My real struggles as a career woman who is a non-native English speaker
There are so many times that I have questioned myself….
“What if I can speak English perfect and I don’t have to worry about my grammar or a accent ?”
So many of my Japanese friends…. Well… they are more like mommy friends kindly tell me…
“WOW, you speak English well and you don’t have Japanese accent. I bet you don’t have any problems communicating”
Well, my answer is YES and NO. I struggled for a long time and I am still experiencing this feeling of nervousness. I would say, No, I don’t have any problems for a regular conversation but when it comes to work… I actually still struggle that when I speak up in the meeting I can feel my heart is pounding and I can tell that I am nervous.
For example, it was just yesterday… when we were all introducing ourselves at the beginning of the meeting, I know my turn is coming up really soon. I would practice in my head of what I was going to say. When I also want to jump in and say something in the meeting, I can tell that I am nervous and I start worrying about my English ability. What if my grammar is incorrect or what if people can’t understand me.
If you are a non-native English speaker, have you experienced this?
So many people encouraged me to be more confident but I find myself that I am still struggling.
Why? Why am I the way how I am… Why do I get so nervous?
Few years ago, there was an opportunity to become a personal branding training facilitator. I love helping and I’m really passionate about personal and professional development so I could tell that my heart was telling me, Emi, you should apply… but I heard my voice in my head,
“There is no way that I can do it. I’m not a native English speaker, so I can’t”.
Long story short, my passion was stronger than my voice in my head, that I went ahead and apply and went through the training. What happened after this?
Yes, I became one! I became a personal branding trainer at work.
Being a non native English speaker who is building a career in US isn’t that easy. I would say my visibility or my presence wasn’t strong because I tend to shy away from sharing my opinion. But I needed to change the way how I was. I needed to see my language barrier as a uniqueness not a wall. I invite my fellow non native English speaking professionals to feel more empowered by reading following advice. I’m right there with you. I am still challenging myself to unleash my true potential.
My advice that I am giving to myself:
Advice #1: See your English accent as part of your identity and embrace it.
Once my boss told me if someone give you a hard time or make fun of you because of your accent, just walk away. You don’t want to work with those people anyways. There are so many other supportive people.
Advice #2: There is no such a thing as perfect English
Whenever my negative voice creep up, I have to tell myself, there is no such a thing as perfect English. Especially living in California, there are so many immigrants and their English is their second language but they are communicating confidently. Let go of the fear of “what if I don’t say it right”. Focus on how you communicate. Be clear on what you want to say.
Advice #3: More speak up the better
The problem for us, non-native English speakers is that we tend to become quiet in the meeting because maybe you are too nervous to say something. What if I sound funny etc.
This is actually not helping at all because people in the meeting may think that you don’t even have anything to share, you don’t care about this topic or you didn’t prepare anything for this meeting. This starts the cycle of being not visible and people may start seeing you as a quiet person or not wanting to be part of the conversation. Being quiet is not a bad thing but in a professional environment, you want others to see you as a valuable employee. If you stay quiet, people will not know who you are and they may stop asking your opinion. Let’s start practicing with small things. Just say, Yes, I agree. I like the idea. Start speaking up! You can do it.
I need to stop making an excuse that English is my second language.
If I want to improve myself, then I need to step outside of the comfortable zone. The magic will then happen once I step out and go though the experience.