Working in English when it’s not your first language

English is my mother tongue, and I am always amazed how many people around the world study something other than languages, build a career and work in that profession in English at the same time.

I would wish that everyone could have the opportunity to carry out their career in another language. I conduct Intercultural training in English and German – even having studied German and years of living in Austria, I am more nervous before I start in German, but I think confidence plays a huge role here. Once I start, I’m actually fine.

As a language trainer I am a firm believer in learning a language based on your needs – fluency doesn’t have to be your goal (some of us need to let go of this!), instead you should ask yourself:

  • What do I need my English for?
  • Do I need to describe products?
  • Give presentations?
  • Make small talk?
  • Sell on the telephone?
  • Teach yoga?

Once a goal is established, I can then start supporting my clients in a structured and focused way.

Interview

This month I interviewed someone whose English communication skills I really admire – Renata G. Carvalho. She is a Brazilian interior designer, currently based in NYC, and has developed a design process that combines global influences with the natural aesthetic of her clients to help them to create their own perfect inspiring places wherever they are.

I follow her business on Instagram and she makes great videos on a weekly basis where she shares tips and tricks on how to design your home.

What is so amazing about Renata is that her language and communication skills are so in sync – she has the vocabulary to describe texture, colour and design – all the things related to her work – and at the same time she is authentic in her communication.

I asked Renata a few questions about her business, her culture and her English language learning journey.

  1. Tell me a little bit about how you have grown your portable career.

Before starting my interior designer business, I used to be in advertising – various corporate jobs, a global career for 25 years. Then, when abruptly we moved to NY because of my husband’s new job, I decided it was time to start a new career and dedicate my time to something that I was really passionate about: interior design.

From day one, knowing that my husband’s job could take us somewhere else again without much notice, I wanted my business to be portable and I thought of services that I could provide solely online (with photos and measurements) and I also hired a marketing consultant specialised in portable businesses to help me structure my ideas

2. How long have you been working in English and what percentage of your work is conducted in English?

I have worked in most of my life in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, always having English as a second language for international meetings and projects. Only lately, with my design business, I have started working mostly in English but I can say that with at least 30% of my clients I still use Portuguese or Spanish.

3. You master your job in English so beautifully – any tips for learners who want to build their confidence?

It means to world to me to hear this comment! The funny thing is that it is hard to believe. English certainly is not the language I feel most comfortable in but I know it is necessary for my work so, there are two things that I am sure have been helping me and I hope they can help others:

  • Trust the relevance of your message. When you are confident that what you have to say can be useful for others, it will be less about you and how you speak and more about the service you are providing and the certainty you are being useful.
  • Practice. I know and I struggle everyday, but I keep trying and this is surely making the result better and the process easier. 

4. About your videos – they seem really natural, how do you prepare for them?

Once again thank you so much!  At the beginning I needed to record them many times. Luckily, practice has helped and now it doesn’t take me more than once or 2 takes.

A couple of things helped: first I decided on one format (background, introduction and length) and I stick with it and second, I make sure of having a good pipeline of content.

5. Do you feel any different when you speak English to when you speak Portuguese?

I feel totally different, and I am sure that even the tone of my voice changes. While I think the best version of myself is in Portuguese, when I know I am wittier and funnier, I understand the version of myself in English is calmer and more balanced and I try to take advantage of this.

There is also something that makes me enjoy the opportunity of working in a foreign language: everybody tends to be more tolerant with someone making an effort to speak another language and this tolerance means more freedom to be a bit more daring and having the chance to take more risks.

6. What role does culture play in the work you do?

I have lived in 5 different countries and I am lucky to have friends from all 5 continents, different religions and culture and this certainly have helped a lot to understand we have many differences but also many similarities. All of us leading this global life are shaped by our own roots and by the experience we have gained living abroad and this mix of cultures is what bring us together no matter where we are and what our personal backgrounds are.

In my work with expats, the ability to recognise all these differences and similarities is key to creating empathy with my clients, making better recommendations and helping them make their decisions.

Obrigado

Many thanks to Renata for sharing her story and advice on speaking English with more confidence. You can follow her on Instagram @renatargcprojects or check out her website at rgcprojeccts.com.

If you’d like to find out about learning to communicate more effectively in English and have a specific goal, then please send me a message at vanessa@paisley-communication.com.

Remember: language learning is a journey – but defining a destination is the first step!

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