22.3.15

Important Aspect of Learning a Foreign Language


First of all, if you are studying a foreign language in order to pass an exam at university, or you are studying English in order to pass the TOEFL exam, this post might not be of much interest to you. For you to pass the exam, you have to get it right, period.

However, if you are learning a foreign language in order to communicate in that language, please continue reading. You are enrolled in a night course to learn Spanish because you want to relocate to Mexico? This is for you. You are learning German because your spouse got a promotion and the whole family will move to Austria? You gonna love this post!

Let’s have a general look at communication first. There are basically three aspects to it: verbal communication, body language and facial expression/tone of voice.

Body language makes up a whooping 55% of our communication, facial expression/tone of voice 38% and our verbal expression, the things we say (and it doesn’t matter in this context in which language we say them) are a tiny 7%.

Yes, you read that right, what you SAY is only seven percent of your total communication.

Just imagine, somebody tells you that he is really glad that you got that job. However, he spits the words into your face and bangs his fist on the table while he is uttering those nice words. A little exagerated, maybe, but you get the picture – you run! And he said he is happy for you…….

So even when you are talking in your native language, people don’t listen so much to what you say, but how you say it. And the same applies when communicating in a foreign language.

In this context there are basically two types of students. The first one wants to get it all right. He/she is terrified of making a mistake, he has to get the grammar right, and don’t even mention the tenses, they have to be spot on! So what happens in a real conversation, when that student is trying his French on a tourist that asks him for directions – he freezes, and while he is groping for the right adverb the tourist has moved on.

The other one doesn’t care, he wants to help, she wants to communicate. I´ve witnessed, while living in Greece, people having conversations with their Greek friends for hours on end – funny thing was, they hardly spoke Greek. But, and I have to admit, helped by a couple of ouzos, they had a heck of a time.

So the first things I tell my students is that they have to relax. I invite them to do some math. Even if they only speak 10% of German, meaning that they don’t have a clue about the other 90%, through that ‘big failure’ they lose only 0.63% of their total communication! Remember, the words we say make only 7% of what we say. More than anything we speak through our gestures, the way we say things, the tone of voice.

So let me make that same recommendation to you – relax, have some fun! Remember, you don’t want to write a grammar book or a dictionary, you want to COMMUNICATE.

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