Presenting in a foreign language

Today we have a guest post from Maureen McGuinness about speech delivery in a foriegn language. You can follow Maureen on twitter!

Languages by Chen iLife

Presenting and public speaking are challenging but rewarding skills to learn. They require time and dedication to be successfully executed. But what if you had to present in another language? As a languages student, I’ve presented in English (native), German, French, Japanese and Italian. Sound scary? Well it was. In fact, I still get incredibly intimidated and nervous when I have to present in English let alone other languages. Despite my different levels of fluency in each language I used almost the same techniques for each. After years of honing my technique of presenting in German and French, I would like to share a few tips on presenting in another language.

Don’t translate word-for-word. Resist the temptation to write the speech in your native language and then translate it. Not only is this a waste of time and stress but also you will create an anglicised piece (if your mother tongue is English). What is idiomatic in English isn’t necessarily idiomatic in other languages. This is true of language that is advanced as sentence structure becomes more complex. Every language student will tell you that you need to think in the language to become fluent so put the dictionary and electronic translator down. Start thinking about what you would naturally say in the target language. It’s also important than any notes or brainstorming is written in the target language. Your audience will be remarkably aware of whether you’ve translated something word-for-word or written it yourself at your level of fluency. This also means that the speech will be easier to memorize as it has more meaning to you.

Take more time for preparation to make room for checking correct vocabulary and syntax. If you have time then present it to a native speaker of that language. They can point out need for clarity in certain areas.

Practice reading it aloud more than you would in your native language. Correct pronunciation is crucial in language. The slightest mistake in pronunciation can change the meaning of the word or can result in loss of meaning in the sentence.

Don’t overcomplicate the presentation. If you are given a set of phrases that you should be integrating into your presentation be selective. You need to demonstrate your ability to use common phrases fluently but also you need to show your initiative to try out the new and more challenging phrases. To help with the flow you should always know your signpost words well in the target language. An example for German: Erstens, Zweitens, Drittens, Zum Schluss. (First, Second, Third, In conclusion).

It’s essential to have a strong and coherent structure. This is even more important in a foreign language because you cannot think in it as freely as you can in your native language.

When presenting don’t get bogged down by grammar mistakes. If you’re constantly thinking about grammar rules then your mind isn’t going to be focused on the content of your speech. In German it’s difficult trying to remember which endings are correct so most of the time I ignore them. It’s more important to speak a language fluidly than trying to correct your mistakes.

Make minimal use of notes. In your native language, notes that are full sentences can be distracting but usually you can go back to your talking point easily enough. In a foreign language it can completely throw you because thinking in another language doesn’t always come naturally. Excessive notes can delay or obstruct your free-thinking in the target language.

Overall, like all public speaking the more you do it the better you become. People may see presenting in a foreign language as a barrier but once you’re at a certain level of fluency it is less intimidating than you first think and really enhances your spoken language.

Do you have your own tips for presenting in a foriegn language? Add them in the comments.

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