Do your employees look for excuses when they need to make an international call? Do they suddenly lose their voices when they are attending a video conference? Many people feel so embarrassed about their inability to speak that they just decide to not open their mouths. Your team may just be suffering from the “Fear-of English” syndrome. And although reading and writing are important, they’re just not enough. In this post I’ll cover six practical actions you can apply that will change your team’s speaking forever.
- DIY (Do It yourself) … or Practice makes Perfect.
Tell them to start speaking to themselves. Yes, you heard me. On the road to learning Spanish, I took every opportunity to speak when alone and practice typical scenarios. Have them imagine practical situations: business negotiations, at the airport, on the phone with a supplier / customer / colleague, in the elevator, at a restaurant or in a taxi. Anytime they are alone they should practice dialogues. Have them imagine sitting on a plane next to Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt. What would they say? Get them speaking. “But nobody is there to correct my mistakes” they will say. More excuses! This is not about mistakes. It’s about gaining fluency and confidence. Tell them they can stop and start over from the beginning any time they like. Practice makes perfect!
- May I take your order?
Organise weekly English Only after work “get togethers” with colleagues at a bar or pub. Choose a relaxing atmosphere, a coffee, beer or a wine and let the conversation flow. There are no limits to what you can talk about. It’s a great way to “unwind” after work and you will see the Improvement in no time.
- English Fridays
I worked with a company that implemented “English Fridays”. English was crucial to their growth and the team desperately needed to intensify their practice. They came up with the idea of only speaking in English at the office on Fridays. Every interaction from simple
conversations at the coffee machine to business meetings were all in English. It is always awkward at first but if you lead by example soon everybody will be exercising spontaneous language skills while discussing the day-to-day realities of your business.
- Get them on the phone
Have your people call a company in the U.K., Ireland, Australia, U.S.A. or India (at least once a week at first). It doesn’t matter if you need the product or not. This is an English exercise and they can hang up at any time. If their English level pre pre-intermediate, have them call a company in Germany or Turkey. Have them study the company’s website beforehand and become familiar with the products /services. Let them prepare some questions. When a company sees a potential sale they will be more patient about their English. Money tends to make people and companies want to understand.
- Total immersion
There are many intensive week long total immersion programs where you are forced to speak and think in English 24/7 with native speakers. Your English will not be perfect once you finish the course BUT, the miracle that often happens is that people stop resisting English. They begin to accept having natives speak to them as a “normal” occurrence. Resistance transforms into acceptance.
- Be sure to call the right professional
If you already have an in house or online business English program for your employees or you are now considering this option, make sure that you choose the right professional. Find a coach who stresses Communication skills: Interaction, real vocabulary for real situations in a fun and dynamic atmosphere. The right professional will motivate your team to want to use their English in the real world.
If your team is not used to speaking in real situations, breaking the ice is never easy. People tend to be very self conscious at first so it’s best to take it one day at a time and increase the activities as you go. Just remember, English is the lingua franca for international business today. And there are so many things to do right now that will improve your team’s speaking and comprehension skills. If your company expects to have a competitive edge in this global economy then it’s time to cure your team of the Fear-of-English. If you do, you will soon see the results. The rewards are tremendous.