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“I have confidence in confidence alone…….oh help!”

(lines remembered from my first viewing of ‘The Sound of Music’)

I have just done a few weeks of training and a talk at BESIG in Prague. As each session approached, I went through various levels of nerves from the slightly dry mouth through full-blown hyperventilation. These variations all depend on stuff that we are all familiar with – perceived lack of preparation, unfamiliarity with audience and venue, physical well-being (had to do two training sessions while recovering from food poisoning – not advised).

These swings and roundabouts at the self-confidence fair can pretty much be managed by us. We all have our rituals and mantras to get us through. But it is the unexpected blows that come from others that take their toll – and sometimes a lasting one. Twice in the last week I have experienced this – both to do with speaking and both fairly damaging accounts.

The first affected me. I was teaching a student with a name I found hard to pronounce. On paper it looked fairly straight forward by the nuanced intonation and pronunciation of the sounds defeated my rather direct South African accent. Every time I said the student’s name, he winced and pulled a face expressing violent disgust. He’d shake his head and say, “Horrible! Euch!” After two or three of these little demonstrations, I became so irritated, I decided to call him by his surname, which came more easily to me. In my head, I said, “Sod off then, I’m not going to say your ridiculous name. I have tried and tried and with zero encouragement from you, that’s me done.” I learnt more then about how to approach the teaching of pronunciation than ever before. Pronunciation is deep and personal – tread very very carefully.

The second affected another of my students. 5 years ago she was trying to sort out a fairly complex shipping assignment – a pet from Dubai to Belgium. She started off lacking confidence in her English because of the unfamiliar nature of the assignment and needing to do a lot of it by phone. At one point she was unfortunate enough to have an impatient, rude, unsympathetic operative at the other end of the line. She was told that she was stupid and couldn’t she speak proper English. That jibe has stayed with her all these years. She hasn’t forgotten it and still today, her English suffers because she is afraid that she may be slapped down again. Her voice was shaking as she told me and I felt so angry with that faceless, nameless person for the damage she had inflicted on this quiet, gentle lady in front of me.

Look after each other, especially those whose confidence may be shaky and who need some encouragement.

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