Monday, November 27, 2017


This is the last of our series on how different cultures conceptualize ideas in different ways, reminding you to be sure to communicate in a style that Americans will readily grasp. This Tip discusses the Oriental pattern, particularly evident in Japan and to a lesser extent in Korea and Southeast Asia. It is the most radically different model from the direct, to-the-point American pattern.
The Oriental model can be illustrated as a circle spiraling inward in a concentric pattern until at the very center, when the end-point is reached, the conversational point is made. This pattern is built upon the two things that are most anathema to Americans and the English language in general. Consequently, it can cause the greatest confusion and misunderstanding.

First and central to American discourse is the fact that Americans are uncomfortable with silence. They will fill any space with words, even if those words are not substantive but merely “fillers” (recall an earlier Tip about “small talk”).

By contrast, the Japanese, and others mentioned here, include silence in every message. For them, moments of silence reveal a respectful, thoughtful attitude and serve to separate conversational points with deliberate pauses. When an Asian speaker follows the Oriental pattern of the “inward spiral,” blending stated thoughts with moments of silence, Americans do not know when he is “finished” or has made his point!

A second great difference is that the Japanese language often omits what Americans would consider crucial grammatical words, such as some pronoun subjects and certain verb tenses. English requires these. English also employs frequent use of grammatical connectors, whether they be subordinate clauses, clarifying phrases, or connecting conjunctions. Thoughts are never left to chance, but instead are spelled out repeatedly in various forms. Americans look for these signals as they try to follow an argument. By contrast, a thought’s “point” presented in the Oriental pattern can be so hidden and embedded in the sequence of spoken and silent moments, that Americans can become hopelessly lost. They may also wonder if the speaker is himself clear on the process leading to his idea or message.

In America, Asian speakers should be sure to keep their train of thought flowing with words, including those that serve specifically to clarify the meaning and sequence of the speaker’s thoughts.

Monday, November 20, 2017


Different cultures conceptualize ideas in different ways, so you must be sure to communicate in a style that Americans will readily grasp. Today we’ll move from the European pattern to how a Middle Eastern one can also cause problems with American listeners. This pattern applies to Arab, Israeli and other cultures in the Middle East. It is, metaphorically speaking, noisier and more intense than the American one, like the difference between Tahrir Square in Cairo, and Union Square in San Francisco.

The Middle Eastern pattern is illustrated by a series of parallel arrows, each a little longer or stronger than the one before. A point is not made until it is repeated several times, each time a little more forcefully.

By contrast, a single straight arrow represents the American style of expression. It goes directly and immediately to the essential point. Americans will react to the first thing they hear. And their responses will be immediate and final.

So an American tourist might be wandering through the bazaar in Turkey, when approached by a rug merchant. The merchant asks, “May I show you a beautiful rug?” And the American politely says, “No thanks.”

The merchant persists: “This is an exquisite rug.” The American repeats, “No thanks.” The merchant continues, “Look, let me show you the small, tight knots, all by hand!” The American is now annoyed and says flatly, “Very nice but I’m not interested.” Undeterred, the merchant says, “Come inside and I’ll work out a special price for you!”

The tourist stops, shakes his head at the merchant and says, “Sorry, no! I’m not interested in buying a rug. I have no money for this. I have no time now, and at home I have no space. So please! NO THANK YOU!”

“Okay, have a good day. Remember Istanbul happily!”

What happened here? The American thought he had settled the question when he initially said “No thanks” (direct answer to a direct question). Meanwhile, the merchant felt he had not asked the question fully until he had repeated his point several times, each time with more urgency. And he did not hear the tourist’s answer until that was also repeated many times. Once the Middle Eastern pattern of Q&A was complete, the merchant was happy to end the interchange pleasantly.

In America, Middle Eastern speakers should be careful not to repeat themselves, nor to infuse their words with excessive, heated expression. And they should listen for the first quiet but clear answer!

Monday, November 13, 2017


Be sure to express your thoughts in a way that Americans will readily grasp, because different cultures conceptualize ideas in different ways. Today we’ll address two variations of the European pattern we discussed last time. Specifically, these would apply to Russians and Latin Americans.

You’ll recall that the European pattern is like an upside-down version of the standard American outline form. Instead of stating the point first –as Americans normally do—the European pattern builds to that point by first making preparatory comments, such as offering historical background, citing the comments of experts, and giving supporting statistics. This may bore or confuse the American listener, who can feel lost, confused or annoyed at an “effete” speaker who loves the sound of his own voice!

The Russian pattern is exactly the same except not as smooth or clear. Like the European speaker, the Russian will also pursue a litany of background information, but it will seem disjointed, even rambling to the American listener. This lack of connection is due to Russian syntax and a lack of articles in the language. Russians must remember to use articles when required, to give their English sentences a smooth continuity. And they should practice a variety of connecting phrases (in order to, so that, as a result, conversely and so forth) to establish a clear relationship of one sentence to another.

The Latin American mindset incorporates respectful personal references into most communication exchanges. So like the European model that precedes its point with supporting information, the Latin pattern may first make polite social references or add flowery phrases (if you don’t mind my saying so, let me take a moment to mention, with your permission, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about, etc.) before saying something substantive. This approach is a distraction for an American listener who is inclined to see this as superficial when, at least at work, the American would prefer to be direct and “get right to the point and down to business.” (It works both ways, of course: to Latin Americans, an American may seem too direct, even rude and self-centered.)

So again remember how the wrong approach can clash with another culture, causing confusion or misunderstanding. Tailor your style to your listener. And understand the tendencies of your own culture to interfere with that goal.

Monday, November 6, 2017


Different cultures conceptualize ideas in different ways, so you must be sure to communicate your point in a style that Americans will readily grasp. Today we’ll talk about how the European pattern conflicts with the American. Succeeding Tips will address other parts of the world.
For American style, think of a single straight arrow, going immediately to the essential point you want to make. Only later would supporting information be added. Like the “outline form” that Americans use when writing, the principal thesis (or topic sentence) is mentioned first, then sub-points follow, to clarify, illustrate or reinforce. Americans can easily follow an explanation in this form.

