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Why Conversational English Isn't Enough









QUESTION: “What is your most important reason for learning English?” 


MOST COMMON ANSWER: “To improve my career opportunities.”



Is this correct? Learning English is a vehicle to transport you on the highway of career advancement; this is absolutely true for most students who learn from me. You understand that English proficiency is an important component of professional development. However, it is only a beginning. 



In order to attain higher pinnacles of success and respect in your work, you must become a master of communication. What does this mean? It means that once you have good command of the English language, you must learn to adapt your style of communication for developing strong relationships with all personality types. And, the skills required to do this are not that difficult.



Knowing how to recognize different personality types and respond effectively to each one will establish you as a great communicator, someone who connects with both co-workers and superiors, and someone who should be considered for managerial or leadership positions. But wait…there is more.



Everyone has a primary modality for accessing and imparting information. Have you noticed that some people are ok with receiving important information by phone call? Or, what about the boss who insists on seeing you in person to discuss an important matter? This is probably because the boss has a primary modality that is visual, while ones who are satisfied with a phone call are primarily auditory


Does knowing this help you to understand communication preferences and develop a stronger relationship with your boss? You know it does!



Finally, you must know that conflict is inevitable in human relationships. Knowing how to manage conflict is essential to professional growth. Strategies for containing conflict will vary according to personality types. However, there are simple responses in the face of conflict that will help defuse almost any situation.



You don’t even need to be accent-perfect to become a master of communication in English. Consider Arnold Schwarzenegger, who still has a noticeable accent yet became wildly successful in English speaking roles in movies and as governor of California. Why? Because he mastered the art of communication, the key to leveraging language for career development. 






A Question of Character

Quote for the week:



A few years ago, a computer-based glitch on the United Airlines website allowed passengers to book flights to Hong Kong — or other places in Asia connecting in Hong Kong — in exchange for a paltry four frequent flier miles, plus government taxes. The advertised actual price of the ticket was accurate; the technical slip-up occurred in the transaction process.   United eventually corrected the error and announced it wasn't honoring tickets already sold. People could get a refund without paying a penalty or have the proper amount of miles deducted. Anyone who had already started their trip would be allowed to complete their travel. Several people who booked tickets are complaining to the DOT, which is now investigating the matter.

A 62-year-old retired teacher from Aiken, S.C., is one of the people who bought a ticket. She knew it was a computer error but booked a trip anyway. "United just made a big mistake and needs to honor it," she said. "That was their mistake, wasn't it?" The most disturbing aspect of this mindless justification is that it comes from the mouth of someone who was educating our children for a living. If she were given too much change back from one of her students, would she keep it, rationalizing “that was their mistake”? How many other ethically vacuous educators sanction this behavior?  I would fire them immediately if the power was mine to do!

Let me be clear…I'm no fan of United Airlines. Customer service is atrocious and the temptation to rip them off is almost irresistible...but to take the ticket and run, knowing the advertised price and that the error was computer-generated in the billing is poor integrity, and a microcosm of what's askew in this world.


The Golden Rule never wears out its welcome: Treat others, as you want to be treated. Then you can live with minimal drama, a good night’s sleep, and a clear conscience. The seeds were planted as early as 2040 B.C in the ancient Egyptian story of the The Eloquent Peasant: “Do to the doer to cause that he do thus to you.” The Code of Hammurabi (1780 B.C.) in Babylon addressed ethical reciprocity in various ways. The Golden Rule existed among all the major philosophical schools of ancient China, including Taoism and Confucianism. Some examples:

“Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” - Confucius

“Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and their loss as your own loss.” - Lao Tzu

The student asked, “Is there one word that may serve as a rule of practice for all of one’s life?”

The teacher replied, “Is not reciprocity such a word?”



Enervation & Communication




QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” - George Bernard Shaw  


Continuing the ongoing theme from last week of how to sustain our energy levels, we move from the emotional/spiritual component (connecting to purpose) and the physiological (deep breathing) to the mental/interactive: communication.


