Presenting A Speech In A Second Language

What language will you use for your next speech?
What language will you use for your next speech?
Image Credit: Viewminder

Not all of us have the mastery of more than one language; however, for those of us who do, giving a speech can be that much more exciting. The question that you are going to have to find an answer to is just exactly what language will you use for your next speech? There may be one language that you use daily; however, you happen to know another language. Each language is different and they all have their unique characteristics. How will you decide which language to use?

The Power Of Second Language

What speakers need to realize is that using a second language for a speech or presentation is all about knowing your audience and what the majority of your listeners will understand. However, this doesn’t mean your audience necessarily understands English fluently, nor does it mean that you do either. It’s can be a big challenge for any speaker. What we need are suggestions from other speakers and speechwriters in order to help you prepare for the challenge.

First off, you are going to want to keep it simple. One problem that speakers run into all too often is that when people want to impress an audience, they tend to overcompensate. A lot of people think that giving a speech in plain English is a sign of ignorance. What you are going to want to do is to relax. You’ll want to keep it simple. Having a small vocabulary in a given language should not be viewed as being a disadvantage. Speakers need to realize that less is more in public speaking, and often even native speakers could simplify their language and say less when they give a speech.

We also want to make sure that we don’t get lost in translation. When we are creating our speech, we will want to use humor, metaphor and analogy sparingly. We need to beware of jokes and humor and figures of speech that may not translate well. Even worse, they may resonate very differently in other languages and cultures. When you are creating a speech you will need to remain aware that popular culture metaphors can cause confusion in a second language – baseball works well with American audiences; however, Cricket is much better with Indian audiences.

Understand Who You Will Be Speaking To

When we are creating a speech in another language, we are going to want to think short. What this means in practice is that we are going to want to be thinking short in just about every way: using short words and using short, declarative sentences. We don’t want to have a long speech, because speakers speaking in their second language often tend to speak slower. We will need to make our words count. If the audience that we will be addressing includes a lot of people for whom English is a second language, they will probably have learned a simple sentence structure: subject—verb—object. We don’t want to get lost in translation, we need to keep our sentences short.

When we have more than one language that we can use to give a speech in, this provides us with a unique opportunity to use each language’s special strengths. If we listen to each language closely, we can feel how every language has a personality, a sort of genius of its own. We need to realize that a speech in one language will have a different rhythm and flow than one in another language. As speech writers we need to understand that the definition of “good writing” depends on which country you are from, thanks to the innate differences in each language. When we are creating a speech, we need to aim for clarity, simplicity, brevity and, of course, humanity.

Finally, when we are giving a speech in another language, we need to make sure that we take the time to use all the tools. Our goal has to be to make sure your audience understands you while you speak in a second language. To make this happen, you are going to have to use more than just words and pronunciation. We need to listen to the experts who recommend emphasizing gestures, movement, inflection, posture and other tools to get our point across. Many speakers may rely on using text while delivering talks in their second language; however, it’s important that they use those tools to ensure a connection with their audience.

Speakers need to understand that as soon as people talk to a piece of paper, they begin losing their audience. In the end, doing a good job of speaking in your second language shares many of the qualities of speaking well in your first. We have to realize that the rules are the same, but they matter more.

What All Of This Means For You

Giving a speech is hard work. Giving speech in another language is even harder. Those speakers who have the ability to speak in more than one language have a unique opportunity when they go to give a speech, they can give a speech in another language. However, deciding to give a speech in another language comes with its own set of challenges for a speaker. We need to understand what delivering a speech in a language that may not be our primary language is going to mean for both us and our audience. Planning has to go into this kind of speech delivery.

Prior to giving a speech in another language, speakers need to make sure that they understand their audience. When creating a speech in another language, we need to make sure that we keep it simple. We also have to be very careful because things like jokes and metaphors can get lost in translation. Speeches in other languages should be kept short – we’ll be speaking slower, so our speeches should be shorter. Each language has its own set of strengths and we need to make sure to use them. Our speech in another language has to be understood by our audience and so we’ll need to use all of the tools that are available to us.

Having the ability to communicate in more than one language is an incredible skill. Speakers who have this ability also have the ability to deliver speeches in multiple languages. If we choose to try to do this, we need to move carefully so that we can make sure that our audience understands what we are trying to tell them. Realizing that we’ll be speaking in a different language means that we need to take the time to carefully prepare our speech to meet the needs of our audience. If we can do this, then we can be successful speaking in more than one language!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: When you give a speech in another language, do you think that you should take questions after your speech?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

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