If you stood the American outline form on its head, you would have the European pattern. Unlike that straight American arrow, it would show the arrow’s shaft bent and veering off in various directions, and only after several such diversions would it finally return to a straight shaft ending in its point.
A European speaker might introduce his subject with this succession of thoughts: 1) “Throughout history we have seen that…  And 2) “Even as recently as the last century, France was the perfect example of…” Then 3) “I am reminded of what the Nobel Laureate XYZ said when he commented… Then “Statistically we see too that…” And FINALLY, “So the conclusion we draw, and my point today is…”

A European audience would listen attentively and appreciatively as they are drawn to the speaker’s point of view. But the American wonders impatiently when the speaker will “get to the point,” may feel a little lost, and might even be put off by the speaker’s “arrogance” as he flaunts his wide-ranging knowledge instead of just saying what he himself thinks!

The reverse happens, of course, when a European listens to an American in the same setting. To the European, an American speaker can seem too abrupt, his point insufficiently substantiated, and his image also “arrogant,” implying that he alone is a sufficient expert to claim this point of view!
So when conveying ideas, remember how the wrong approach can cause confusion, misunderstanding and even personal rejection. Tailor your style to your audience. And understand the tendencies of your own culture to interfere with that pattern.

Monday, October 30, 2017


Last time we began a discussion of how to express your knowledge and ideas clearly to an American audience. Two key points were made:
  1. An idea is communicated clearly only if it is presented in the style of the dominant culture.
  2. Various cultures conceptualize ideas in different ways, and the educational systems of those cultures further reinforce that pattern.
Based on Robert B. Kaplan’s work, mentioned last time, we can identify several different patterns around the world to convey an idea. Let’s review the American pattern, illustrating the thinking process for an American speaker with an arrow.

The American pattern is illustrated simply. The “American arrow” has a straight shaft with an arrowhead (representing the conversational “point”) at its end. That’s all, direct and unembellished, like the traditional “straight-talker.”

When writing, Americans are taught to lead with a topic sentence that states the main thesis from the outset. Only later can information be added to further clarify or prove the point. When writing, this is done in the standard American “outline form” with topic, sub-topic, etc. For American students, it is thus very easy to follow a verbal explanation, since we know the subject and the key point about it from the start.

This “American pattern” is what all non-native cultures should employ when speaking to an American audience. They must be careful not to incorporate their own native cultural pattern. For instance, they should not repeat themselves insistently and seem aggressive, like the Semitic pattern would do. Nor should they give detail and other information first, and only much later state their point as a conclusion, the way Europeans would, suggesting a haughty arrogance of stated knowledge. They should not follow a Russian pattern, similar to the European one except skipping grammatical connectors that join one comment with another, leaving the impression this time of arrogance and confusion. And they should definitely avoid the very mystifying, incoherent-seeming pattern of certain cultures of Southeast and East Asia, particularly Japan (the land of few words and suggestive inference), illustrated by an arrow whose shaft winds concentrically inward, with the arrowhead-point hidden at its innermost core!

It is difficult to fully understand the foreign patterns without further examples. We’ll tackle that in succeeding Tips.

Monday, October 23, 2017


We have talked previously about how people new to America should enter conversation groups, conduct themselves in meetings, ask cogent questions, and generally get the attention of native speakers when they want to say something. It can be a formidable challenge to speak up with the right words, confident vocal power, and precise timing.

When you are recognized and it’s your turn to speak, this is a moment of utmost importance for every non-native professional. It is your chance to convey who you are, what you know, and what you offer professionally.

Faced with the challenge of communicating your competence, how do you make your point? It’s a crucial question, and one that native speakers wrestle with, too.

As you search for a solution, there is one underlying point that is absolutely central: An idea is communicated clearly only if it is presented in the style of the dominant culture.

So various cultures conceptualize ideas in different ways, and the educational systems of those cultures further reinforce that pattern.

The same information can be clear or confusing, depending on whether the listener hears it in the way s/he has been taught to understand that information. And what’s more, a point made by someone in one culture can be perceived differently by a listener from another background. It can seem rude or aggressive; pedantic or childish; arrogant and effete; brusque and inconsiderate; or just plain confusing to another culture!

If after you make a point you sense that your listeners just “don’t get it,” you may suffer from what linguists call a clarity deficit. That is, something is missing from your explanation…maybe it’s your pronunciation, confusing grammar or choice of words, or very likely a style of explanation that eludes them.

One theory relating to writing styles has great bearing on our subject here. It was first advanced in the 1960’s by Robert B. Kaplan, and later other linguists. We shall explore this next time as it relates to various culturally-determined patterns of communication. This is a crucial topic that deserves attention in upcoming Tips.

Monday, October 16, 2017


At work and in your personal life, you will want to develop rewarding relationships and meaningful friendships with those around you. Establishing such connections will enhance your life and career in America. To accomplish this, remember that good communication is all about people connecting with one another.

A productive workplace depends on colleagues getting along well. An effective team requires each member to convey cooperation. A successful business needs its end-users to feel they can count on honesty and openness from their product- or service-provider.

You must learn to communicate your value by showing you can build good relationships, that you are capable of inspiring cooperation and trust, and that you can be open with others.

How do you do this? Recent Tips have shown how to share more of yourself by avoiding moments of uncomfortable silence, by employing the “ping pong” technique in conversations to keep talk flowing, and sometimes to reveal relevant personal details. In all these ways you demonstrate a willingness to engage with others. (Still, remember early in a relationship to avoid taboo subjects such as politics, religion and sex. And if you tend to be naturally talkative, be aware that Americans may see you as self-absorbed, even selfish or arrogant if you don’t share the conversation and ask questions of others.)

Why is this emphasis on socializing and connecting so important? Why can’t you just be diligent, say what’s essential, and let your work speak for itself? Because only after you have created a sympathetic personal connection can others really hear your message and see what you have to offer.

This opening-up accounts for the common impression that Americans are “friendly.” With gestures and words of social encouragement, native speakers signal that they are approachable and open to everyone who shows a willingness to reciprocate. This kind of surface engagement serves many useful purposes. But over time, it can also develop into deep friendship, an extra bonus for a richer life in America.

Monday, October 9, 2017


“Small talk” refers to the casual remarks and topics Americans use when they want to enter a conversation, create the impression of being friendly before they know you well, or generally fill conversational space to be polite. Sometimes called “breaking the ice,” small talk allows American friendliness to enter an otherwise “frozen conversation” that would leave you standing in awkward silence, going nowhere.

Small talk is stressful for non-natives to master for several understandable reasons:
  • You may be uncomfortable jumping into a conversation without being “invited.”
  • You are not familiar with many small talk subjects, like sports, local weather, casual political generalizations, or pop culture references.
  • You may fear situations where you have no fluent vocabulary.
First, recognize that small talk is useful because Americans are uncomfortable with silence and this is a shortcut to forging relationships. Join in readily, showing you’re glad to be one of the group.

