IWTYAL 192: Giving a presentation in a foreign language

Syawal asks: “How can I give better presentations in a foreign language?”

Episode Summary:

Today's Quote:

Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.
– Napoleon Hill

Full Transcript:

Olly: Good morning everybody, welcome back to the I Will Teach You a Language Podcast. Hope you’re having a wonderful day so far wherever you are. If you’re learning a language, you are in the right place. What you get on this podcast if you’re new here is ideas, motivation, tip and tricks for becoming a better language learner. And enjoying it more, making more out of languages in your life.

Today we got a very interesting question from someone who is actually giving presentations in a foreign language. So, they’re up at the more advanced end of learning. So we’ll talk about that today. Before we get to that I’d like to thank the sponsors of the show. It is the company that helped me get my language lessons with people who speak different languages in different parts of the world. This is of course italki and if you’d like to get a lesson with a native speaker teacher for free, you can go to www.iwillteachyoualanguage.com/freelesson.

Now, without any further ado, let’s get into today’s question from Syawal.

Syawal: Hello Olly, my name is Syawal and I’m from Malaysia. Previously I asked you a question about how to enrich my vocabulary when I speak. And I’d like to thank you because it helps me a lot. This time I’d like to ask kind of a different question. It’s about when I want to do a presentation in my foreign language, that is English, I find it very hard to speak as good as how when I speak all by myself. I do understand that it’s all because of the pressure also the anxiousness that is happening on us at that time when you are in front of a huge audience. So, it’s kind of a bit, much more difficult to speak like you always do. But, I just want to ask for some tips, some things that I can do as someone who wants to present in front of the class and not to, what we call is, stutter too much, or stress outhard for us to express ourselves. So, yes that’s all. Thank you.

Olly: Hi Syawal, thank you for the question. Great to hear from you again. Syawal left a question in episode one four six that was all about enriching vocabulary. So how do you enrich your vocabulary. That’s what it says on the tin. So, it’s great to hear you’re doing presentations in English. I think that really is the next step to really stepping up a level and becoming even more proficient in English. Giving presentations is tough. I actually think it’s very similar to the task of learning to write well. Because the basic problem is how well can you express yourself in formal language. What we don’t want to do is get up in front of people and just chat like we do as if we’re having a conversation because it comes across as a bit unprofessional, right? I guess it depends on the situation. If you’re just talking to people in class but no one likes a long rambling presentation. Bit like my podcasts [laughs]. Nobody likes me to ramble for ages, you want people to get to the point and to give information in a clear, concise way. So, in that respect, it’s very, very similar to learning to write.


Now as you said Syawal, with public speaking, you’ve got two different challenges. The first challenge is actually kind of remembering what you’re going to say and the structure of the presentation itself. And the second challenge is actually the delivery of the presentation. So it’s how you, how well you speak. And this is not just a foreign language problem. Everybody who’s ever given a presentation or done any public speaking will relate to the experience of getting very nervous before you stand up. And the nerves have a huge impact on your ability to remember what you’re going to say and actually how coherently you say it. Because when you get nervous, you talk faster, you try to make up and disguise the nerves by talking a lot. And even in your first language that can make things very difficult.

I do quite a lot of public speaking. I have over the last year I’ve given talks in Berlin, in Montreal, in Hong Kong, in Brno in the Czech Republic and I’m going to be doing quite a lot more probably this year. And no matter how many talks I give, I still get nervous before I get up on stage. The talks I give tend to be in front of a few hundred people. A lot of people there and there’s pressure. Pressure is a good thing. Nerves are a good thing. Musicians will tell you that nerves are what — think of it this way, you can give a very good performance without nerves. But it’s only with nerves that you can give a great performance, because it’s those nerves and the adrenaline that can push you to a really fantastic job, and do better than you could otherwise. But obviously that does rely on you knowing your subject matter well in the first place.

So, I think what I’m not going to do here Syawal is give you any ideas on actually learning a presentation or handling nerves. Because that’s really a different topic. But I will talk about the foreign language element. Because you want to give the presentation in English and you want to do it well. I think you’ve basically got two choices, and it depends how much you want to prepare and how much time you have. If you give regular presentations in front of your class then you’re not going to have that much time to prepare each one. But if you’ve got a big presentation coming up in the summer or whatever. Then maybe you want to spend more time on it.

Generally with this kind of thing, the more time you spend the better the results you’re going to get. I notice that in my own presentations that when I prepare well in advance and I prepare something three or four weeks in advance, I always have a much better presentation than one I’ve prepared the night before.

