This week, on Tuesday December 20th, 2022, I held a talk for the second time. It was for the last episode this year on The Monthly Dev event hosted by daily.dev.
My talk was about How to get a job as a developer with soft skills when tech skills are weak.
Even though I feel very confident with this topic, I still struggle when talking about it in English (my first language is German). Of course I practiced a lot before the event so the vocabulary I am going to use during the talk are at least somewhere in my little brain.
But when it comes to the Q&A session afterwards, my brain goes blank 😵💫.
Julia | AccessibilityFirst 👩🏻💻 Content CreatorTIL: I still lack English skills when it comes to Q&As....
Since I can prepare for the presentation, my brain has all the words I'll use stored somewhere, but where are the words I need for the Q&A afterwards? Where are they hiding in my little brain? 🙈19:50 PM - 20 Dec 2022
Is that a reason to stop giving talks and creating content in English? Never ever.
That's just the beginning
I don't even think about quitting just because I most often fail at the Q&A. Do you know how my English skills have improved over the last 20 years?
Some background information
Austria, Countryside, 1998, middle school children (10-14 years old) start learning English at school. There were 3 groups, I was in group 1, the best group of the three. But I was also the worst student in this group.
While other students started to read even books in English, I didn't care at all. When and why would I ever use that language? I was not even able to talk in written German so that people from cities or from Germany could understand me, but only in dialect 😓.
High School (15y-19y)
Austria, Countryside, 2002, start of High School. I failed English every year and also the A-levels. I had to study over every summer (while other students were on vacation) to take a huge exam on the entire year's content to get into the next class.
To this day, I don't know how I made it to the final exam without repeating a year of school.
But I did make it. And I thought: great, never English again. Then, in 2008 I moved to the biggest city in Austria, Vienna. No goal, no plans. Huh, I guess I just played dumb for too long 😅.
Everything started to change
How little did I know about the world at that time. Moving in with my oldest brother seemed very stressful at first (referring to English, see next paragraph), but after a few years it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
We were/are both movie and series freaks. We loved watching them together almost every day. With the small difference that my brother watches them all in the original language 🤢.
So what to do? Watch alone in German or with my brother, which was super fun, and we would discuss for hours afterwards and .... learn some English?
Fortunately, I decided on the latter 😇. At first it was very frustrating. With subtitles, reading everything and so many words I had no idea what they could mean.
But as the months went on, it got better. I had to look up a lot fewer words, and I even started reading books in the original, if that's English. Now I could never watch a series or movie if it wasn't in the original language.
And of course, that helped me soooo much when I started learning programming over 10 years later. All videos and tutorial in English, and I could understand it.
I started speaking in 2017 when I was in Japan for the first time and there was no other way but to communicate in English. And since I've been active in social media since 2020, I've been speaking a lot more: coffee chats, Twitter Spaces, and now talks.
As you can see, I've come a long way and I'm not thinking of giving up on these great accomplishments of the last 15 years.
It took me way too long to realize how important English would be. I could have been so good at it if I had started focusing on it in school.
Now, it is what it is. I will practice and keep trying until I feel confident speaking in English even in unprepared situations.
The joy of being at all these events, creating content that could help others is much greater than the fear of making a mistake in English.
In case you missed the event, here's the recording.
Top comments (8)
Nitpick but important: you can't stop being afraid. Fear is not a choice, is a survival mechanism. What you can do is feel the fear for a little while, let your rational brain understand that there is no actual danger, and do the speech in English anyway
Even though I don't completely agree about the choice part, of course you can't hide physical reactions like trembling, heart racing, etc.
My physical condition is always a disaster just before and for some time after 😵💫
Nitpicking a bit more... yes we can't control the adrenaline rush when we feel fear, but we can learn to control the fight or flight reaction, because speaking in public is not a life threatening situation. It comes with practice wirh the help of some body/mind techniques. In my case, the music training I got helped a lot, my first time in a piano competition I was a disaster, my legs were shaking and I couldn't control the pedal... 15y later in my master's exam, the adrenaline and fear was still there but under my control. One tip I can give anyone in this situation is, before answering a question in the Q&A just breathe, smile and then start talking... with time you will see the smile will help you trigger a positive body response and things will start to feel naturally.
This training also helped me when I need to speak another language in public (French or English this days).
TL;DR; Smile! It really helps!!
Worth to read.
I relate so much to this post!
Personally i started a youtube channel in order to improve my English skills.
Well done, keep it up!
Nice, Gionatha 💯
Good luck with your language learning journey!
My languages' story was quite different—once I figured out how to learn them efficiently, I went down the rabbit hole: learning new languages without really asking why.
If you struggled at QA, you probably just need a bit of conversation practice to get used to more spontaneous language usage. While I was at the university, I was getting plenty of conversations by doing language exchange with other students; recently, I'm just taking conversation lesson—in person or online.
If you are interested, I wrote more about how I would learn a new language at my blog.