Then familiarize yourself with some common themes. The easiest is probably weather because we all experience it. Coming indoors and entering a conversation you might say (depending on the situation, obviously) “Whew, what rain out there! Glad I remembered my umbrella!” or “What a gorgeous day; I love this time of year here.” Or as you follow the important practice of responding to every remark (see an older Tip on Ping Pong Conversation), you might reply, “Yes, my windshield wipers could hardly keep up with the rain!” or “Me too; this is unusual weather for my country.”

Among men, sports is a common topic. You may not have knowledge of or enthusiasm for American sports, so that can be challenging. After someone says, “Did you see the Steelers game last night!” you might reply apologetically when you admit no, that you have a lot to learn about American football.

And in general if you have no knowledge of some reference (“What’s Congress trying to do anyway?” or “…as compatible as Beyonce and Jay-Z”), you can mirror the reaction of those around you, nodding or smiling in sympathy with the speaker.

As for vocabulary related to these sometimes unfamiliar subjects, develop some standard responses that apply to many of them. “I wish I knew more about that. Life in America is a constant education for me!”

Monday, October 2, 2017


You may think that choosing your words carefully and then expressing them should be enough to satisfy your colleagues. But conveying how much you know, the value of your ideas and insights, or your intentions as a newcomer to the group requires much more than words alone.

Listeners can hear your words with a basic approach to clear English, but you still need to convince them to believe the words, and more, to believe in you. Helping others to see you, the person behind the voice and gestures, will create the lasting, convincing impression you wish to make.

Engaging with your American colleagues, friends and other listeners is the key to successful communication. So how can you connect with people in a culturally appropriate way?
  1. Pay attention to non-verbal body language –particularly eye contact and facial expressions. Use your eyes to connect with everyone you’re talking or listening to. This invisible connection between you and others shows Americans that you are engaged and interested in the conversation. Nodding, smiling, raising eyebrows, and widening your eyes at times all signal that you are paying attention to them and their role in what’s being said.
  2. Practice “mirroring” –observe and then mimic appropriate non-verbal movements, as discussed in last week’s Tip, to perfect this important cultural skill.
  3. In casual conversations, add enough specific detail to show that you are willing to reveal yourself in the course of the discussion. Review a previous, archived Tip on “conversational ping pong” to see how this is done and how you can create interest in yourself to carry the relationship further.
Everyone –boss, colleagues, clients or any audience—must feel a heartfelt connection with you and your message. When this happens, they will respect your knowledge, believe in your ability to accomplish mutual goals, and want to engage with you.

Why is this emphasis on connecting so important? Why can’t you just be diligent, say what’s essential, and let your work speak for itself? Because only after you have created a sympathetic personal connection can others really hear your message and see what you have to offer.

Monday, September 25, 2017


Developing a keen sense of observation is an essential part of learning to communicate in another culture. You may have heard of the “7% Rule,” an often cited –and greatly misunderstood—finding that verbal language accounts for only 7% of communication. This original study by Professor Albert Mehrabian of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the 1970’s was widely circulated and over simplified. But at the most basic level, it reminds us that information is overwhelmingly conveyed by what we see, and less by what we hear.

As you struggle to practice communicating American-style, begin by “mirroring” the Americans around you. In other words, notice what native speakers do with their non-verbal language as much as what they say. Observe their demeanor, gestures, and expressive style.

Watching movies and TV programs without the sound can help you to tune into facial gestures, such as nodding, smiling and eye contact; body language, including posture and movement while sitting or standing; and the physical interactions between people as they listen or speak.

For business and academic purposes, watching interviews or round-table discussions among serious people is particularly useful. Doing this when you’re alone, you can mimic these movements as you watch. Additionally, talk to yourself in front of a full body mirror at home. Hold conversations with yourself, adding the gestures you’ve come to recognize and practice. Then gradually move this activity into the real world with others around you.

Even without further understanding “why” you should express yourself one way or another, you can routinely start to observe and mirror the style of those you admire and wish to emulate or impress.

As you “mirror,” you will begin to see what style is effective and appropriate for the region and culture of your particular industry or academic discipline. You will observe, for example, acceptable patterns for interrupting, confronting, disagreeing, adding substance or detail, and concluding an interchange.

Incidentally, “verbal” mirroring, done in the same way, is useful when working on your pronunciation or intonation.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Politeness is relative; what impresses people in one culture can offend in another. This is an important distinction to understand if you want to be taken seriously and viewed respectfully by your colleagues. And, it’s also important to grasp lest you think Americans are being rude to you, when nothing of the sort is intended!

People from Latin cultures, who take time to enter or conclude a conversation with deliberate words of personal politeness, may find American directness to be rudely impersonal. For example, entering the office and announcing “good morning” to your co-workers may be met with a silent nod, or even no acknowledgement at all.

East and Southeast Asians, who tend to wait to be called on before replying, may see Americans as rudely “interrupting” one another and never offering a chance for you to participate. In fact, the Americans would see their behavior as “enthusiastic” and “engaged,” while they would view you as “disinterested” or having nothing of value to contribute.
Here are some “usual norms” for Americans. As you read them, think about whether each is the case in your culture.
  • Not allowing much silence between speakers in a conversation.
  • Not waiting to be called on, but rather jumping into the conversation to express a point.
  • Speaking directly, rather than holding back your true views.
  • Expressing your disagreement, when you feel differently, rather than waiting to be asked your opinion or expressing it long afterwards.
  • Supporting another person’s comment, when you agree, rather than staying silent.
  • Explaining further if someone argues with your point of view, rather than flatly yielding to another’s opinion.
But all of these responses must be done “politely” by American standards. This may involve certain accommodating gestures or “softening” words or phrases leading to your point. It may be a challenge for non-native people to achieve this, and so must be learned and practiced.

Before adding helpful phrases and gestures to your vocabulary, begin by “mirroring” the Americans around you. More on this important technique of keen observation in our next Tip.

Monday, September 11, 2017


In physics, we learn that “nature abhors a vacuum.” In North America, we learn that Americans abhor a verbal vacuum. Americans are uncomfortable with silence and always want to keep the conversational flow going.

If your culture values silence (particularly common in East and Southeast Asia, and among younger, female or lower-level people in hierarchical cultures) –or if your unease with English keeps you from speaking needlessly—you must learn to add words or phrases around the core of what you want to say.

