Thoughts on managing expectations

Managing expectations

I remember working with a client some time ago who had become quite frustrated and unhappy. Our sessions were coming to an end, but the client hadn’t achieved what he’d expected to.

He had expected to transform his native accent into a Standard North American accent in eight weeks. I thought I’d been very clear, that it takes at least eight weeks for changes to even begin to take root.

Accent modification … accent management … call it whatever you like is a process. It’s important to be clear about what can be reasonably achieved in a given amount of time.

But prospective clients sometimes have ambitious ideas about outcomes. Massive change —­ instant results.

It was the first time that I had worked with a client in a general way, i.e., not working on a specific project. I had simply provided my rates. The client had paid for a number of hours. And off we went, with  no clear objective.

My client was not happy and it was a hard lesson for me. I admit I had wanted to be a “people pleaser.”

So how do we manage expectations and avoid misunderstandings?

Transparency

It’s important to have an honest conversation from the outset.

But how?

People are often ready and willing to talk about their goals. But it can be far more challenging to suss out needs. Frequently, the issue isn’t really a radical change to someone’s accent. In fact, it may not be about their accent at all. It may be about a communication style, their presentation or listening skills, vocabulary, vocal variety, body language, or simple (and not so simple) relationship-building skills.

So how do we go about getting to the heart of the matter?

Talk

Before you even begin working together:

  • Keep asking questions until you’ve exhausted the discussion.
  • Listen carefully and observe. Ask follow-up questions.
  • Clarify what the client hopes to accomplish.
  • Make it clear that the client must be prepared to do the work, and to work diligently and consistently.
  • Be honest about what you can and cannot provide
  • Make it clear that long-standing habits take a long time to correct. There are no quick fixes.
  • Be transparent about challenges and obstacles.
  • Set realistic deadlines with realistic deliverables.
  • Be prepared to walk away if you feel your client’s goals are unreasonable or you know you can’t help them.

It seems so obvious now. I wish I’d realized it back then, for my client’s sake and my own.

Thoughts on taking language to the streets

taking language to the streets

In my blog two weeks ago, Thoughts on building up your public speaking confidence, I talked about one way of overcoming the fear of speaking in front of people, joining #Toastmasters. I loved the response from @Anesh Daya on #LinkedIn, who commented that people can practise by “taking language to the streets.” In other words, every moment is an opportunity to practise.

As hatred spews around us and acts of violence increase, we can use our voices to spread messages of compassion, unity and non-violence.

We can clarify our thoughts, listen with attention, breathe deeply and use every moment, to practise the words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs that embrace others and make us whole. We can take language to the streets, talking with everyone we can to build self-confidence and simultaneously create trust and respect.

The sounds will never be perfect, so don’t wait for perfection. There’s no such thing. What we strive for is clarity of intention, intelligibility, connection, and the power of empathy, compassion and love.

The spoken word is potent. With practice, we can use it to motivate others. And in motivating others, we continually recreate, in ourselves, the motivation to keep going.

For a smile in dark times, check out this week’s one-minute word at The Canadian Pronunciation Coach YouTube.

Thoughts on coaches as “motivators”

coach-motivators

There can be so many different factors that affect intelligibility. It’s a combination of  incorrect pronunciation of words, rhythm, intonation, volume, word stress ….

So how do we “measure out” corrections when we have limited hours with clients and so much we all want to achieve? Give too many, too quickly, too soon, too forcefully, and it’s easy to overwhelm and discourage.

Our clients are often busy people with careers and families. They’re also, often, successful, hard-working and tired. Though we think that age brings patience, often successful people are proud and confident of their achievements. High achievers can also get discouraged in a new endeavour that demands changes to entrenched habits tied into their identity.

We need to be mindful and ready to adapt to their needs. Less can be more.

And we need to model and motivate.

We want them to look forward to these “extracurricular” studies. We want to motivate them to practise wherever they can, with whatever time they have. In some ways, as demanding as learning new communication skills can be, our classes and their individual practice can be a beautiful refuge from the pressures of workplace and family.

