I am a great believer in the power of words. As coaches we use them to help people clarify and re-frame their reality and often can assist in what appears like a major break through by simply reflecting back the content of what someone has said using different language. Great things words.
So here I am on my first few days in France, trying to access 9 years of school and Uni French with a brain that is taking a while to warm up those particular neural pathways and help our group of four smoothly negotiate all the daily transactions that keep us alive (eating) and having fun (as tourists). And with this comes plenty of opportunity to observe what makes communication work well, or not! And I am now rethinking my ideas on the importance of words.
The reality is, that a person’s attitude that is expressed in the face or by body language is the biggest indicator of how well the verbal interchange will go. If I am faced with an impatient, frustrated “shopkeeper”, my language skills deteriorate rapidly as they look blankly at my attempts to ask for my café au lait with “only a little milk and a lot more water”, as if I have asked for “a cup of cow juice with eggplants on the side”. Perhaps I have but that’s not the point. I am trying my best and if they smiled I might be able to access that deeply stored language quicker. And I really believe that’s how it works. In an atmosphere of friendliness and support people do fare better and that must surely include being able to recall long forgotten information! I am finding that the best conversation occurs when I am speaking with someone who is as keen to practice their English as I am to revive my French and we both happily babble on on in our second language – both occasionally saying ridiculous things but with lots of smiling and fun being had on both sides. And going away with a warm sense of achievement that we know adds to a rich and fulfilling life.
In a week’s time, I will arrive in Italy where my language skills include “pizza”, “cappuccino” and a phrase that I picked up from a language app that I failed miserably at fitting into my life before leaving – translated means, “It’s a boy”. I already know that I am going to feel frustrated with not being able to say what I want, so I am working on those facial expressions and gestures that say so much more than words, and will hopefully help when I am lost on a bike in the middle of Puglia where no one speaks English.
So good language skills are a wonderful thing to have, but our attitude, our intention and our ability to use our facial expressions and body language are indeed the things that really matter when we connect with people! If I am to rely on my language in Italy, all I will achieve is a few extra kilos and perhaps part-time work as a midwife.