When there is a lapse in the conversation, Americans will feel the need to fill the void, to say something, anything! Especially in business, a smooth conversationalist will keep the talk moving. Business people may not add much content to the conversation, but they will add easy “lead-in’s” and re-phrasing to avoid an awkward pause (“well, I’m sure you’ve got a point there, but remember, as I said before, the important thing is to…”).

In academic and scientific circles, silent, thoughtful moments are more acceptable, but even there, verbal embellishments may be made. Instead of giving a one-word answer (“yes,” “no,” “okay”) you might instead stretch it out to say, “Sure, sounds reasonable,” or “No, I have to say I don’t agree completely,” or “Okay, I’ll get right on it.” When you’re not sure what to say in answer to a difficult question, instead of sitting silent you might mention the thought process that underlies the silence (“hmm, that’s a tough one. Let me give it some thought and get back to you”).

In casual conversation, it is equally important to keep the flow going. We talked in earlier Tips about how to follow a “ping-pong” or “basketball” model for maintaining a back-and-forth pattern. This is what makes you seem engaged with others and shows you are an interesting conversational partner.

And don’t forget, too, that non-verbal gestures –nodding, smiling, etc.—work along with words to embellish your statements and stretch out their effect.

Monday, September 4, 2017


For Labor Day week, let’s talk about the many attitudes about work around the world, and how Americans view this aspect of life.

Americans see themselves as hard-working. They prove this by comparing the short vacations they receive –initially often limited to two weeks a year—to the lengthy time-off their European counterparts enjoy. Yet French ex-pats will insist that yes, they may take the entire month of August for a family summer vacation, but on a given workday, they really work, staying later than the Americans and focusing their time better.

ESL teachers will notice immediately among students in an elementary English class that each country represented has its own approach to working and learning. Chinese students will speak very little, take careful notes, and concentrate on their own learning issues. Students from South America will see the classroom experience as a communal time, engaging in spontaneous discussion, taking fewer notes, and helping one another with answers to questions posed by the teacher. Europeans will mix speaking and listening, take notes but fewer than the Asians, and observe the classroom dynamics for non-verbal cues associated with the language.

Working styles will vary by culture, and there is no single best way to work. But in America, it is wise to adjust to the local approach. Here are some pointers: 
  • A serious, uncomplaining approach to work is an indication of mature professionalism and suggests you are involved and open to advancement.
  • Teamwork is admired. Team leaders and colleagues alike will see that you are a contributing member by the way you act in meetings or other group sessions.
  • Using body language to convey your involvement is important – making eye contact, nodding in agreement, “leaning in” and otherwise showing physical engagement with the group, and of course speaking up to make constructive comments.
  • Ways to NOT show team playing can include not actively participating or looking at all group members during discussion; monopolizing the conversation; or generally not participating in give-and-take as conversation-sharing unfolds.
Identify colleagues who are thriving, notice how they communicate their competence and forge relationships at work, and mirror that behavior.

Monday, August 28, 2017


We have talked in recent weeks about the various ways, from culture to culture, ideas are exchanged, business is conducted and relationships are established. In today’s global business and academic climate, understanding these differences and how to adjust to them is crucial.

There is the “American way,” where talk is direct, where “top-down” decisions are made but then are followed by egalitarian, consensual discussions to tweak and further refine the initial plan. In contrast to this, many African and East Asian cultures are deferential, with hierarchical patterns of management. And then there are emerging countries –gradually changing over time-- where in the beginning democratic, egalitarian values are desirable in theory but in fact a strong leader holds sway.

So what does someone an international background do –raised in one culture, educated in another, and perhaps working in one or more countries where still other patterns prevail? Understanding which patterns you instinctively follow and then adjusting yourself to the dominant local practices takes honest analysis and constant attention.

And what can large global businesses do, where personnel from many cultures work together at various locations worldwide? Google’s solution is to build its own unique company culture that will override any country differences. Still, they must do so carefully, lest they appear to lose respect for diversity or appreciation for each local area.

Managers dealing with a diverse workforce in worldwide locations must accommodate difference by, for example: on a conference call from America with Brazil, use one style; with Japan, another; and with several countries together, use yet another.

On global teams, where some cultures do all the talking and other not, the solution might be to give a pre-meeting heads-up with time for everyone to plan their responses. Announce what you’ll be discussing and that you’ll be asking everyone for feedback. This way you’ll give those from the more hierarchical cultures “permission” to speak up and those who may dominate a reminder that they must share the discussion time.

Multinational corporations need people with multi-cultural flexibility. There is a clear path to advancement for those whose mindsets are finely tuned to intercultural communication and ways to accommodate a range of approaches.

Monday, August 21, 2017


In recent weeks we’ve discussed the decision-making process in America and how that pattern differs from other cultures. Put a little too simply, developed countries with egalitarian values follow one model, while hierarchies and emerging nations tend to follow another.

Erin Meyer, professor at the prestigious international business school INSEAD, presented some fascinating research in the July-August 2017 Harvard Business Review. She categorized 55 countries along eight behavioral scales, in order to show how various cultures defer to authority, reach consensus, and otherwise resolve problems. Everyone involved in any global venture –from education to research to business—should examine what she discovers.

She presents the common extent to which Indians, Koreans, Nigerians and Chinese defer to authority and are marvelous team players.

She also shows surprising commonalities in Russia, India and America, where decisions are made quickly, often by the boss, but then may be readily and routinely changed as more information comes to light.

She divides Europe into North and South, the former (especially Scandinavia) exhibiting extremely consensual patterns of problem solving, while the latter (especially the Catholic countries) yield to authority. In this latter respect, she finds France more deferential than Germany.

She discusses what the “Anglo Saxon,” English-speaking countries have in common, and finds that Australia exceeds even the United States in being the most egalitarian and consensual in problem-solving.

She questions why nations as disparate as China, Saudi Arabia, France and Russia are alike in many elements of their processing.

She determines that every emerging market country, despite how much they profess democratic values, has top-down leadership, a valuable survival tactic. After all, as the institutions and legal systems are still developing, it is useful to have a strong and undisputed leader for every effort.

This begs the question, how must the American workplace react to these realities? And how must American workers adjust to such outside practices? And finally, how must non-native professionals working in America adapt their patterns to American ways? This is the subject for next time!

Monday, August 14, 2017


We talked last time about how the American pattern of decision-making is “top down egalitarian.” It follows two seemingly contradictory instincts: speedy decision-making in order to win by being “first out of the gate,” along with a reliance on limitless free expression as everyone talks through the process democratically. Other cultures –for example Germany and Japan—operate very differently, with their own brand of excellent results.

