I never took Spanish in high school. This may not seem like earth-shattering news, and until 2014 I never really gave it a second thought. Then I moved to Spain. All of a sudden, my lack of Spanish was quite a relevant and important part of my day-to-day life. I was working in an American setting so I could perform at my job, but my interactions with shop-keepers, waiters and bank tellers all of a sudden centered around my very minimal command of a foreign language.
I was immediately reliant on all the other ways that exist to communicate. I’m talking about general body language and the overall transfer of energy that happens in a conversation. After approximately five years of research, you can find some of my best secrets for effective communication (when language is a barrier or even when its not) below:
1) Send Good Vibes.
A study from the University of Portsmouth indicates that smiling effects how we speak. Make sure that your facial expressions and general actions of participation in a conversation are sending good vibes. Be polite. Laugh when it is obvious you are acting like a total idiot. People respond well to these friendly gestures. Laughter means the same thing all over the world. Don’t take everything so seriously–send out positivity and it will come back to you.
2) Gesture Emphatically.
Want to know where to take a right turn? Use your hands! Even more than that, use your body: mimic turning, point at things, make shapes with your arms…yes, you probably look like an idiot! Who cares?! There are lots of ways to get a point across without speaking.
3) Stay Calm.
It’s humbling to try and communicate in a foreign language. Don’t get upset when you’re attempting to talk to people. Take a deep breath. If it’s clear you aren’t going to be able to get your point across, shrug and apologize. Move on. (Pro-tip: this works especially well between two people that are speaking the same language, but disagree.)
4) Slow Down.
A 2009 study published in Lang Linguist Compass found clear slow, clear speech increases comprehension by between 17%-26%. Don’t be afraid to slow down. Make sure you pronounce your words carefully. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself or ask someone to repeat what they just said. A simple smile and the phrase, “I’m not sure I understand/know what you mean. Can you say that again?” is a polite, useful inquiry in any language. It will give you more time to process what is being discussed and lead to a more meaningful conversation.
5) Know How to End A Conversation.
In any language, it’s important to have some polite, sure-fire conversation-enders in your repertoire. Depending on the situation, a wave, a smile or a quick “thank you!” might do the trick. If you need a more involved end to a conversation, practice some general possibilities beforehand. Try ‘it’s great to see you and catch up. I’m going to (go over there, talk to someone else, etc).”