We need to make their classes joyful and uplifting. More than just informative or instructive, we need to energize and encourage.

Whether we’re working with groups or coaching individuals, our exuberance should be infectious and our support –– unambiguous.

Everyone can learn … everyone. If we can help them to be patient and forgiving of themselves. If we can inspire them to adopt realistic expectations. A plateau precedes progress. And the most minuscule improvement is a step forward and deserves celebration.

If we can be coaches and motivators, we can work with a recipe that will fuel the success of our clients.

Your thoughts are most welcome.

Don’t forget to check out this week’s One-Minute Words 

Thoughts on the “music” of English and the “art” of the sale

Music of English & art of the sale

With so much out there on the internet these days, it can be harder and harder to get your voice heard selling in the world of interaction with real live people.

So, more than ever, it’s about building relationships, listening, connecting.

But while it’s important to be able to listen, it’s also important to draw people in.

And sometimes, when the pronunciation, rhythm and intonation get in the way, it’s harder to connect.

Of course, when certain vowels or consonants are incorrectly pronounced, it can cause confusion. And when the listener stops listening to figure out just what was said, speaker and listener go out of sync.

The fact is we may not have 20 minutes or half an hour for the listener to adjust. The brain has already done a backflip, and it takes a moment for the listener to get back to the present. In that moment, we can lose the sale.

So the fact is we do need to correct some of the sounds that are causing confusion in the important words. But it’s never every sound.

There was a study done some years ago on by the psychologist Albert Mehrabian, who found that listeners judge the emotional content of speech, first by the speaker’s body language (55%), then 38% on “vocal qualities” – not words, but tone of the voice, the pitch and the pace of the delivery. It’s not about the words.

In any case, anglophones just listen for important words, the ones that provide meaning. We fill in the rest from context. So we need the clarity of important words to make sure we understand them the first time.

But the rhythm, the intonation, the dynamics all help us to understand what we need to focus on and what you want us to feel. When we know how and what syllables or words to stress, we’re guiding and motivating our listener.

English is constantly moving up and down staircases. If we want to emphasize an idea, the voice will rise in pitch, in volume. We’ll hold a note –– maybe just a word, maybe just one syllable –– but we’ll make it just a little higher, a little louder and a little longer.  We’ll speak a little faster. Then get a little slower. We’ll pause for a moment to let the thought sink in.  We’re guiding the listening saying, “Listen to this. This is important.”

We can listen to music that has no words at all. Yet it can motivate us to feel. In fact, it can evoke powerful emotions. The “music” of English works exactly the same way.

We anglophones are lazy speakers, so English is a language of reductions. If something’s too hard to say, we change it. So what you see on the page often has little to do with the way we say it. But that “short-form” English can spark the imagination with its rhythm and melody. It works on our emotions, consciously and unconsciously. It’s about psychology.

And the “art” of the sale is about psychology.

It’s about trying to enter into the mind of the prospective customer to make the listener feel as comfortable as possible. But to make that sale, the salesperson too, has be comfortable. If the customer and client are totally in sync, great. Why bother to make any changes?

But, often, I find that people are hesitant to make changes – as if incorporating more of the Canadian accent (standard North American accent) would destroy a sense of identity.

The thing is … our accents (and we all have an accent) are a beautiful part of who we are. And making some changes isn’t the same as erasing our identity.

People respond to music. And the music of the Canadian English language can help communicate, negotiate and motivate.

In the long run, we’re not just selling a product or a service. We’re selling who we are. We’re saying, “I care about you. Trust me. Listen to me. I have something of value for you.”

The “music” of English and the “art” of the sale have a powerful connection.

Your own thoughts are most welcome.

And don’t forget to check out the latest word-of-the week at One-Minute Words on The Canadian Pronunciation Coach channel.

Thoughts on how to improve English pronunciation by wrecking your native language

Wrecking your languageOkay, no misunderstandings here, please! I’m not talking about ridiculing languages that aren’t English. I’m talking about using them with a sense of humour to help you understand English pronunciation in a powerful way.