Compared with America, the German culture places more emphasis on hierarchy, as Japan does to the extreme. Both cultures are formal when addressing superiors, Japan with its pervasive honorifics, and Germany with titles that may include field of specialty, education, and position relative to the speaker (translated, for example, “Director Economist Doctor Schmidt”). Both cultures will seat the superior at a special place at the table, and give him/her in a private office with a closed door.

In terms of process –exploring problems with others, reaching consensus, arriving at decisions—the hierarchical Germans and Japanese are closer to each other than to the Americans.

Their communication patterns will differ, however. Germans are generally comfortable with English and its accompanying body language. Germans are direct (even more so than Americans, in fact) and value open and strong debate. Unlike Americans, they may boldly argue with the boss’s decision.

By contrast, the Japanese communication style is indirect, subtle, and harmonious in meetings, with disagreement permissible only behind the scenes.

But both groups are alike in critical ways. They value structure, punctuality, and organization over the fluidity of thought and process that Americans employ. This likely accounts for the high level of success these cultures have with mechanical execution (over random exploration and creativity, in which America excels). Their processes and products are precision-dependent, as seen, for example, in their superlative automobiles.

Regardless of cultural differences, when working in America, non-natives must adapt to the local way of communicating and expressing ideas from the outset. Only later in the process can the strengths of outside approaches benefit everyone. Next time we’ll discuss this, country by country.

Monday, August 7, 2017


How Americans approach general brain-storming and decision-making may require you to make some adjustments, depending on your native culture.

Americans pride themselves on egalitarian values. They speak freely in meetings and may offer unsolicited comments to others, including the boss.

Americans do not defer greatly to their “superiors” –bosses, team leaders, teachers, etc. In many circumstances, they may call authority figures by their first names. In meetings the leader may mingle easily with the group, sitting randomly with them in no particular seat of importance or place at the table. The boss may work in an open space together with everyone else, rather than being separated in a closed private office. In this way, the leader is open to the varying points of view, ideas and proposals of others as the team works out a solution.

But you may sometimes observe a confusing twist: While enjoying free expression, Americans also value speed and quick decision making, so they may shift quickly from their role as free-speaking individuals to towing the line as team players.

When faced with a problem, the boss may briefly entertain opinions from others but then suddenly announce his/her own decision on the matter. At that point everyone willingly falls in line as team players and gets the process going. But then again, as the work unfolds, an egalitarian pattern of free expression returns, with everyone evaluating the decision and perhaps suggesting variants of what was initially decided.

This sequence is central to American decision-making, that is: quick to make a top-down decision, but then to painstakingly tweak that decision, refine it, and end up with something that is creatively inspired after being tested and thoroughly considered.

By contrast, hierarchical countries like Japan and even Germany will follow a very different model, with potentially quite different results! Next time we’ll address this.

Monday, July 31, 2017


Just as in your country, communication patterns will vary from place to place. The words Americans use, their pronunciation, gestures and level of politeness, along with how loudly and fast they speak, can be daunting as you engage with people from different parts of America.

As you would imagine, urban centers –with larger, more mobile populations and cutting edge, competitive enterprises—are always the most vibrant, energetic centers of a nation. Still, cities fall along a continuum from:
Group One, greatest in intensity - the most populated, “electric” urban areas on the East and West Coasts (New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Boston, etc.); to

Group Two, of still strong but more controlled intensity - the most populous, dynamic regional centers throughout the country (Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta Denver, etc.); and

Group Three, milder in tone and style - the American South and the quieter cities in vast rural regions (Charleston, SC; Birmingham, AL; Phoenix, AZ; Oklahoma City, OK; Kansas City, MO; Salt Lake City, UT; to name a few).
In the largest urban centers –particularly New York and throughout the Northeast, but also the largest West Coast cities—people talk the loudest, the fastest and most expressively. They gesture most emphatically. They interrupt most often, excuse themselves least often, and are direct when expressing opinions.

At the opposite end of the spectrum lies the American South, and after that the quieter cities in rural regions. In the American South they exhibit genteel politeness and picturesque regional expressions; while in the other regions in this category they speak with few words, wait their turn to talk, are considerate of others, and generally speak more slowly.

In the middle category, consisting of major regional centers and the cities of Canada—communication lies somewhere between the two extremes. People are friendly, open and talkative, and use small talk generously. They smile more, use accommodating gestures (head tilts, open hands, easy eye contact), but they are not as solicitous as in the super-genteel areas of the American South.

With greater mobility and global exposure, regional patterns are fading. Still, an awareness of these longstanding patterns offers a chance to observe America’s homegrown diversity.

Monday, July 24, 2017

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN (and others) DO?

Despite changing times, women still form the largest single group of professionals who may display negative overtones to their overt message. But not just women! Anyone who –because of culture, personality or gender—tends to be shy, deferential, reluctant to speak up, or is intimidated by their “superiors,” is at a distinct professional disadvantage.

Culture and social training encourage women to express themselves with a “feminine voice,” to move with grace, to attend to appearance, to defer to others, to smile and show emotion, to avoid overt competition with peers, and to not interrupt. This applies particularly to people (women and men) from East and Southeast Asia, where silence, waiting one’s turn, and “respecting” elders is important, and to Latin American and African women, who have a strong female identity and polite deference to elders and men in general.

Here then are some tips for the workplace. 
  • Speak at the low end of your vocal register. Lower voices convey confidence and authority. Simply dropping your head and chin while talking can achieve this.
  • Breathe deeply and fully for vocal power. Do not limit your breathing to your upper chest. Instead, give your lungs a full “belly breath” –like the bellows of a musical instrument, or a professional swimmer taking in as much air as possible—to help you compete with the stronger lungs of a male voice.
  • Relax your posture to avoid looking stiff and nervous. When seated, expand your arms, away from your body, and lean in.
  • Avoid tilting your head to the side, which suggests accommodation and unconditional understanding, good qualities at times, but in stark contrast to the vertical head posture of men, which lends an exacting, authoritative air of a precision-driven leader.
  • Control excessive smiling, laughing, and hand gestures, to stand out less against your relatively serious, unemotional male counterparts.
  • Dress professionally, especially when delivering a presentation. Avoid flashy or jangling jewelry, hair falling over the eyes or across the face, or clothing that is distractingly revealing.
In every case, help others to focus less on your personal attributes and more on the job at hand and your competence in handling it.

Monday, July 17, 2017


In America, one’s general demeanor should be relaxed, outgoing and confident. So in whatever body position you assume, avoid looking like you are too tightly self-controlled or “imprisoned” in your own space.

