Most of us have experience with studying a foreign language, may it be from our primary school days or even from college. But did you ever think that studying a foreign language could improve your presentation skills? Well, I’m here to tell you learning a language definitely can have a significant positive impact on your ability to present.

When I was in college I made the decision to study Japanese as my foreign language, and it ended up becoming my major as well. When I tell people this I am usually met with curious looks and polite smiles, and in some cases a slightly more aggressive: “Huh?” Despite this, I have grown to learn that studying Japanese is probably one of the best decisions I’ve made to date. While many of my life experiences have kept me well within my comfort zone, learning a new language and culture and living abroad was the polar opposite. The reason it was so challenging is because I had to learn to communicate again, but in an entirely different way. Instead of relying on words themselves to communicate, I also had to take into account the other components of communication, like tone, expression and body language. But by doing this, it allowed me to strengthen my communication skills overall and become a better presenter.

Tone

What is tone? By definition, it is the way in which the pitch of one’s voice changes while speaking. Different languages use tone differently, and in some it is much more important for comprehension. If you compare a language like English to Japanese, you can see this difference very easily. For example, in English you can use tone to create sarcasm:

“Wow, that’s amazing!” Vs. “Wow, that’s amazing…”

However, sarcasm is a concept that doesn’t translate well into Japanese. If you were to say the above sentence in Japanese, people would assume you really do think something is amazing. Because of this, tone is much more important in Japanese than in English, because by slightly altering tone in words one ends up with a completely different word.

Kowai vs. Kawaii

I learned this lesson the hard way the first time I traveled to Japan. I was attempting to say that a small child looked cute (kawaii), but because I emphasized the wrong part of the word (it should have a rising pitch and emphasize the ‘e’ sound at the end) I ended up calling them kowai, (scary).

Even though tone isn’t as crucial in the English language, you can still use it to improve your presentation skills. Instead of droning on in a presentation it’s better to talk in an engaging manner. You can do this by really knowing your material, and once you do thinking about how to emphasize certain words and points while speaking. Thinking about pitch is important because you will sound more natural and more people will listen to you and the message you are trying to get across.

Expression

Another important lesson I learned throughout my Japanese studies is how to be expressive when speaking. I’m not typically the most expressive person, but I soon realized that when competing against a language barrier you need to use every advantage you are given to be understood. For example, when saying that you are looking forward to something, (tanoshimi desu) having a smiling facial expression helps get this idea across. With a neutral expression, people will read your sentiment as disingenuous. I noticed this when I was hanging out with my Japanese language partner, because she would always respond to my unenthusiastic comments with, “Are you joking?” Eventually it began to sink in that my deadpan manner was not helping my American-accented Japanese, and I started thinking more about what I looked like while I was talking. By the end of my time in Japan I rarely had people questioning whether or not I was being genuine so it was a definite success.

You can use this idea when presenting as well. Having a constantly flat facial expression doesn’t help your audience pay attention to what you are saying because they might not think you are actually invested in it. But by introducing even a slight variety in expression you immediately seem more natural and more people are likely to take your suggested course of action.

Body language

The final component of communication that many people forget about is body language. This is because the majority of the time we aren’t thinking about it. However, when you’re learning about a new culture one of the first things you talk about are gestures, as to avoid embarrassing yourself when you’re abroad. Gestures vary widely across cultures and in one culture flipping a certain finger could be considered either rude or have no meaning at all.

In Japan, gestures are very important, especially in a business setting.  For example, people bow instead of shaking hands, and the bow one does must be proportionate to the amount of gratitude or respect one wants to show.

In Western countries we don’t have to think about bowing but it is helpful to think about how you look when you present. By recording yourself presenting you can notice any nervous ticks you may have and work on eliminating them. In addition, you can make sure that you are interacting with the screen by gesturing to certain elements and not just standing next to it and looking stiff. By employing these kinds of tips you can become a more effective presenter because the audience will have their full attention on you and the screen instead of your twiddling thumbs.

For more great tips on body language, have a read of this.

Conclusion

While it doesn’t make sense for you to set out to learn a foreign language just for the sake of becoming a better presenter, it goes to show that learning languages definitely provides many benefits. So, the next time you are doing a presentation imagine that your audience doesn’t speak English well, and think about how you would get them to understand what you are trying to say based on tone, gesture and expression. By mastering these three elements alone you will be amazed by how much more engaged your audience becomes and how much better they understand your material.

Leave a comment
Written by

Amy Post

Senior consultant

View Amy Post's profile

Related articles

Dec 2018

Glisser is an online platform that allows you to create interactive presentations that can be used for marketing, training or any other type of events. The site has different functions available for presenters, attendees at events and event planners which all focus on allowing for increased presenter-audience interaction. Since creating engaging visual presentations is what we do, I decided to take a closer look at Glisser and see what it’s all about and how the various functionalities work.

  1. Image of John Brown John Brown says:

    Great read!

    When presenting I find the most important the Body Language. People partly attracts the body and gestures that are made when talking. If it is positive people will react positively. If you just stand when presenting people will find the presentation boring. However, what it is the main keypoint for me is the Interaction with the audience. Tell them a joke or ask them something, what they thing about xxx or xxx? What is their opinion on certain situation? And questions like these help me to attract them and make the presentation entertaining. They are laughing and so on. By learning foreign languages I lost all constraints that would prevent me from interaction with audience and I became self-confident. Also learning the foreign language helped me with memory and improve my brain power and now I can remember more. Also this website helped me improve my language skill, so don’t hesitate to check it! http://speaklikenative.com/

    Keep it going with articles like this!

Leave a Reply

Join the BrightCarbon mailing list for monthly invites and resources

Tell me more!

BrightCarbon provided us with a fantastic service ... and left us with a presentation that secured us a £4 million contract. BrightCarbon is our first choice for presentations in the future.

Matthew Mitchell NHS