Linguistic Mindfulness at the ACBS World Conference

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My name is Jacqulyn, a linguist and communications and NLP coach. I was a first-timer at the last ACBS Conference in Sevilla. The truth is, I accidentally “stumbled upon” the ACBS website while I was surfing the Internet one day, and saw that the next conference was going to be in Sevilla, where I live, so I let out a yelp of joy and surprise. I started reading what the ACBS was all about and instantly became intrigued; hence I decided to sign up to attend. Result: I absolutely loved it, and professionally speaking, it was a brilliant decision. I was exposed to so many new and different insights and perspectives. I have attended numerous kinds of professional conferences throughout the past years and I must say that I have never met such sociable, down-to-earth, funny, intelligent, open people. I felt so welcomed with this international community, as well as an immediate feeling of being part of this organization. Wonderful! Thank you!

On the first day of the conference, actually I began with a workshop, I chose a sticker for my name badge that said “First of many bold moves,” so that’s exactly my intention in writing this article, especially for the native speakers of English. Here’s my bold move proposal:

Linguistic Mindfulness
During the 6 days of my attendance, I heard hundreds of times the word “mindful” used and how important and essential it is in today’s world. That’s fine and I completely agree, however, I’d like to ask what about “linguistic mindfulness?” Yes, that’s right, the importance of being linguistically mindful. That means that we native speakers of English must, not should, start becoming more mindful with our communications and expressions at international conferences, for example, when we give presentations and/or workshops, when answering questions from the audience, or even chit-chatting later during the breaks and lunch, etc.

I contacted Courtney Zirkle, the extremely efficient Social Media Manager of ACBS, asking for a breakdown of nationalities who attended this last conference in Sevilla. According to the data that Courtney sent me, the percentage of attendees whose native tongue was NOT English was approximately 63%. Needless to say, there were many non-natives who have excellent levels of English, but still, they require an overall greater concentration, especially for comprehension, which I will address later.

As a linguist, I noticed far too many incidences that were upsetting and rather annoying for me, so I began jotting them down in my notebook. I was stunned by the lack of linguistic mindfulness. The aim of this article is definitely not to point fingers and complain, but to bring to light the unawareness and inexperience of not realizing that when we natives are in international settings, we just can’t speak like we do when we converse with mother-tongue English speakers. I would like to inspire better effective communication for next year’s international conference.

Here are a couple examples of what I’m referring to. About 10 minutes into a talk I was in, an attendee who sat across from me asked the presenter very politely to please slow down a bit because she spoke so incredibly fast, and she giggled nicely responding “Ha ha haa I know I speak fast. Everyone tells me that! Heee hee hee,” as if it were a funny little habit. What?! I couldn’t believe it. Well, she slowed down for about 3 minutes, and then back to her linguistic racing. So, about 10 or 15 minutes go by and that same attendee, frustrated as reflected by his body language, pulled out the red conference programme and together with his other 2 colleagues started “planning” where they were going to go next. In other words, totally tuned out. Paying all that money to attend an international conference and at least one of the talks they couldn’t take full advantage of, who knows how many others as well. Sad, to say the least. Another example is that during the breaks and lunches several Spaniards and other non-native English speakers, who have an excellent level of English, told me it was a pity that the mother-tongue English speakers weren’t more understanding. Yes, I agreed, but responded that it’s a question of a lack of awareness of being linguistically mindful. It’s a skill. It takes training. It takes practice. The point is that during the entire conference I observed through non-verbal communication many participants in a state of linguistic frustration struggling with comprehension.

We natives are so incredibly fortunate that we don’t have to spend the time and money to learn English. As we know, language acquisition is a long road, however, acquiring the skill of comprehension is the most difficult to master out of all the other linguistic skills – reading, writing and speaking. When speaking, writing and/or reading in L2 (a language that is not the mother tongue), a person is in total control, meaning:

  • You decide the pace.
  • You select what lexis to use.
  • You start, pause and stop when you want.
  • You look up unknown words in the dictionary.
  • You set the tone.
  • You choose the emotion or feeling.

On the contrary, when a person is in listening mode, they have to process whatever comes their way having practically no control. Comprehension requires listening with a previous base of a linguistic understanding and constant interpretation and analysis by the brain, so naturally, a nonnative English speaker will likely comprehend less and at a slower rate.

I feel it’s our responsibility to start creating a habit of linguistic mindfulness, which of course takes time, a conscious effort and above all, a willingness to communicate one’s knowledge in a manner so that it is more beneficial for many others. At the end of the day, it is not about how much a presenter can say during the presentation, but rather how much the attendees can take home, especially at international conferences.

We’ve got just under a year until the next conference, hence why don’t we start practicing to become more mindful to make it easier, more enjoyable and beneficial for many of those 63% nonnative English participants?

I would like to suggest some “take home gems” from my linguistic mindful training programmes for more effective understanding in international surroundings:

  • Be mindful of your pace of speaking.
  • Be mindful of the powerful use of pauses.
  • Pronounce and articulate mindfully.
  • Paraphrase (rewording) more. Finding another way to say, express, or state key ideas is great for clarification.
  • Be mindful when inviting questions from the audience. State clearly from the very beginning of the talk to feel free to interrupt and ask questions at any time or to please wait until the end, but then make sure to allow enough time for them “to get their thoughts collected.”
  • Keep to a minimum difficult phrasal verbs (verb + preposition or adverb), i.e., to boil down to, to stick up for, to fill somebody in on, to bring about, etc.
  • Keep to a minimum colloquialisms, cultural jokes and idiomatic expressions.
  • Be mindful of the audience’s body language to evaluate their level of comprehension and general engagement, and then be prepared to modify, if need be.
  • Be mindful of your voice projection, if you haven’t got a microphone.

Let’s ACT!
Let’s be Present and take linguistic mindfulness more seriously for next year in Canada.
--Jacqulyn Kowalsky