It’s estimated that 80% of all mistakes, miscues, malfunctions in the workplace, call them what you want, are due to sloppy communication. When this issue goes unaddressed and is allowed to fester in the form of unresolved conflict, most everyone’s energy level sags and productivity starts to plummet. Withheld communication, whether in the form of suppressed opinions or feelings, become a concrete albatross to the goals and objectives shared within an organization.


Withholds need to be shown in the bright light of safe scrutiny with the intent to resolve. Establishing a culture where this process is given high level support staffed with highly skilled communicators is essential. When people know that issues like miscommunication or personality friction are going to be dealt with fairly and effectively, a sense of trust and confidence pervades. Good communication interventions are a crucial component of sustaining high energy levels in the workplace.          


In addition to competent communication intervention, employees in all departments should have training in state of the art communication skills. Some executives will dismiss the notion with a “we can’t afford it” objection. They need to realize how much it costs the company when miscommunications lead to enormous reparations. Strategies such as how to recognize different personality types and deal with them when they are under stress will save the company lots of money in the long run. Learning how to adapt one’s communication style to understand others is a flexibility skill, paying dividends in warding off misunderstandings that snowball into stormy fiascos.          




These are the all-time nominees for the Chevrolet Nova Award. This is given in honor of the General Motors snafu in the ‘70s, trying to market this car in Latin America. "No va" means, "No go," in Spanish.


1. The Dairy Association's huge success with the campaign "Got Milk?" prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention the Spanish translation meant, "Are you lactating?"


2. An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market that promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of "I saw the Pope" (el Papa), the shirts read "I Saw the Potato" (la papa).


3. Pepsi's "Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation" translated into "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave" in Chinese.


4. The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as "Kekoukela," meaning "Bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax", depending on the dialect.  Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent "kokou kole", meaning "happiness in the mouth."


5. Frank Perdue's chicken slogan, "It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken" was translated into Spanish as "it takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate."


6. When American Airlines wanted to advertise its new leather first class seats in the Mexican market, it translated its "Fly in Leather" campaign literally, which meant "Fly Naked" (vuela en cuero) in Spanish!




Communication Reorientation

Quote for the week: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, it goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela

Isn’t it true that we feel happy and energized when there is a good natural flow of communication that results in clear understanding? Conversely, when we are stuck in unresolved communication calamity it tends to deplete us, like pulling the stopper from a bathtub drain.

Know that even though we may all be speaking English and have positive intent, there are differences in communication styles that can lead to misunderstandings and mistakes. Having a strategy to adapt our communication style to another’s style can provide a positive outlet to avoid and defuse conflict.

In the 1970s a new paradigm for creating rapport via adaptation of communication style was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. It was called Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP. This model has been revised and refined over time by some, including myself. I don’t call it NLP anymore because it sounds too much like brain surgery or psychological warfare. My term is “Primary Modalities of Language,” or PML.

Essentially there are three primary modalities by which we impart and receive communication…

Visual: via images, pictures, mental visions

Auditory: via sounds, voices

Kinesthetic: via physical sensations

And with each modality comes a specific vocabulary…

“I see,” “It looks like,” “It appears to be…”

“I hear you,” “It sounds like,” “It rings a bell…”

“I feel that”, “It touches on,” “It taps into…”

These are the basics I am alluding to, but when you apply this formula to different people it gets you through the first door to their primary communication orientation, i.e., entering their world. If you’re in a foreign country it is advisable to use some of the local language for rapport. Likewise in this case, use some of the primary language when relating to people who are more visual, auditory or kinesthetic than you.

Besides vocabulary, how can you determine a person’s primary modality? Oftentimes, their profession is a strong clue. For example, if it’s a musician, chances are excellent that it’s going to be auditory; an artist who paints landscapes is primarily visual; a massage therapist, kinesthetic. There are also physiological cues that I will elaborate on in the next edition.


