The Standup Trainer Newsletter
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Welcome to all new and continuing
In this issue:
Dr. Standup takes a brief vacation while Ellen shares with you her latest adventure teaching in Beijing, China. Please continue to send any questions or comments you have about presentation skills for the Dr. to answer in upcoming issues!
Teaching Communications Skills
to People Who Don't Speak English
In which Ellen makes a quick trip to Beijing, China, to conduct a two-day corporate training class and discovers that even a high-level Chinese government official can have an excellent sense of humor!
Those of you who have been subscribers since March of this year already know that I taught a five-week "Executive Communications" course to students attending the International MBA program at Beijing University (BiMBA) in the late winter term. (If you are a more recent subscriber, just pop over to here to read the original report.) The students who attended that class were all able to speak and understand (to varying degrees of facility) English.
About a month ago, the corporate training arm of BiMBA contacted me to see if I would be interested in teaching a two-day class in presentation skills to high-level officials of the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA). They offered me a nice fee and free travel and lodging, so how could I refuse? Plus, when they told me that this time MOST of the participants in the class would speak no English and that I would have to teach with an interpreter, well, how could I pass up a learning opportunity like that?
If you've ever taught with an interpreter, you know that TIMING is a real issue. How much do you say before you pause to let the interpreter interpret? How do you deal with humor when the "punch line" will (of necessity) be delayed? These were all questions I pondered before the actual day of training.
I needn't have worried. The answer is simple: Get yourself an excellent interpreter.
My interpreter was Beryl, a most quick-witted and accomplished translator. (I asked her why she had picked "Beryl" as her English name, and she told me that she once had an English teacher who told her that name would be perfect for her. Hmmmm. Odd, but perhaps not any odder than the students in my class last winter who went by "Leo," "Selena," "Wilson," and "Roc.")
During the part of the class where I did the "lecturing," I would pause at the end of a thought, turn to Beryl slightly, and she would repeat my remarks in Chinese. After about, oh, maybe just 10 minutes or so, we were completely synched and I swear she could tell exactly when I was going to pause next and I knew the precise moment she would be finished with her translation. We were sort of like pro badminton players. (Badminton is a very big sport in China. It was all over the news on the one English channel in Beijing that China had won some sort of international badminton tournament.)
Then when the participants got up to make their group presentations, Beryl sat next to me as I took notes on each performance, and whispered into my ear a simultaneous translation of what they were saying. Now that requires some real brain ability!
So the interpreter part of the teaching turned out to be no really big deal after all, I am happy to report. The most interesting thing I learned was that it doesn't really matter if the participants don't speak the same language as you, or whether they are HIGH-LEVEL officials (the people who set up the class kept pointing this out to me)—they can still participate fully in the training if they are given the right encouragement. And they can still find things funny!
I started out very much in lecture mode, knowing that I had to speak slowly and clearly, and also knowing that the participants probably would not easily volunteer any comments or questions very early in the training. (There's that whole Chinese "saving face" attitude, which makes it very difficult for the instructor to determine if the students are actually getting the information or just pretending to.) I even tried a technique I had used with my MBA students: I gave each participant an index card and told them to write down any comments or questions on the card and give them to Beryl to translate and I would answer them anonymously. At the end of the first day no cards were turned in. Hmmmm, I thought. I bet they do have questions. I'll have to pry them out of them.
The next morning I had a brainstorm on the way to the training site. Instead of my planned lecture on how to deal with the Q&A part of a presentation, I decided to demonstrate what a Q&A looks like. I put all of the participants in groups of about 5-6 people, according to proximity, and told them to discuss among themselves what questions they had about the class content (for about 10 minutes) and then come up with the "best" question from the group. I then went around the room and answered each group's question. (Several group spokespersons couldn't resist and asked me two questions.)
Eureka! I got very good, very useful questions, I was able to clarify some misunderstandings, everyone's face was saved, and they all enjoyed the exercise. The activity worked so well that I decided to end the second day similarly: Back into their groups they went, to discuss what was the most important thing they learned in the class. Once again, several groups could not come up with just one thing; they had two or three! This turned out to be an excellent way to wrap up the two days of training.
Don't tell me that interactive training will not work in China (or in Chinese)! But be sure to get Beryl to translate!
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