Communication Confidence comes first!
Before Language Competence.
(An Integral analysis, according to the 4-Quadrant model of Ken Wilber)
This should make you feel great about your communication in second languages, like English.
I want you to pat yourself on the back, and feel good about yourself!
Feel good about my communication in English?
For many this is very hard to imagine.
You will also understand the potential of second-language communication to reveal deeper structures and processes within ourselves.
This is different in many ways from our first language.
It can even be fun! Indeed, you might even become excited at this prospect, as you imagine your proud position as a global citizen at home in a global language, far larger than the inevitable confines of your beautiful mother Russian.
The Problem with schools
So if you don’t feel good about your English right now, then I say blame your school.
Blame your school.
In many ways schools are a recipe for failure regarding ‘foreign’ languages.
This same problem also continues for many attending adult language courses.
Back in school your teacher loved, or was forced by the system, to give you tests.
If it was a second language like English, then you got a test about vocabulary and grammar.
How many words do you know?
How correct is your grammar?
Very often the answer was either right, or definitely wrong.
In other words, the system mostly takes a binary materialist approach to the very complex phenomenon, which we call communication.
If you went to a top-class University, then teachers also made you give a presentation, or take part in an artificial discussion. This is the best to be expected from even the most cutting-edge school.
So I define all of this as falling under the term ‘Language Competence.
In short, what a student can produce under the artificial constraints of a school test.
This is of course not wrong per se, but I argue it falls far short of an appropriate way of learning second languages. Learners expect to learn to communicate in English (for example), and instead they are given a limited version of Language Competence.
So school English in most countries concerns itself with the artificial production of words and grammar in written form. If we went to a very good school we also had the chance to speak in a very limited way with the teacher, or perhaps with your classmates. In the terms of the Four Quadrants of Ken Wilber, we can see the limited focus: vocabulary comes under the top-right Individual Exterior Quadrant of observable items; grammar comes under the bottom-right Collective Exterior Quadrant of structure behind observable items; and (if we went to a very good school) communication is practice in the bottom-left Collective Interior Quadrant.
The Integral Perspective makes the difference
For those already familiar with the Four Quadrants, the problem is already clear:
Schools make no reference to the upper-left Individual Interior Quadrant.
In other words, school education gives no importance to our thoughts and feelings.
Can you see the huge problem with this approach? It’s like trying to make a car go fast by just giving new paint to the car, without opening the hood and fixing the engine! That would be insane, but in schools this happens most of the time. If the metaphor isn’t clear: the outside of the car is what we can observe ie. words and grammar, but the mind is the engine of communication.
Perhaps you can now see that your current results in communication in English or other languages should be blamed more on your school education, and not on you.
So optimise your mind through self-awareness for the challenges of second-language communication, and the positive results will inevitably follow.
Shared understanding is the goal in communication, not correct language
But why do we communicate?
We communicate for a result with another person.
We communicate, to achieve shared understanding with another person.
A baby cries, because it is hungry and wants milk.
It communicates its hunger to its mother, she understands, and responds.
The baby is happy with a full belly.
So communication is the achievement of shared understanding between two or more people.
It is a system in which all parts, including all participants, must make the necessary contribution.
The challenge of successful communication must be solved in a systemic way, and schools do not teach this.
Let’s consider many politicians and lawyers.
They nearly always have excellent command of their words and grammar.
They can choose many different ways to share their message.
But does this mean that we always believe them?
Of course not.
So Language Competence does not guarantee success in communication.
The proof of this is shown in the many millions around the world who falsely believe that “I’m just not good at languages”, while saying or thinking this in perfectly correct form in their mother tongue! The irony is clear.
We can see that success in communication requires yet another factor: believability.
We need to believe in ourselves and we need to believe in our message.
This self-belief is an example for the listener to follow.
So successful communication also requires coherent authentic self-belief.
Even self-belief and the resultant believability are not all the requirements for successful communication. We also need the ability to listen.
If we cannot listen then we will soon find no speaking partners.
We must listen so well, that our counterpart believes that we are listening.
So how can we listen?
We can only listen if we are genuinely present in a conversation.
If we are distracted then our audience knows it immediately.
We must choose to be part of a conversation.
These factors are even more important in the challenge of second-language communication, and thus benefit greatly from optimal self-awareness in real-time.
Listening requires being present, but how?
Should we lose ourselves in total concentration on the words of our conversation partner?
Perhaps, but this is not a sustainable long-term solution.
Just as important is to listen to ourselves also; am I distracted right now, or tired, or do I experience other problems?
Most importantly we need to listen our own very deep inborn readiness within ourselves to communicate, or to learn to communicate.
If we are conscious of this then we can listen without any form of prejudgement, or prior belief.
Does this sound too hard?
Actually it is available to you right now.
It is how you learnt your own mother tongue.
You simply listened, and tried to copy.