So here are the two things, the two choices that I think you’ve got. The first choice is the more difficult one and that is actually preparing word for word what you’re going to say in certain parts of the talk. Writing monologues or speeches, memorising them and practicing delivering them is a fantastic language learning method. It’s something that I don’t do it so much anymore because it takes so much time, but I’ve done it a lot in the past and it’s really, really cool because you learn to express yourself in different ways. You write the speech or the monologue yourself, you get a native speaker to correct it and you learn to deliver that speech yourself. And it’s just a great way to level up and to learn to say new things. So if you’ve got a big speech coming up in the language, in English, then the great thing to do would be to memorise it word for word. The most important thing when you do this is give yourself time. All right, don’t do it the night before. It’s something that you might do over the course of two to three months. If you’re learning a big presentation take a lot of time over it. But if you do do that, then you will never — the thing about doing this is you never forget the stuff you learn.

I remember in Japan I was doing a gig. I had a band playing Bossa Nova with my friend Emily and Simon. And I wanted to thank the people who came to support us. So, I learnt this little short speech in Japanese because I didn’t trust myself to just ad-lib. I wanted to say something good. So I got my friend to write out this speech and I memorised it and I remember it to this day like five or six years on. Because you just pay so much attention to it. A bit like learning songs.

So that’s the first thing to do. And I think if you’ve got the time then it will be time very well spent because you will just learn a bunch more really good English. The second way of approaching this is if you don’t have so much time. And if you don’t have time to prepare it word for word, then the next best thing is making sure at least you got a very good command of the vocabulary of what you’re going to talk about. All right, so if you’re not going to prepare word for word then you’re going to have to make it up and you’re going have to speak off the cuff. That’s what we say. You’re going to have to improvise in the English. And that’s okay, but you need to make sure that when you come to actually make a specific point that you have the vocabulary that you need to accurately express those things.

All right so let’s imagine you’re describing a scientific experiment. Now you can tell the story of how you decided to do that experiment in normal, casual English. But then when it comes to actually describe exactly what you did in that experiment, whether it’s talking about the sample size or whether it’s a double randomised trial or whatever it may be. You need to be able to say specifically what that is. And so one very useful thing you can do is to get a bit of paper and start to just map out all the different main topic areas of what you’re going to talk about. And then write down and learn the vocabulary that you need for that.

So I like to use mind maps. So I would kind of start with a bubble in the middle and I would maybe have a few different bubbles around the page that cover the main topic areas. And then out of each of those bubbles I would brainstorm all the vocabulary that I need. Maybe some phrases that I need. The key vocabulary to talk about those topics. Then you memorise that vocabulary so that you’re not memorising what you’re going to say exactly, but you do make sure you have the exact vocabulary so you don’t be too long winded and you don’t paraphrase too much.

So that’s how I would probably approach this problem Syawal. Number one, if you’ve got the time memorise it word for word. Although when I give speeches in English I never memorise it word for word. But we’re talking about a language learning opportunity here, right? So that’s why I think that word for word thing is a good idea. The second approach, assuming you don’t have time to memorise whole speeches, is to look at the different vocabulary areas you need and make sure you have a really solid grasp of that vocabulary because then at least you’re going to be able to talk with some degree of specificity when it comes to actually giving the talk.

All right so I hope that’s helpful. It’s not something I have a great deal of experience in, giving speeches in foreign languages. My French tutor actually gave a speech, a TED talk in Mandarin recently. I don’t know if that’s available. I might have a look and see if that’s available. I remember asking recently on my Facebook page, “What tips you guys have for getting over the intermediate plateau.” And tutor said, “Toastmasters”. Toastmasters is the international organisation for giving talks in foreign languages. In fact, Syawal if you have a Toastmasters locally, join them. That’s an idea I didn’t think of in my preparation for this. Because the one thing for sure, the one way to get better at giving talks is actually to give lots of talks. So see if you’ve got a local Toastmasters. I’ll put a link to this and everything else in the show notes as well so you can see that. This will be episode one nine two, so www.iwillteachyoualanguage.com/episode192 for that. If you don’t know what Toastmasters is, wow. You should definitely look into it.

So I hope that was helpful in some way. So I’ll thank you very much for your question. If you would like to ask me a question please go to www.iwillteachyoualanguage.com/ask. Now, at the end of every episode I like to leave you a little something to chew on. And I’m going to give you a quote today because it’s been a while since we’ve had a quote. And this is a quote from Napoleon Hill who said, “Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle”.

Thank you very much for listening, see you next week.

[recorded message]

Olly: Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode, I really hope you enjoyed it. You know, one of the questions I get asked most often about language learning is how to improve your memory. Because things get so much easier when you learn new words and you don’t forget them later in conversation when you really need them. So, what I decided to do was to put together a short email course. It’s a three-part email course over three days that teaches you my favourite techniques for memorising vocabulary and actually putting that vocabulary into your long-term memory. It’s a short course, three days, it’s completely free and if you’d like to sign up for it please go to www.iwillteachyoualanguage.com/freememorycourse.

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