Sitting should not be rigid, but at the same time not so relaxed as to seem careless.

Legs and Feet should seem comfortable, legs not placed too precisely parallel to one another, and feet not totally flat on the floor. Legs or ankles may be crossed in casual fashion.

Posture should be good but not soldier-like. When sitting, your back may be either straight or leaning forward from the waist.

Arms should be somewhat expansive, not too close to your body. One arm may be resting on the table or chair arm. Elbows may be on the table, perhaps with hands touching, fingers loosely knit together. Avoid tightly crossing your arms, which can create a subconscious barrier between yourself and others.

Hands should be free to move comfortably (but not excessively) to emphasize your comments or signal that you want to say something. Do not over-control your hands by folding them on the table or in your lap.

Standing: When someone greets you with the offer of a handshake, you should meet him/her at an equal level by standing up.

Personal space: The Japanese maintain perhaps the greatest “personal bubble” around themselves of any culture, while Mediterranean people naturally crowd close to one another. Americans are somewhere in between these extremes. Observe the distance those around you keep, and model what you see.

Touching is dictated by culture and situation. A general rule in professional settings is to avoid touching others, except when shaking hands. Casual physical contact between men and women, or between a superior and a lower-level worker is discouraged, as corporate policies make clear. One exception to this might be between women colleagues who are also good friends in and outside of work.

Monday, July 10, 2017


Today’s Tip addresses ways to use your head and eyes when you want to reveal feeling behind your message and create a favorable impression of yourself. This seems obvious, but if your first culture is not American, it definitely is not!

Professionals in America hope to appear relaxed and outgoing, yet self-assured and securely in control. Something as simple as how you tilt your head and use your eyes can determine a successful demeanor.

Tilting the head –relaxing it on a slight angle from straight up—is a welcoming, accommodating gesture, while holding it stiffly erect suggests rigid certainty with little room for compromise.

Women tend to tilt their heads; therefore, they should straighten the head when they want to project seriousness, attentiveness, or challenge. By contrast, men –and all people from hierarchical cultures like East and Southeast Asia—naturally hold their heads more erect, so they will want to relax the head in a slight tilt, to show they are open to what others say and think.

Making proper eye contact is important, too. From early childhood, Americans are taught to “look others in the eye” in order to show respect and attention. Deflecting your gaze –as, for example, Asian culture encourages people to do as a sign of respect and deference—in America indicates a lack of personal engagement.

When you are listening to lengthy remarks, you should make and hold eye contact with the speaker. You may glance away at times, but always come back to connecting with your eyes.

But when you are in conversation with another person, knowing how long you hold your gaze is key. “Too long” makes you seem to be “staring,” which can suggest surprise, confusion, or even outright defiance. “Too short” makes you seem nervous (“eyes darting”) and unsure of yourself. Generally, you should make eye contact, then after about four seconds divert your gaze for about three seconds, then re-connect.

Next time we’ll talk about adding nods, facial expressions and hand gestures for the “right look.”

Monday, July 3, 2017


Sight is the strongest of the five human senses. And so when you communicate, your audience relies greatly on what they see as you deliver your message.

Words come out of your mouth and convey some meaning, but how you are perceived as you speak can alter that message. And importantly, even when you say nothing, you are communicating something.

Non-verbal cues communicate a lot of key information about you. How you use your eyes, move your head and facial muscles, stand, sit, physically approach a person, utter non-specific sounds (mmm, aahh, uh) within conversation, all present clear signals about your competence, your ease in dealing with information, the cooperative give-and-take you exhibit, your willingness to be helpful and non-threatening, and your comfort level in social situations.

This is a subtle process, instinctively understood by native speakers but a confusing challenge for many people from other cultures. In the American workplace you must learn to decipher non-verbal cues, to recognize them in others, and to use them effectively yourself.

If you are from East or Southeast Asia, for instance, you will tend to control your movements and expressions more than Americans would, leaving the impression you are either less enthusiastic or enigmatic about what you think. If you are from a Latin or Mediterranean culture, you may use gestures in ways that, to Americans, over-state your feelings, again giving your listeners the wrong impression.

Tips appearing in the coming weeks will talk more specifically about this topic. You may discover some elements you may not even be aware of, areas can greatly change the image you project to others.

In the meantime, observe and study native speakers’ movements and gestures. Watch scenes from movies and TV with the sound off. And try to “mirror” –or imitate-- some of what you see to create the same effect, beyond your words.

Monday, June 26, 2017


It’s sometimes hard to enter a discussion when others are speaking quickly and fluently, and with passion. As we discussed last time, taking a cue from basketball will help you jump into the game.

This is a problem for anyone who is uncertain of their English fluency, and a particular challenge for those whose cultures value silence between thoughts and discourage interrupting. That would include East and Southeast Asian people, as well as submissive personalities, women and younger people from hierarchical cultures.

So how do you practice the “moves” you’ll need for this variation of conversational basketball?
First, recognize that in American culture, interjecting your comments is not interrupting, but rather should be viewed as appropriate engagement with others.

Second, use gestures and other non-verbal skills to signal your desire to say something. Try several of these:
  • Fix your eyes (maybe raising your eyebrows too) on the current speaker and hold them there until you are acknowledged.
  • Open your hands, move them forward to draw attention.
  • Raise one index finger slightly (but do not “point” the finger too strongly).
  • Lean in toward the speaker and the group, either bending forward if seated, or shifting a foot forward and a shoulder discretely into the group if standing.

And finally, to jump into the conversation but still give yourself a moment to gather your words into a smooth form, lead off with such pat phrases as: Just to clarify for a moment…Sorry, I’d like to mention that…One second before we go on…If I may, there’s an important consideration here…Let me add one thing here, please…etc.

Such phrases should be short and introductory; otherwise, you actually might seem to be interrupting. Lead-in remarks are exactly that, entrees to the comments you want to make in detail. You need first to signal your intention to speak, and only then, when you are noticed (and “have the basketball”), can you add your meaningful content.

Monday, June 19, 2017


Last time we discussed how conversation between two people should resemble the game of ping pong. But when more people join in, you need to shift to basketball.

