Nobody Cares About Your Language Skills | TROLL 013

Back in Rule 005, you may remember I mentioned a Spanish friend of mine, Tomás, who taught me how to politely offend people in Spanish…

And for that I will be eternally grateful.

If you don't remember that phrase, then go back and check out Rule 5 – it’s a good one!

Anyway there’s a lot more to say about this guy. And I'll be coming back to him in this series… mark my words!

But probably the most impressive thing about Tomás is that he is the single best communicator I have ever met in my life.

I discovered this the day I met him at university – which happened to be his very first week in London.

I met him on a particularly drunken night at about 2 o’clock in the morning, when he was trying to get back across London, from our student union to his flat in Earls Court, in West London.

But he had no idea how to get there…

And his English at the time was so bad that he could barely formulate the question he needed to find out how to get home.

But what struck me at the time was that, despite his really dodgy English, he managed to get the information that he needed.

He even managed to make it home apparently, which is nice!

The Master Communicator, With Poor Language Skills

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Now, in the following weeks when I saw him around college, I started to pay attention to him, and how he behaved, because I found him very interesting.

I was amazed to see that, after just a couple of weeks, he seemed to know everybody in the university…

And everybody knew him!

It was amazing…

He would be walking down the corridor and people would call out his name as he walked past..

“Hey Tomás… Hey – how's it going?”

He had far more friends than me, despite the fact he could hardly speak English!

Anyway, we became friends and we'd often go out around London at the weekend…

When I think about it, some of my closest friends I met during those crazy nights out in London.

And this taught me an absolutely incredible lesson about human communication, and how it relates to learning languages.

Because let me tell you this…

After you've seen someone meet hundreds of new people before your eyes, in spite of a massive language barrier…

You realise one fundamentally important lesson…

It's not about your language skills.

In fact, nobody cares about your language skills!

Why Your Language Skills Don't Matter

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It may be important to you to conjugate your verb tables correctly, and to get your tenses right, but do you think anybody else cares?

They don't.

When you're face-to-face with someone you meet for the first time, the only thing they're thinking about is whether you seem like a fun or interesting person…

Or whether you're a little crazy…

Basically, whether they should stop and spend any time talking to you or not!

And here's the thing…

When people are making those snap decisions about whether you're crazy or not…

It's much more about their body language, the look in their eyes, the warmth they convey, and other things like that…

Things that have nothing to do with whether you used the right form of the past tense!

But us…

Us language learners…

What are we thinking about when we speak a foreign language?

The big danger is that we're stuck thinking about whether we're speaking accurately or not, making mistakes or not…

And all this stuff that the person listening couldn't care less about.

Think about it for a second — when was the last time you met someone who wasn't a native English speaker and sat analysing their English as they spoke?

Unless you're a language geek like me… I'd say never.

You were thinking much more about whether they seem like a nice person or not.

Now…

Obviously, it is desirable to speak a language better, given the choice…

But let's not get carried away…

The Hidden Advantage Of Being A Beginner

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I have often noticed a phenomenon where I’m at my most confident in a new language right at the start, when I only know the basics… maybe after a few weeks of study.

It's the “honeymoon period”…

When I don’t know what I don’t know…

And I’m just thrilled at being able to actually communicate with somebody in a new language.

Often, as I get more advanced in a language, I get more “caught up in my own head”, thinking about grammar and vocabulary and so on.

Have you ever had this experience?

Of starting out confidently… and then gradually doubting yourself more and more?

I think it’s quite likely that you have.

But by far the worst thing to happen is what happens to many new language learners, who never actually begin speaking with people in the first place, because they worry about making mistakes.

You wouldn't believe the number of times people have written to me asking questions like: “But Olly, how can I speak when I don’t know the grammar yet?”

Just remember:

This is nothing more than an intellectual objection!

You don't need correct grammar to communicate.

Focus On Communication, Not Language Worries

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Back in the real world…

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have known someone like Tomás at the young age that I did. Because the things I learned from him have proved to be an incredibly valuable mental tool that I've used throughout my life whenever I find myself worrying about speaking…

I cast my mind back to these crazy night with Tomás where we would meet thousands of people in a night…

Randomly in the queue for a taxi, or an airport lounge…

Or at the top of the Eiffel Tower…

Where we would make friends and bond over the human experience, the place we were, the people around us, the small details that could form the basis of communication…

Because here’s the thing: Whatever you’re going through with your language learning, this is something that is happening in your own head.

The worries in your mind – they're intellectual worries, linguistic challenges that bear no resemblance to the reality in front of you.

You’re only thinking about grammar because your teacher set you some homework, or you found it in your textbook.

There’s a dictum in the Jazz world:

“Practise as hard as you can in your own time, so that you can forget it all when you walk onto the stage.”

And this is how I think about language learning…

Forget It All

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However hard you’ve been working in the classroom, forget it all when it comes time to speak.

Look into the eyes of the person you’re talking to…

Smile…

And do your best to communicate with them in which ever way you heart tells you.

You have my permission to forget completely your verb tables and your world order, your cases and your particles…

They don’t matter.

And, crucially, they won’t help you be any more human with the person you're speaking to

As you’re talking, remember that the person in front of you is asking themselves simply whether you’re an interesting person, a good person, an exciting person, someone they should invest in a relationship with…

And you are!

I know you're amazing, because otherwise you wouldn't be reading this!

So don't deprive them of the opportunity to get to know you.

And remember…

Nobody cares about your language skills.

Over to you. Do you know any “master communicators” like Tomás who are friends with everyone despite their language skills? Do you agree that language skills don't matter when it comes to communication? Let me know in a comment below? 

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