When it worked you did it again in the same way.
Communication Confidence comes first
So this kind of intensely curious but innocent attention is still available to all of us right now today.
We can access it through our own personal contemplation within ourselves, or through dialogue with a skilled professional, like a Communication Coach.
For some the idea of self-awareness is difficult to imagine; how can I be aware of my own mind?
For them the First Quadrant is a dark country, with their thoughts and feelings only vaguely visible.
Indeed some find it hard to know at all what they are thinking in any particular moment.
In 2014 I created a simple five-minute test (the TISL TestSM) to show learners’ their own mind.
This has been successful with over a hundred learners without exception.
It is an assessment tool, but also very helpful for your own learning.
Immediately participants can see, if they are thinking in the target language, or still in their mother tongue.
For some this experience can be literally life-changing.
For the first time they understand self-awareness within themselves.
This can have explosive results! This also has the secondary effect of allowing a participant to have access to the tools to change their mind-state in real-time. Over time they learn to optimise their mind for the very different challenges of second-language communication.
Within just a few hours online, or in person, we can rediscover our own master talent in communication.
I call this inborn native talent our own Communication Confidence-Identity-BeingSM.
After rediscovery this Confidence is always consciously available.
It is not a feeling, nor an action, but a deeply-residing fact about our true nature as human beings.
Again, this must be true, or it would be impossible to learn any language at all.
This Confidence gives us the ability to take the first step.
It is completely different to our Language Competence.
Even in our first language we know that our expression and articulation changes constantly.
Our Language Competence changes depending on our energy levels, or the pressure of a social situation in a job interview or a business negotiation, or our first date with someone new.
So imagine how much more extremely our Competence changes in a second language like English. It is like skating on thin ice; we are always at risk of misunderstanding and of falling through the ice.
The solution is the practice of real-time awareness of our constantly changing Language Competence, combined with mindful connection to our own constantly abiding deepest Communication Confidence.
Perhaps this all sounds far too theoretical.
To counteract this impression I have uploaded some of my conversations in different languages.
I want many millions more people around the world feel able to communicate in an international language.
So I claim I can have a conversation in any language without any preparation with words and grammar.
You heard that right, no prior vocabulary at all!
I hope to have a conversation in Russian very soon.
And the objective proof is when the other native speaker confirms that it was indeed a conversation.
So far I have done this in Georgian, Arabic, Japanese, Maori, Chinese and many more.
You can find the link at the end of this article.
I show that a strong connection with our natural inborn human Communication Confidence is enough, even with zero Language Competence!
Summary of the Integral Approach to communication in a second language
So we can see that an Integral approach to communication in a second language should be far more effective. An Integral approach of course includes words and grammar, but also transcends this old approach. At all times it focusses on the goal of communication: real-time shared understanding.
An Integral approach to effectiveness in second-language communication requires the following:
- vocabulary, but presented in the realistic engaging context of real communication (I-Quadrant and We-Quadrant)
- grammar, but nearly always presented for short periods as part of a real conversation (Its-Quadrant and We-Quadrant)
- practice of authentic personal communication (We-Quadrant)
- discussion of the successes and failures of communication in real-time (We-Quadrant observation of We-Quadrant processes in We-Quadrant)
- most importantly, self-awareness of our own internal processes during second-language communication. (I-Quadrant experience of I-Quadrant). This is the most important factor of all!We discover our own inborn human Communication Confidence. You mastered your first language by yourself, right? The same is possible for a second language. I
In fact it leads to the ultimate goal: Bulletproof Communication ConfidenceSM
- finally, discussion of our own internal processes together. (We-Quadrant observation of I-Quadrant)Very often we find that an experienced professional, or even others in the group, can help us a lot to optimise our mind for this huge challenge of second-language communication
After fourteen years of work with clients I call this the Integral BE-in-English ApproachSM
But it can be applied to communication in any language, even your own.
Imagine travelling to New Zealand.
On the last day of your wonderful holiday a bee stings your tongue.
It hurts like hell, your tongue starts swelling up, and you start feeling very bad with an allergic reaction. Then you get on your plane and fly home.
Arriving in your home-town your best friend phones you, to ask about the flight.
At that moment you literally cannot speak!
Your tongue is so big, that it can barely fit in your mouth!
So your Competence in conversation is zero.
In that moment you cannot speak your mother tongue at all!
So here’s my question:
Would you doubt your identity as a speaker of your mother tongue?
Would you feel that you had stopped being part of this group of people?
The answer to this story, based on my conversation with hundreds of clients, is always the same; despite zero Competence in communication at this moment, we don’t doubt our native-speaking identity and ability.
Because our Communication Confidence in our first language is deeper and more established than anything we can say, or not be able to say.
So understand your own inborn Communication Confidence, which is prior to any language.
Then your success in a second language like English will increase dramatically!