With both sports and conversation, you need to keep the ball moving. But unlike two-person ping pong, it must be shared by everyone in the group. One person leads off with a conversational point. He then “passes the ball” (shifts the talking) to another person, perhaps on his own team (who shares the same point of view). He then enhances the discussion and moves it on. Then the conversation may be interrupted by an opposing team member, who adds something new and turns the conversation in a different direction. He may then either pass it to a teammate or carry it further, always watching what everyone in the game is doing, in case they want to take a turn. However it goes, everyone feels involved. It’s not just two-way talk.
So in a workplace discussion involving Anton, Jack, Teresa and Sung: 
Anton (moving in direction A): It’s almost noon and I’m starving. Let’s go to lunch… 
Jack: (continuing)Good plan. How about a nice pepperoni pizza at that new place next door… 
Teresa: (changing direction to B)Nah, I can’t take all that cheese and calories… 
Sung: (reinforcing that direction)Me neither, and pepperoni? I’m a vegetarian, remember… 
Jack: (starting to reverse again toward A) Listen, they have really great salads, or just leave off the pepperoni… 
Sung: (joining in) Mmm, then I guess that’s okay with me… 
Teresa (nodding in agreement): Me too. Settled!  
Slam dunk! Game over…conversation finished…good outcome.
Presenting your own point of view but eventually reaching consensus is important in American business. Communication is an obvious way to show you’re a team player, willing to join in and connect.

Monday, June 12, 2017


Conversation, whether at work or socially, presents an opportunity to build friendships, reinforce a comfortable and confident self-image, and improve your standing professionally. But it has to be done in the right way.

Think “ping pong” when speaking to another person. There is no conversation –no “game”—unless the ball (the “conversational point”) keeps moving from one “player” to the other. If you’re afraid to hit the ball back --thinking you don’t know what to say-- the remedy is simple. Don’t drop the ball with a one-word answer. Keep the conversation flowing! Reply, and then either add more information or ask a question of your own.
--Hi I’m Jim. Don’t believe we’ve met.
--Toshi. Nice to meet you. No, I joined the company just this month.
--Everything going okay so far?
--Yes, although I’m sure it will take some adjustment. Have you been here long?
--Three years, two in Quality Control and one in Diagnostics.
--I’m in QC now and everybody’s been very helpful…
For those whose cultures value politeness and thoughtful silence (East and Southeast Asian cultures, for example) or where women and younger people are taught to defer to males and others in authority, you will need to step up and grab your chance to express yourself. You are not impolitely interrupting; you are engaging in the game!

Everyone should practice this to get it right with Americans. For people whose cultures stress competitiveness, hierarchy and bravado (such as Russian, German, and Israeli, to name just a few) or those with strong personalities who want to do all the talking, you must learn to “share” the conversation, consciously take turns, and practice listening before returning to your own voice too quickly.

Next time we’ll switch sports from table tennis to basketball to see how to talk among several people, not just one-on-one.

Monday, June 5, 2017


The honest truth is, no and yes.

No, if you started speaking English daily, predominantly and in an English-speaking country after about the age of 15. You may speak very fluently, but you will never sound completely like a native-speaker. The reason is, the tension with which you hold the muscles of your mouth; the way you curve the many areas of your tongue, move your lips, open your jaw, and even breathe have all been set and determined by your first language.

In other words, the muscles needed for your first language are strong from many years of training. Those you now need for English are different and have not been developed early enough to sufficiently to define you.

But yes, by some fairly simple efforts you can remove the distracting aspects of your speech in English, and cultivate a beautiful, clear way of speaking so that everyone will see you for the competent, impressive person that you are.

You can achieve this in three steps:
  1. Identify your distinct problem sounds and “musical” challenges, depending on your first language, and forget the rest. What is difficult for Chinese speakers may not be a problem for French speakers. And, what is hard for the French may be simple for the Chinese. So don’t waste time on the problems of others.
  2. Work first by strengthening the muscles needed for your problem elements, and then by studying and practicing repetitions of these exercises.
  3. Work for short periods (maybe 5 minutes) several times a day… NOT for long stretches when you get around to it.
Frankly, serious improvement may require more help than a Tip can provide. My best suggestion (no surprise) is to read and study COMMUNICATING YOUR COMPETENCE (see to the left of this text).

But, if you are convinced that you cannot or will never achieve any real improvement, my best advice is:

If you do nothing else to improve your speech...SLOW DOWN!

Monday, May 29, 2017


You’ve all had frustrating moments when you say something as carefully and clearly as you can, but your listeners just don’t get it! Sorry to say, mastering difficult sounds (like the TH, R, L, or maybe V/B or V/W confusion) may not be enough. The problem may go beyond pronunciation alone.

In fact, your “music” may be out of tune for American English (see two Tips before this). A monotonous style of speaking (which is not “musical” in English) can either confuse those trying to follow you, or put them to sleep with a boring presentation.

You can rectify this by varying and breaking up segments within your sentences to emphasize key words or phrases. Do this by separating the words of your sentence into “Content Words” and “Function Words.” (You will need to understand, or study up on, English grammar terms in order to do this easily.)

Content Words are important words that convey crucial meaning to the sentence. They include nouns, main action verbs, adjectives and sometimes adverbs, negative words (not, never, can’t, etc.), and the last word of a sentence. Content Words must be spoken with stress, either by saying the word louder, holding it longer, or speaking it more slowly and clearly.

By contrast, Function Words connect or incorporate the more important Content Words so that the sentence functions grammatically. Function Words include pronouns, articles, prepositions, and auxiliary verbs. They are spoken with less force or clarity, and moving quickly along.

Here are two examples (Content Words in bold and spoken boldly; Function Words moving quickly along).

I can’t go with you now; I have more important things to do this afternoon.

That’s okay. I need to be home for dinner by six, so there probably isn’t time anyway.

As with most of our Tips, this is a bigger subject than we can cover completely here. But it’s something to be alert to, and then work on with greater study if necessary.

Monday, May 22, 2017


We all want to find ways to relieve stress. But if your first language is not English, you need to add stress to your speaking style in order to be clearer, more persuasive, and seem more knowledgeable.

This is because English is a uniquely “stress-timed language,” while other languages are either “syllable-timed” (all syllables uttered equally) or have structurally no syllables at all (eg. Chinese).

When Americans break a word down into syllables - that is, into sound units, each of which has one vowel sound in it, like in-for-MA-tion) - our mind processes the whole word better if its parts are individualized in some way. We do this by accenting some syllables more than others.

How? By saying a stressed syllable louder or with a rise in voice pitch, by saying it more clearly, or by holding it longer or stopping the voice for a split-second. Or by using several of these techniques at once.