There’s a particular exercise that I love to do with my clients. At first they think I’m crazy. But then they begin to understand the purpose. Once they truly get into it, it’s ridiculously fun and very very enlightening.

I’ll begin by having them translate a simple sentence or two into their native language, be it Spanish, Polish, Arabic, French, Mandarin, whatever. It can be as simple as “My name is [XXX] and I’m studying English pronunciation. Then I’ll ask them to pretend they’re anglophones trying to learn this foreign language, but with no feeling for the language at all, none whatsoever!!! It sounds terrible – truly awful!! The English-speaker just can’t manage to imitate the accent: wrong sounds, wrong syllable stress, wrong word stress … wrong … wrong… wrong. But it’s so bad that it’s cute. It makes you laugh in a loving way. The idea is to be playful and outrageous, by really trying to capture the authentic sound of the English language transferred to your native language.

There’s no anger, no frustration – just lots of love and appreciation for this anglophone trying so hard and failing miserably.

Why do this exercise that seems so pointless and silly?

Simple –– the more you can “massacre” the accent of your native language with an English-speaker’s accent, the better you understand the essence of the Canadian accent (or standard North American accent, whatever you want to call it). Where does the tongue need to go? How wide does your mouth have to open? What’s the shape of your lips? How different is it from what you would automatically do?

It actually takes a lot of thought. It’s not so easy.

And you tend to want to speak quickly because it’s easier to slip back into the accent that comes naturally. But you’ve got to slow down – be deliberate. Pretend you’re that anglophone. Think of yourself in different clothes, maybe with a different hair colour. Anything – just pretend. Step into the shoes of this imaginary anglophone.

What makes it so difficult for them to adapt to your accent? Insert the sounds that don’t exist in your native language: for example, that pointed vowel /a/ as is black (/æ/); that rhotic /r/ back in the throat with the tip of your tongue down, pulling back and up. Think of the vowels and consonants that have been especially difficult for you to correct in English and use them to replace the consonants and vowels in your language. You want to make your own language sound as terrible as you can.

You’re really being two people: the anglophone who’s wrecking the sound of your native language and the native speaker who’s listening with amusement (if not outright laughter) at just how far from authentic it sounds.

You’re putting yourself inside the body and the mind of the English speaker trying to speak your language. So really exaggerate the differences. Don’t be afraid to make it totally absurd. How does their foreign accent sound in your native language? How do their sounds feel inside your mouth?

It’s a surprisingly powerful and revealing exercise.

Have you, the speaker of ESL, or your clients/students (if you’re a coach or a teacher) ever tried it? If you’ve done it or used it, tell me how it worked. What sentences did you use?

And don’t forget to check out the latest word-of-the week at One-Minute Words on The Canadian Pronunciation Coach YouTube channel.

More thoughts on how to practise better and improve faster

More practise better.In last week’s post Thoughts on how to practise better and improve faster, I talked about the importance of working in small chunks of time on a regular basis and about how we don’t even have to practise out loud. When we can clearly visualize until we feel muscle movements and, in the case of accent modification, also hear the sounds we’d like to create, we can improve.

I talk a lot about practising and listening with full attention. But what does that mean exactly?

Well the first thing, of course, is working without distractions. So for the ten minutes (more or less)  that you commit to practise –– no email, no text messages, no Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram –– just you and your lesson.

Listen carefully to the instructions you’ve been given. Listen to the sound you want to recreate. Try to listen without using your native language as a point of reference. Just listen.

Now, let’s take just one frequently problematic vowel as an example: the English /i/ as it silver. (Please note that I used the English Phonetic Alphabet (EPA), not the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). If you want more information on the EPA, read my 2017 blog An Easier Way to Learn English Vowels with its accompanying YouTube video.)

So, whenever you say “bit,” it sounds like “beat.” You try to say “fit,” but it sounds like “feet.” I could have also used the opposite Ey/ (as in green) vowel as an example, but I want to keep this simple.

First imagine the parts of your tongue that need to move.

