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BOUND TO PLEASE / Guide to liberating nonnative speakers from constant anxiety

The Japan News

By Atsuko Matsumoto / Japan News Staff Writer Leading in English: How to Confidently Communicate and Inspire Others in the International Workplace

By D. Vincent Varallo, Joerg Schmitz and Stephan M. Mardyks

Wiley, 172pp

If you’re a nonnative speaker of English, how self-conscious are you when speaking the language? Are you embarrassed about your foreign accent? Do you strive to speak with perfect grammar?

“Leading in English” will ease such agonizers’ inner turmoil when they confront English as a communication tool in multinational working environments. With intriguing perspectives and approaches toward the language, the book will reverse your feeling of being haunted by a constant desire to be like a native speaker.

The book begins with an imaginary chance encounter among four people from France, the United States, Japan and China at an airport lounge and their subsequent discussion on a shared agenda — the difficulties they face with using English in business meetings, presentations and even casual chats with colleagues. The conversation captures readers’ attentions because their laments resonate with many readers’ own experiences.

The three authors — D. Vincent Varallo, a specialist in talent development solutions; Joerg Schmitz, a business anthropologist; and Stephan Mardyks, an expert in the field of global learning — identify six types of English.

Nonnative speakers can be grouped into those who use “Safe” English and “Must Speak Perfect” English, while native speakers are categorized into those with “Not a Care in the World” English and “Second-Grade” English. Native and nonnative speakers alike can fall into “Fading, Fading, Gone” English and “Impossible” English.

The failures of people with various backgrounds are examined in abundant anecdotes. Yoshi, a Japanese working for a large insurance conglomerate in London, is a typical “Must Speak Perfect” English speaker. Not confident with his English competency, he too readily apologizes for his poor English. His British and American listeners, however, might misunderstand his self-criticism “as an actual statement and not an expression of humility.”

As if sitting in a counseling session, the authors unravel his intricate emotions of inferiority and insecurity before offering compelling solutions and useful tips to improve his communication skills.

Throughout the book, the authors keep a tone of encouragement. The most striking eye-opener is how to shift your mind-set toward having a foreign accent. Accent modification seems to remain an eternal challenge even to longtime English learners, including many Japanese traumatized by repeated lessons on how to correctly pronounce “L/R” sounds.

In the authors’ words, however, an accent is “a sort of trademark as personal and unique as our signature.” Therefore, they stress the importance of turning “the seeming disadvantage into an advantage,” that is turning “foreignness or otherness from stigma into asset.”

Nonnative speakers already outnumber native English speakers worldwide, naturally making them the majority in many international organizations. In such a changing landscape, “Leading in English” redefines English, setting nonnative English as the new norm of communication methods in international workplaces. In such an environment, even native speakers may need advice on how to understand and be understood.

For nonnative speakers who are weary of speaking English after hitting a wall after years of struggle, this book will serve as a motivating survival guide that establishes new standards for using English.

As you put down the book, you’ll find yourself liberated from frustration caused by what you long believed to be your language limitations. It will help readers once again embrace their potential as English speakers, as they did when they first start learning.

Where to Read

At the company canteen of your international workplace, or an airport lounge

Maruzen price: ¥4,083 plus tax (as of Dec. 22, 2017) Speech

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