Language: A system of communication (used by a particular country or community).
In the current climate of Brexit negotiations (forgive me for mentioning the unmentionable) I’ve been thinking a lot about language and language barriers. living in London, I am lucky to be surrounded by a multiplicity of different cultures and therefore a lot of the clients I work with aren’t native English speakers. They come to me for ‘accent reduction’ or to speak with a more ‘English ac- cent’. They tell me they want to ‘change’ their accent, but when we begin working we discover their desire is rather to speak with more clarity, to be understood better. They want to communicate more effectively rather than speak the Queen’s RP English.
This desire to be understood by developing a more refined English pronunciation I think stems from a fear of being misunderstood or misinterpreted when trying to communicate in a language which is not one’s own, one which is foreign and therefore perhaps feels unnatural. When we don’t feel at home with the words we are using to express our thoughts and emotions, it can feel restrictive, frustrating, even sometimes embarrassing. It can leave us feeling alienated and unable to connect with those around us. This is what I often hear from clients I work with and I have felt this myself when visiting other countries; inhibited by an inability to speak and express myself adequately.
But if we think about language as a system of communication, we can broaden our perspective about what can be included by this categorisation: Gesturing, laughing, crying, sighing, facial expressions and body language all make up systems of communication, ways in which we interpret people’s moods and meaning. A simple roll of the eyes or curl of the lip can say so much. A deep breath or shrug of the shoulders can speak volumes, sometimes far more than any words we might choose to utter.
Coaching groups and individuals at The Pitch Process, we talk a lot about body language. How our bodies speak before words; how becoming aware of our intrinsic qualities and physical habits can empower us with the ability to make a choice about our body language. We can choose how to express ourselves physically, how we communicate and present ourselves, and potentially the impressions we subsequently make.
Body language is a system of communication in which we can all be fluent. I try to remind my clients of this; that although words are important, they are not the sole method of expression; that we should not be afraid of using words AND eye contact AND gesture AND body language AND breath to communicate and connect with others.
At The Globe last week I was reminded of this again. I went to see Dark Night of the Soul in the Sam Wanamaker playhouse, a collection of short pieces by female writers. One of the characters was played by a deaf actress, whose speech and pronunciation of words obviously differed to what we are accustomed to hearing. But she was so clear. Her intentions, her emotions, her physicality and intonation patterns made it impossible not to understand her! You may say, ‘well she’s an ac- tor, it’s easy for her, she’s trained to communicate well.’ And yes, this is true. But we all have the power or at least the potential to communicate with this much clarity and intention. Can we challenge ourselves to embrace all forms of language in order to express ourselves? Can we explore the words of a new language without feeling inhibited by its foreignness?
Some define language as ‘structured and conventional’. I would argue that it doesn’t have to be. That with the many modes of communication we have at our fingertips (no pun intended!) we can give and receive information, exchange thoughts, feelings, ideas and opinions freely, without restriction or inhibition. I encourage everyone I work with, myself included, to utilise as many types of language as possible to communicate: to be clear in intention, to use eye contact, gesture, body language, inflection and tone to form connections with others. Which is ultimately what language and communication is all about.