• Cecilia Viana

If you are learning a language, speak it as if you were playing a video game

This is a piece of advice given by Marianna Pascal, an inspiring Canadian woman who may be familiar to those who have watched the movie The Twilight Zone. Pascal was an actress, but she made a drastic change of audience, which now consists of Asian executives and work teams who need to improve their English for their business.

The importance of attitude

According to Marianna, how effectively a person communicates has little to do with their level of English, but a lot to do with their attitude. There are people who have a low level of English, but who can communicate very well. How do they do that? Marianna compares studying English to studying piano. She says that her daughter studied piano, although she hated it, and was terrified before each class because she dreaded making mistakes. Going back to our topic, language, some people feel terrified before a conversation, for fear of being judged for the mistakes they may make. Can you relate?

The image people have of themselves is very important. Continuing with the previous analogy, just as a piano student knows what a good pianist sounds like, an English student knows what correct English sounds like and how much work must be done to achieve such a level. Thinking I don't speak well and have a long way to go before I can speak properly can be overwhelming.

Two epiphanies

In a cybercafé, Marianna observed the behavior of a boy who was playing one of those games that consist in shooting and killing anyone on the screen, and from the number of shots and the few casualties, she deduced that he was not good at playing. However, the boy played with pleasure, did not give up, and kept shooting. His friends looked at him, but he did not feel intimidated, he seemed not to be afraid of being judged, on the contrary, his smile indicated that he was enjoying himself. It was then that Marianna realized that this was the key, that attitude was the important thing.

Another of her epiphanies occurred in a pharmacy. She had to buy a product for which there were too many options, so many that she didn't know which one to buy, so she decided to ask for help. She spoke to two people. The first had the typical terrified look of someone who is afraid of talking to a native. Marianna asked the question, and the woman spoke very quickly and gave her so much information that in the end her answer was not clear at all. Marianna didn't understand, so she asked the other woman, who had a very low level of English, but a different attitude. In fact, it was her who asked Marianna questions in order to help her better. Her answers were clear and concise, not an extra word (maybe a few less, but the message got through - "Your brain OK or not?" - what else do you need, right?).

After this experience, Marianna deduced that there are two types of communicators:

  • Those who have a high level of English, but who focus on themselves and on not making mistakes. These are not effective.

  • Those who have a low level of English, but who focus on the other person. These are effective.

Where does this negative attitude come from?

According to Marianna, English is not an art to be mastered, but rather a tool that helps us achieve a result. The problem is that in schools the language is not taught as a tool to play with. Marianna talks about the tests and how, because of a spelling mistake, an answer can be considered incorrect. In other words, the fear of error is instilled. But in real life, what is it that really matters? Understanding the other person and being able to do something.

People develop an attitude towards English in school, and in adulthood, they carry it over into their lives and work. This negative attitude can be detrimental when it comes to communicating: if you are in a conversation trying to give someone a result without making any mistakes, your brain will want to do many things at the same time, and it will shut down.

The three symptoms that indicate that your brain is shutting down:

  1. You stop listening. Someone is talking to you and you are so busy thinking about how to respond correctly that you don't hear what the other person is saying.

  2. The vocabulary you know disappears.

  3. You may feel insecure because you cannot express yourself clearly, but the other person may misinterpret this as insecurity in your ability to do your job.

How to speak with confidence?

When you talk to someone, do not focus on yourself, but on the other person and the result you want to achieve. English is not an art that you must master, but a tool that belongs to you. Although Marianna talks about English, her ideas can be applied to the learning of any language.

Go beyond my notes and watch Marianna Pascal's Ted talk, it will be time well spent!

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