Being a good communicator is less about “how much” language you know and more about what you can “do” with the language you do know. I was born in Macedonia and immigrated to Australia with my family at the age of six. At first I did not know any English. My sister and I soon began studying English at school, and because we were young, we became fluent in English in just a couple of years, and we could speak it without a Macedonian accent. Our parents, on the other hand, were much older, and they learned English little by little by interacting with people from many different countries at work. Even though they spoke English with heavy Macedonian accents, had limited vocabulary, and made lots of grammatical mistakes – and because they were never afraid of making mistakes – they were able to communicate fluently in English with anyone in Australia. Even after thirty years of living in Australia, they continued to speak with heavy Macedonian accents and made the same grammatical mistakes. But with every passing year, they became better and better communicators. Although I did not realize it when I was a young child, I know now that one of the big reasons they could communicate so well was because they were using communication strategies. So what are communication strategies?
Communication strategies are ways people help each other understand, for example, by using phrases like “What do you mean?”, “Can you repeat that?”, “Pardon?”, and many more. Communication strategies also include nonverbal ways people communicate, such as gestures, facial expressions, and others. Combining strategies like these with fluency, makes a good communicator. That means using the language you already have (including your native language if you wish) with confidence, not worrying about making mistakes, not making long pauses to correct yourself, and using as many communication strategies as you can to express yourself. Communication is a two-way process and by using communication strategies, you will find that people you are speaking with will also use lots of strategies to help you, too. Because I was always surrounded by people from many different countries while growing up in Australia, I saw this process of successful communication every day. People of many different nationalities were consistently communicating together effectively, not because they spoke “perfect English”, but because they were “taking advantage” of the limited English they did know, using it fluently, and using communication strategies to help each other.
After leaving Australia, I have had similar experiences while living in Japan and while traveling in other countries. These experiences have taught me that I do not need to wait to speak a language “perfectly” in order to be a good communicator in that language. I am still learning new English words, new Macedonian words, and new Japanese words. I will continue to try to improve my skills in the three languages. Although I will never be able to speak the languages “perfectly” (no one can), I already consider myself a good communicator in the three languages for all the above reasons. And that, from my experience, is the most important thing. So the next time someone asks “Can you speak English?” say “Yes, I can!” with confidence knowing that you already have the language you need. And combining it with communication strategies, you can be proud of being a good communicator in English.