Going to Brazil for the first time, I had purchased a pocket language dictionary to learn words and basic conversation in Portuguese. On the plane, I was focused on finding words to use in certain situations that would serve as a portal to further interaction. So if someone sneezed, for example, I could say the equivalent of “Gezundheit,” or “God bless you,” in Portuguese. The word is “saude.”

In a pocket dictionary where the letters are very small, it’s easy to do a misalignment on the English to Portuguese translation. So, one day as I was having lunch at an outdoor café in Rio, there were three beautiful young Brazilian women at a table next to mine. When one of them sneezed, instead of saying “saude,”I said, “Sou daudi-o,” which means, “I miss you.” Shock registered on her face, as she threw up her hands while looking at her friends as if to say, “I don’t know this man!”

My first time in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, I walked into a stall at a large outdoor market. There was a fascinating Buddha statue perched on the front counter. Always one who strives to engage and impress by using the local language, I asked the owner a question about the statue. His reply in English: “But, what are you going to do with a live pig?”


Reconnecting to Purpose

Quote for the week: “Feed your soul, starve your worries.” – Terry Braverman 


In this first week of the New Year, many of us take time to reflect upon our commitments, what we desire to change, and how we want to improve our lives. Today I offer an emotional/spiritual component to the core issue of what inspires us to really live.

This is a prime time to reconnect to life purpose; for some, creating a new purpose, but seriously ask yourself: “What do I live for?” The answer should candidly distill down to a passionate feeling or quality of living, e.g. “I live for joy,” “I live to nurture my family,” “I live for peace of mind.” Mine is, “I live for adventure.” It doesn’t mean that I run with the bulls, wrestle alligators, or confront the Komodo dragon. I live for adventure, not insanity!

It means that I try to find the adventure in most everything that I do. For something as mundane as going to the market, I’m not going just to shop. I preset an intention to talk with or meet somebody on the line at the checkout stand, or elicit a new way to prepare fish from the person behind the fish counter, or learn about a new product. Building my life around that sense of adventure really simplifies things in terms of creating goals and objectives, like inhaling through a tube from an oxygen tank.

If life feels like a hamster wheel of waking up, going to work, paying bills, toiling over household chores, and family obligations without the central soul connection to purpose, it becomes vapid. Purpose is the furnace that your core energy needs to radiate energy and engagement. Distill your purpose in life down to a simple feeling or quality. This is the foundation by which you reconstruct the materials of your life.

Seeking an enhanced sense of purpose in life? Here are five suggestions:


  • Connecting and/or networking with others, personally and professionally
  • Learning new skills
  • Becoming more physically active
  • Giving your time and resources to assist others in need
  • Paying more attention to the world around you 


Next week: the key physiological component for sustaining energy.


A recent study found that having a purpose in life is linked to living longer, regardless of your age or retirement status. The study was carried out by researchers from Carleton University, Canada and the University of Rochester Medical Center, U.S., and was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Aging. It was published in the peer reviewed medical journal Psychological Science.

Researchers asked more than 6,000 people aged 20 to 70 whether they felt they had a strong sense of purpose in life. This was assessed using a scoring system of how strongly people felt about the following statements:


  • "Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them."
  • "I live life one day at a time and don't really think about the future."
  • "I sometimes feel as if I've done all there is to do in life." 


They were also asked about their social relationships with others. Death rates were recorded for the next 14 years. The study found that people who died scored lower on purpose in life and positive relations with others.

The study only assessed purpose in life using three questions at one point in time. This type of study could therefore only show an association between purpose in life and mortality rate at best. It did not take into account key lifestyle factors such as physical activity, diet, smoking, alcohol consumption or illness.

Although this study lacks the breadth and thoroughness to prove that having a purpose prolongs your life, common sense suggests that it is likely to enrich it.




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