By Alexandra Vincent
When trying to learn a foreign language, one of the most important things you need to focus on is communication. However, effective communication can be difficult to achieve if you don’t know how to properly use the language.
In this post, we’ll discuss some of the basics of effective communication principles in any language. So you can start using it correctly and effectively.
I. – Why do we use language to communicate?
Language is the means of communication. We use it to get acquainted with the world around us, to speak our thoughts and to let ourselves be heard by others, and vice versa.
Britannica Dictionary defines Language as “the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other”. We use language in its spoken and written form.
Language is also defined by Britannica as: “any one of the systems of human language that are used and understood by a particular group of people”
For the purpose of this article we are going to use both connotations of the word. However we will pay attention to the verbal expression of the system of words utilised to express thoughts and feelings which are “used” and “understood” by a particular group of people.
Therefore, language is acquired to fulfil the need human beings have to express themselves through a certain structure that is accepted and understood by the community as a whole.
II. – How is a native language normally acquired?
People acquire language through interaction. Children born to a specific surrounding will acquire the language used in that environment. Children learn to talk by stages. But since day one, they are being exposed to particular sounds, intonations, pitch, and tone used in the household.
Before the child utters his first meaningful word, he/she has been playing with sounds and adapting his phonological apparatus to being able to produce those sounds and intonations.
The child is getting accustomed to speech which involves precise and specific actions of the tongue, lips, jaw, and vocal tract to produce the sounds that make up his native language.
A child does not learn his native language though. However he feels the urge of communicating verbally because it is what he experiences on a daily basis. In order to communicate he/she- through imitation and through phonological preparation- must do as his surrounding does.
That’s why a Chinese child- for example- will speak Mandarin (considered by westerners to be the most difficult language on earth) with no trouble at all. He will perfect his communication skills, in terms of sound recognition, production, and tonal usage. The child will therefore speak out in a way that is understood by family members, friends and his community as a whole.
III.- How is a second language acquired?
When a child is exposed naturally at a young age- let say before 6 years old- to a second language, the acquisition process is very similar to the way he achieved the ability to speak his native language. But when the learning process is done, it is more demanding to duplicate the vowel sounds or unfamiliar prosody (intonation, stress and rhythm)of a language.
The click, tonal, and pitch languages like Mandarin, Danish, Thai, Igbo, Yòrúba, Punjabi, Zulu and Navajo or Norwegian, Serbo-Croatian, Japanese, Filipino, Swedish and Ancient Greek are easier to learn at a younger age due to their speech characteristics.
My first contact with the Spanish language was at the age of 6 and I never formally studied it. I had the urge of making myself understood but as I didn’t know how. Soon I started mumbling sounds and turning my tongue in funny ways and expressing meaningless sentences. But I had the perfect intonation the same way people in Dominican Republic use to speak Spanish.
My favourite teachers were TV and my mirror. I spent an incredible amount of time turning the tip of my tongue producing the Spanish hard “R”. I was like a little engine wherever I was. The soft “R” sound wasn’t much of an issue to me.
I repeated every word that I heard by imitation and by adapting my phonological apparatus to this new sound and intonation system. A few months later I could speak the language with no problem.
This is obviously an ideal situation due to mainly two factors: my young age and the language immersion I was in. When being older and learning a language in a controlled environment, things are not always that easy. Language students are not usually taught to be aware of their body parts engaged in sound production and to exercise the muscles involved for producing that specific sound.
Just mere repetition is not enough if we do not know how to produce the required sounds.
III.- Is accurate sound production and prosody essential to communication in a second language?
Language teaching was influenced by the acquisition of vocabulary, grammar and syntax. The correctness of sound production and intonation was left aside if the oral message is broadly understood.
Most of the time, the second language learner uses more the intonation or sound production of his native tongue. They are unaware that this could be a barrier towards effective understanding and communication.
My mother was fluent in Spanish and could express herself perfectly in relation to adequate grammar, syntax and vocabulary. However her Spanish sounded more French than anything else. Her articulation, inflection, intonation, and the nasality were always present.
You might think that accurate sound production or prosody are not essential to effective communication in a second language. However, when the native speaker starts a conversation the first thing that comes to his mind is that you do not have a full comprehension of what he is telling you. And this fact alone, can be a barrier to communication.
IV.- How can we produce a more effective second language speech?
The first thing to do is to be exposed the most to that language, by listening, listening and continuously listening. One must try to pay attention to the speaker while he/she is articulating. At this stage videos are recommended more.
Shadowing is essential and effective to help reproducing sounds and prosody of your target language. Practising the specific musicality of your language will perfect your enunciation.
Sometimes you can say the sounds a thousand times but it does not come out as you hear it. At times you just don’t feel the difference between what you say and what you hear. Don’t get frustrated. Remember that speech is produced by coordinated muscle actions in the head, throat, chest, mouth, nasal cavity and abdomen.
One can learn how to regulate these muscles to produce understandable speech. knowing which part is responsible for the production of a specific sound is paramount to start practising it and have the best possible outcome.
As a second language learner, it is ideal to get acquainted with the vocal particularities of your target language. So it is important to position the different parts of your nose and mouth as the velum, tongue, jaw and lips in reference to the vocal tract as well as the roof of the mouth.
Increasing your speech accuracy in your second language makes you sound clear enough to be understood easily. It will increase your self-confidence and will help you make significant connections in your social life as well as at work.
If you are interested in improving your standard speech production in English, feel free to contact us. We will be delighted to guide you through the process!
Alexandra Vincent was born in Port-au-Prince at the time when the port really created princes and princesses. A place where the Gingerbreads stood like castles to develop free spirits ready to soar towards self-determination and dreams of grandeur.
She left the country at the age of six to begin the march towards new, apparently diverse and different cultures.
Welcomed by the world of Latinos, she first settled with her family in the Dominican Republic. Then she lived in Spain and finally in the countries of the Aztecs and the Mayans.
Her interests are culture, history and languages. Her degree is in International Relations. She also obtained diplomas in translations as well as in the teaching of foreign languages.
She collaborates with prestigious institutions such as the Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, CCM campus; Escuela Superior de Comercio y Administración de Instituto Politécnico Nacional and Lasalle University among other educational institutions. Alexandra also publishes several articles with the magazine Macroeconomia and Xaragua Magazine.
One of her passions is the study of plants and natural health. She loves music, musical composition, singing, dancing, travelling and gastronomy.