Public Speaking and the Benefits of Being Bilingual

Public Speaking and the Benefits of Being Bilingual

Developing bilingual skills is vital in today's multicultural world. Business is no exception where bilingual skills and public speaking are almost a given.

Alejandro Saiz, Toastmasters Competent Communicator, grew up speaking Spanish like millions of Spaniards from his home country. Yet, given the demands of his current job, he realized the growing importance of public speaking in both English and Spanish, fluently.

“I work at Airbus in Madrid, and the official way of communication with other countries is English, but at the Spanish site [of the company], we hold most meetings in Spanish,” he says. “We have frequent meetings in Spanish and frequent meetings and phone telecoms in English.”

Saiz has found in the Nova Communication Bilingual Toastmasters club in Madrid the perfect place to practice communicating effectively in both languages. The club meets every week and uses an alternating language format, holding its meetings in English one week and in Spanish the next. Chartered in 2010, it clearly fills a need in Madrid: The club has more than 50 members.

Speaking both languages in the club, says Saiz, “means training in an environment as close as can be to my day-to-day work.”

María José Cid, another Toastmasters who has achieved her CC and CL, along with a group of other public speaking enthusiasts she met during a leadership training course, created the Madrid-based Toastmasters club. A native Spanish speaker, Cid says it was difficult when she started giving public speeches in Shakespear's language.

“I suffered from a fear of public speaking and doing it in a second language was tougher than doing it in my mother tongue,” she says.

Ultimately she became more confident and comfortable. Developing bilingual skills is vital in Spain, says Cid. “Current business and career demands make it a must for Spaniards to speak English.” The club’s arrangement of shuffling languages from one week to the following helps members greatly, she adds.

“Every week, our mind frame is set for the language to be used [in that week’s meeting], and all forms, including written evaluations, are in that language,” remarks Cid. “We consider it language immersion for Spanish speakers when the meeting is in English and the same thing for members of other nationalities when it is in Spanish. The use of both languages naturally improves with time and exposure.”

Alejandro Saiz says the greatest hurdle for him is adjusting his speech presentation to the language in which he’s speaking.

“I have noticed that in my case the language has a significant influence over many aspects of the speech,” he states. “For example, I have the tendency to speak too fast in Spanish, but in English, I think I control the pacing better. For this reason, when I am preparing a speech and I review the suggestions that I received from previous speeches, sometimes I need to put the suggestions into perspective, taking into account if I had given that speech in Spanish or in English.”

Diverse Membership

Nova Communication Bilingual Toastmasters club members hail from a number of different countries, making the club’s format even more worthwhile, says Gracia Uceda, CC, CL. “The bilingual format generates an environment of trust that makes it comfortable for all to participate in the meetings,” she says.

Graciela Tena, CC, a Mexican-American currently living in Spain, says she heard about Toastmasters from a friend when Tena lived in the U.S. When her husband’s work as a military diplomat brought her and her family to Spain, she became a member of Nova Communication.

“Since I joined the club, I have enriched my Spanish vocabulary and gained confidence presenting in Spanish,” Tena says.

The club, which meets at a local business school, uses video tools to assist club members on improving their craft. Tena edits and uploads videos to YouTube from each session's speeches, noting that the videos help members “learn from their mistakes and embrace their strengths.”

The club’s strong mentoring program also helps members. Those preparing a speech in their second language can meet with a mentor for whom that language is their native tongue, says Saiz, who served as the club’s mentoring coordinator in 2014–2015.

“Delivering speeches in two languages means more room for improvement (as there is always a language you are less comfortable with), and also more room for the mentors to help,” he says. “Some mentees send a preview video of their speeches to the mentors or even meet in person. It is always helpful to have someone review your speech, maybe tell you, ‘That part is clear’ or ‘That one is a bit of a tongue-twister’ and suggest other ways to say it.”

Nova Communication also helped one member, Pablo Ibáñez, Competent Communicator and Competend Leader, with his stuttering difficulty. He’s now the club president. “My goal was to speak in front of an audience and stutter and not be fearful or ashamed of it,” says Ibáñez, who says support from club members helped him realize this goal as well as become more fluent in both languages.

Note: this article was written by Julie Bawden Davis and published in Toastmasters.org

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