Close your eyes and focus on your tongue and your lips. Your mouth is a little open. Visualize and feel the tip of your tongue resting behind your bottom teeth. Visualize and feel the rest of your tongue resting on the bottom of your mouth, just inside your bottom side teeth, not quite touching. Your jaw is still. Your lips are still.

Now imagine there’s a string in the front of your tongue behind the tip. The string lifts your tongue very gentlyjust the tiniest bit. Isolate this movement of the front of your tongue, without the tip of your tip, in your mind. Make it very tiny. You may also imagine that the centre of your tongue is attached to the dent in your upper lip. Imagine lifting the centre of your lip and pulling the centre of your tongue with it. Just a little. Just a little.

Next, practise doing this same movement slowly for real.  The tip of the tongue remains behind the bottom front teeth. The sides of the tongue don’t move. Only the front of the tongue rolls or lifts up the tiniest bit. Try rolling the centre of the tongue by itself. Then try lifting it with the dent in your upper lip.

Now listen to the sound of the vowel and imagine saying it as you lift the front of the tongue every so slightly, still letting the tip and the sides of the tongue be still.

Finally, say the exercise quietly – the vowel alone, then with the associated words. Don’t worry about the other vowels or the consonants that you may not be able to reproduce accurately for now. Just focus on the vowel /i/ as in silver.

And there you have it:

  • Set aside small manageable bits of time
  • Remove distractions.
  • Focus on correcting one thing at a time.
  • Drop preconceptions. Listen to sounds as if you were a baby in your mother’s womb, as if you’re hearing them for the first time.
  • Fill your imagination with the task at hand. Work in your mind first.
  • Work very slowly and isolate movements.
  • Do this for five minutes … or ten minutes … or fifteen minutes if you can find the time. But find the time every day to practise in this way.
  • And don’t give up.

I guarantee you’ll make changes you never thought you could.

And before you know it, those changes will be noticed by friends, family, patients, customers and colleagues.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, your experiences or your questions.

To listen to two Canadian accents presenting a new English word or expression every week, check out One-Minute Words on The Canadian Pronunciation Coach YouTube Channel.

Thoughts on how to practise better and improve faster

Practise better. Improve faster.

I often find that students have a misconception about practice: that it takes long hours of steady practice to improve. If they don’t have that kind of time, they give up altogether.

But it’s not about long hours of steady practice. It’s about steadfastness with practice over a long time. It’s about not giving up. It’s about finding little chunks of time for as little as five minutes or at most 15 minutes throughout the day, every week, and working with full attention.

It’s about countering every negative thought that says “I’m too busy. I can’t do this. I’ll never get it.” with a thought that says “I seize little fragments of time for me alone. I can do this. I will get it.”

No private place to put on your headphones, listen to the lesson and practise your homework?

  • How about finding 10 minutes in the bathroom?
  • How about 10 minutes in bed before you turn off the light?
  • How about 10 minutes in the morning before you get out of bed?
  • How about getting out of your workplace for a 10-minute walk at lunchtime?
  • How about a quiet 10-minute escape to the stairwell once or twice during the day?
  • How about 10 minutes in their darkened bedroom as soon as the kids fall asleep?

Heck, you don’t even need to practise out loud.

There’s a therapy and exercise method called the Feldenkrais technique (the origins are unimportant) that’s all about gentle movement and directed attention, in which we’re often told to visualize rather than do a particular movement. Extraordinarily, we can achieve the same positive results. In fact brain studies have clearly shown, for a long time now, that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. Visualization is being used to enhance performance, reduce stress, increase motivation, self-confidence, efficiency. It can even help the paralytic learn to move limbs and machinery with the help of electrodes and computers.

Can you choose to find time on your own for just a few minutes each day to suspend judgment, listen intently and practise attentively before your mind starts to wander and your muscles start to weaken?

It’s a strangely simple technique with a huge reward: less stress and faster improvement.

What’s holding you back?

What techniques have you found to maintain a steady practice?

Don’t forget to check out the latest word-of-the week at One-Minute Words on The Canadian Pronunciation Coach YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqJIW9b8ceo&list=UUtLnMIqmYW9uRCi_Kx48AaQ