Finns tend to think that talking, or namely pronunciation is the key to successful and effective communication in a foreign language. Well, it sure is a factor but only one factor amongst many important factors. Different accents, intonation patterns, speech styles or dialects will be heard during communication contexts, but do they really have a large impact on the message? How important are words, actual topics or facts discussed?
Would it be more productive –and a bit more relaxed!- to approach the whole issue from a new perspective? How about we consider listening, reading, writing and talking as a whole? Let’s see what a checklist would look like.
- When writing, concentrate on proper vocabulary and good grammar: you are not there in person to explain what your text means. This is true in both official and unofficial documents and social media usage.
- When listening, really listen: Not just be present, but listen. Active listening is often an underrated and extremely useful (and appreciated!) skill.
- Reading foreign language texts is usually seen as the easiest part of language learning and usage since it does not necessarily have any real communication –why not just sit down and read! However, please bear in mind that misunderstandings may appear if you do not consider the context of the e-mail you are reading, for instance. Have you ever thought that a certain message to you has been, for example, a bit negative in tone? Perhaps even hostile? Do questions from customers sometimes seem confrontational, unclear or might it just be that you are reading them from your perspective?
- Talking is so much more than chatting, talking on the phone, face-to-face, delivering oral presentations or taking part in meetings. Distinguish the difference between oral production and oral interaction: sometimes you have time to prepare and sometimes you need to act spontaneously. These skills in a given foreign language are very different.
So what is the outcome? Don’t think that you cannot be a success if your accent is a strong Finnish accent –it is not even a hindrance. It may even be an asset. Be fearless, active and think positively. Represent your company in the best way you can –and be prepared to learn more from others.
Writer: Niina Kovalainen, Laurea UAS