Saturday, February 24, 2007

How to Give a Speech in a Foreign Language

I was asked to write an essay for freshmen students about how to give presentations in English. The essay will appear in the university class guide book for freshmen. I tried to write it in as simple English as possible so that students might actually be able to understand it. Nevertheless, I doubt anyone will really read it so decided to copy and paste it into my blog. Would anyone out there give any different advice that what I have given?

How to Give a Speech in a Foreign Language

Giving a speech in a second language is not easy. When we speak in our native languages we can sometimes improvise while we are speaking and add information or reduce information. When we speak in a second language it is much more difficult to improvise because a lot of our attention is devoted to the language itself. Since it is more difficult to improvise, it is important to prepare thoroughly before giving a speech in a second language.

How should you prepare? First, write out what you will say in your speech or take notes of what you will say. When I first started giving speeches in Japanese, my second language, I would write out everything I planned to say. After the experience of a few speeches though, I started giving speeches from notes. I recommend that you do whatever makes you feel the most comfortable. If you do not have much time to prepare, I think that giving speeches from notes is the most efficient method.

When writing out the speech, remember that the speech should be in your own words. The worst speeches in English I have seen were when students wrote their speech in Japanese and then used a translating program to put it into English. When they gave their speech, they simply read the computer translation. In these cases, the audience and even the speakers themselves did not understand the speech! When you put your speech in your own words, your personality is revealed because you have ownership of what is being said. Regardless of whether or not you are advanced in the second language, your personality and interest in the subject will maintain the listener’s interest in your speech.

Also, when preparing your speech consider who your audience will be. Will your audience be familiar with the topic of your speech? If your audience is not familiar with part of the topic, for example the fall of Ayutthaya in a topic such as “The Effect of the Historical Fall of Ayutthaya on Present Day Thailand-Myanmar Relations” you will have to explain about the fall of Ayutthaya.

The second part of preparation is practicing the speech. Even though I am fairly experienced at speaking publicly in a second language, I would never speak without practicing and always find the time to practice. Do not feel embarrassed about speaking out loud when no one is in the room or when other people not related to your speech are in the room. I have practiced for speeches in such places as my car outside the speech venue, a bullet train, a plane, a hotel room, a hotel lobby, a park bench, my office, and, of course, my house. In all these cases, the speeches I gave were successful because I took the time to practice.

When you practice speaking remember that maintaining eye contact with the audience during a speech is essential. If the speaker is staring at his manuscript or notes the whole time he is speaking, it will be harder for the audience to concentrate on the speech. Thus, when preparing for your speech, stare at a wall pretending that it is your audience, and try to say as much as your speech as possible to the wall while occasionally taking quick glimpses at your notes or manuscript.

Another thing to keep in mind when practicing is time. Time limits for a speech can be from 5 to 30 minutes. Even 5 minutes can seem very long, but when you practice you will realize that you do not have enough time to finish your speech! Usually when I practice, I find that I have to remove a third of the content from my speech to finish in the allotted time. Finishing on time is extremely important. For example, when a speaker finishes his speech in 20 minutes when it was supposed to be 15 minutes, it is rude to the next speaker who is waiting and the listeners find it annoying too because it extends the time of the event they are attending.

Although finishing on time is important, your speech should not be hurried. Let’s say that you have to speak as fast as you can to give what should be an 18 minute speech in 15 minutes. If you do this, I can guarantee you that your audience will not understand what you said. If you have 15 minutes to speak, make sure that you can finish your speech within those 15 minutes speaking at a moderate pace that is not too fast or too slow for your audience.

Lastly, when you are preparing for a speech it is a good idea to have someone look at your manuscript/notes or listen to the speech. The person could be your teacher, a classmate or a friend. The feedback that you receive from this person will help you give a better speech.

In conclusion, to give an effective speech, prepare thoroughly and, regardless of your ability in the language, give the speech in your own words. Enjoy yourself while you speak and your audience will enjoy listening to you!


Anonymous said...

I came by on your blog and really very very much enjoyed your this article on public speaking. It is really helpful that before we concentrate on practice, we come online and search and read a few places. It enhances my heart.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for addressing this topic. I am giving my second speech in Spanish next week and am glad to hear I am not alone in this adventure.

Anonymous said...

hi thank you for the tips, im a firs year student studying japanese and i might be selected to give a speech next year:) hopefully all will go wel and i wont go down with boeing

Anita Evans said...

I ask my students to prepare speech at home but they are only allowed to an outline to serve as prompter in front of the class. They may NOT read their presentation. This helps them make eye contact.
Next year I will take them one step further and make them do a Pecha Kucha presentation- 20 slides-20 seconds for each slide auto-run.
Great blog! Keep up the good work.
Anita Evans

Joel Valdez said...

Excellent post. My mother tongue is Spanish, I think I have a professional proficiency in English but in about a week I will be giving a presentation in English for the first time.

Most people that start learning a second language first master the writing and the reading, then the talking with friend, but speaking in public is something that is hard even in our native language.

I've been researching the whole morning looking for the kind of advises and techniques that you describe in this post.

At the end, it will be normal to be nervous and each person will have to find their own way to transform the fear into a good presentation. Ugly truth.

I guess that the BEST of all advises is to assimilate that people will expect that you make mistakes or at least that you have an accent.

One thing that is kind of working for me is thinking as if I'm attending to a conference where a foreign presenter will speak in my native language... Imagine that situation, imagine that the presenter has an accent but that you can easily understand what he's saying... do you feel mad? Uncomfortable? Not really, actually you would sympathize with the simple fact that the presenter is trying hard to speak your language. Well, in the same way our audience should feel when we are the presenters.

Another thing that I improves speaking is writing. I write my blog in English ( just to practice and improve my ability to generate ideas.

Let's see how it goes on my first presentation.

Good luck to me! and Thank you for this post!

JH said...

I think that if the presenter is trying his or her best and the content is engaging that the listeners will not worry at all about a foreign accent or a few mistakes here and there. I have been living in Japan for 14 years and have done a fair amount of public speaking in Japanese. My Japanese is not perfect but usually people understand what I want to say and, most importantly, seem to be interested in hearing what I have to say.
Good luck with your presentation!