You must learn to identify all the syllables in a word, and to know which ones are stressed. Then practice the most troublesome words. If you don’t, then:
  • Portuguese/Brazilian speakers will say “POL-i-cy” but it will sound like “PO-lice” (wrong word altogether).
  • French speakers will say “He FIXes his car himself,” but it will sound like “He FIX his car himself” (grammar seems wrong).
  • Spanish speakers will say “I in-TEN-ded to tell you,” but it will sound like “I in-TEND to tell you” (tense and timeframe will be misunderstood).
  • Hindi speakers will say all syllables equally fast and with no apparent break, so that “I want to explain this fully and clearly” will sound like “iwanttoexplainthisfullyandclearly” (a jumble of meaningless letters to Americans).
After mastering this, you are ready next time for some important rules for extending this concept to full sentences. Only then can you truly express your bigger ideas with clear comprehension by American listeners.

Monday, May 15, 2017


Every language has its own “music,” its unique rhythms, a distinct upward and downward flow, some staccato passages and other lingering stretched out sounds. English can be as different from your first language as a waltz is from a tango, a march is from a ballad. But is your ear tuned to hear it?

American English is relaxed, fluid and lyrical. It is unevenly paced, glides along with some sounds held longer than others, moves up at predictable times, and usually ends with a downward plunge.

If you do not learn to recognize and employ these musical qualities, your English pronunciation will lack the flavor and power to persuade, explain, appeal to, and connect with your listener.

Take time to listen to the music of native speakers of English. Listen to the changing patterns that indicate the moods behind the sentiments. Warm up to the subtleties of regional accents and the personality and charm behind the words.

Listen to clear native speakers, such as actors, broadcasters and some teachers. Listen as they move quickly from one word to the next, when they linger on a single word and stretch it out, or when they stop for an instant before, or sometimes after, a key word to give it importance. Listen to American English until the shape and flow of this language becomes familiar and natural to you. Then after listening, you are ready to analyze the details.

Next time, we shall begin to explore specific elements of American music. We’ll start with the critically important area of “stress and emphasis,” which does not exist very much in most languages. Without sufficient stress and emphasis, your American listeners will be confused or bored, and may even tune you out!

Monday, May 8, 2017


For job interviews, meetings, lectures and presentations, American culture appreciates a person with a self-assured presence and confident demeanor. You must project bold and positive energy, starting with the way you speak.

Opening your jaw more broadly and breathing from the bottom of your lungs are two improvements that will add power, clarity and confidence to your verbal delivery.

In American English, the 5 vowels actually have 17 vowel sounds. Some distinctions are almost imperceptible to non-native speakers, but all are important and necessary for your American listeners. As vowel sounds progress, say, from an “ee” (see, we, reach) to an “aah” (father, collar, apostrophe), your jaw will be almost closed for the “ee” but drop wide open for the “aah.” Practice moving from “ee” to “aah” repeatedly. Drop the jaw as much as you can, and feel the sensation when it is wide open. Expanding the jaw’s range will give you more room to say clearly all the vowel sounds in between. It will also give your verbal delivery a more “American feel,” with the mouth physically exposed and open (amazingly contributing to a confident impression on others!).

English also requires “deep breathing” so that you will not run out of air in sentences where certain words are held much longer than others. (Try saying this full sentence with power; if you run out of air midway, you now know what to work on!) You must learn to breathe like opera singers, yoga practitioners and competitive swimmers –from your diaphragm, deep in the belly where the greatest amount of air can be stored and slowly released.

Many people gather air only from the upper chest, such as many women from Japan and France, men from some areas of China and India, and others who are just “soft-spoken” by nature. If you are a “shallow breather,” realize the importance of changing this habit in order to project the power needed for American English and business confidence.

Monday, May 1, 2017


“Tongue tied” means unable to speak, usually from being nervous. This week, we give a special slant to this expression --when you can’t speak because the words themselves seem to be tangled up in your mouth, getting in the way of each other.

Talking about how you must adopt a special “mouth shape” for clear English, we move from the lips (last week’s posting) to another critical mouth part, the tongue.

Like lips, the tongue must be free of tension (Russian speakers especially!). It should rest in a concave shape, with the center lower than the edges, somewhat like a bowl. When not speaking, an American’s tongue falls into this “default position,” relaxed at the bottom of the mouth with the tongue tip (the “front edge of that bowl”) touching the back of the lower front teeth.

This resting position makes it easy to say “uh” (technically called the “schwah”). We use “uh” all the time…when we’re thinking before speaking (uh, well, uh, let me think about that); when we say any vowel sound in an unstressed syllable (“photography” becomes “phuh – TOG – ruh – phy”); and as a common vowel sound itself (punish, double, flutter).

The tongue tip is used more than any other part of the tongue for many troublesome consonants in English, such as the D, T, N and L –especially hard for East and Southeast Asian speakers. To get this right, you need instruction and practice, but even then, it’s possible only when your tongue starts from a concave position.

And the TH – EVERYBODY’s problem—requires your tongue tip to touch lightly between the upper and lower front teeth. Looking in the mirror, you must see that tongue tip jutting out between your teeth for just a second, to get the English TH right.

Next week’s tip concerns two final ways to add power and confidence to your American English speech: opening your jaw more broadly than ever, and “power breathing,” as opera singers and Olympic swimmers do best!

Monday, April 24, 2017


How you use the lips when speaking American English plays a big part in being easily understood by your listeners and giving your accent a more native sound. For American English, the lips should be relaxed but change shape a lot.

Look into a mirror and exaggerate the degree to which you move your lips when you talk. This is likely to feel extreme, even silly at first, but American listeners will understand you more readily.

Make a habit of observing clear speakers, such as actors, news broadcasters or some teachers. Notice how much their lips move and how this movement contributes significantly to easy-to-understand speech. Watch them privately on TV, YouTube, or otherwise stream them in full view, and practice imitating what you see. Exaggerate as you push your lips forward and back. Imagine they are made of flexible rubber, move them wildly(!), and open your mouth more. In time, your outer mouth movements will adjust to the feeling of this pattern, and you will become more comfortable and secure.

Enunciating with your lips achieves three goals. First, it will help you say key consonant sounds clearly –for example, when contrasting V and B (important for Spanish), F and P (for Korean), and W against V (for many northern, eastern and western European languages, for Russian, and for South Asian languages). Second, your lips will give your listener a clear visual clue about what you’re saying. And finally, it will slow you down around difficult words –which is always a good thing for greater clarity.

Next time, we’ll talk about another tip for adjusting your “mouth shape” –by properly positioning the Tongue. How tensely you hold it and exactly where you place all parts of it are also key to speaking with a more native and natural style.