine