Speaking in tongues

Speaking in tongues they say is one of the Gifts of The Spirit. It must be accompanied by Interpretation of tongues. Delivering or receiving a presentation in a foreign tongue should not prevent the audience receiving a single, clear and memorable message, appropriately supportive media particularly adding context and delivered with a passion and enthusiasm but at a reduced pace. Everyone has an accent. Speaking in tongues should not limit the delivery and reception of a great presentation.

Speaking in tongues


My personal experience has been in coaching colleagues from other countries to speak in English and in personally delivering presentations in English received by an audience whose mother tongue is not English. As always it would be valuable if colleagues with different experience could add to the ideas held on the site by comments below. The aim is to share knowledge and improve presentations.

A great presentation has a clear message, simple and memorable (p1). This should not be influenced by speaking in tongues. Audiences receiving interpretation of tongues are only (potentially a little) challenged by language, not by knowledge or concepts. For technical presentations be aware of potential variation in nomenclature, scientific units and designations but international gatherings of like minded, technical professionals usually have a common technical language. Epinephrine anyone?

A great message should be supported the media (p2). It is never the message even if being received in a second language. The vast majority of an audience choosing to attend such a presentation will have a good to excellent comprehension of the language as spoken. This is virtually always better than immediate comprehension of written text. The temptation to provide a textual translation should be avoided maximising understanding by adding context. A detailed script will distract. It forces reading not listening. An audience receiving a presentation in their own language through simultaneous translation have even less need of contextual clues. Add context in the supportive media not translation.


Those who deliver a presentation in a language that is not their mother tongues are, without fail, viewed positively by their audience for both their endeavour and, contrary to the common perception of “foreign” presenters, for the attractiveness that such different accents bring to a language. Pronunciation and grammatical errors will be of little consequence to an audience as long as the message is clear. Such presenters should be clear upon this. Any presenter delivering in a foreign context should ensure that their speed of delivery is reduced. Interpretation either by the audience themselves or by simultaneous translation takes time and this is within the gift of the presenter. Speak more slowly. Speak as clearly as possible.


Simultaneous translation presents addition challenges for a presenter. Meet the translators before the piece. Engage in informal chat before proceeding to the technical aspects. Everyone has an accent, you included. Translators are usually experts in language, not your chosen discipline. Ligation of Tracheo-oesophageal fistula and correction of oesophageal atresia with primary anastomosis is likely to be outwith the phrase book of the translators but prior understanding will help. Write down challenging names and terms and clarify meaning. Agree warning signals that the translators can use to attract your attention if issues arrive. When delivering, speak slowly and clearly to colleagues of equivalent intelligence. Remember jokes


Will take time.

Opportunities for questions after such a presentation add further issues when speaking in tongues. Those presenting in a second language should spend a good time preparing for the four most common questions prompted by their work. It may be helpful to have supportive media after the closing slide that might address such questions. Pre-arrange a colleague in the audience to be available if interpretation is required. Remember, the questioner themself may be speaking across their own language barrier. Repeat the question to ensure clarity of your own understand and that of the whole audience before addressing the question. Summarise your response. After three questions (not four), as always, insist on finishing with a further summary, prepared in advance but incorporating any new or controversial concepts brought up by the questions.


Those presenting through simultaneous translation and then receiving questions will be thrown into the position the audience has received the piece. Audio will be provided. Be aware that apparent lack of understanding of the questioner may be due to issues of interpretation not your delivery or the abilities of the audience. Repeat your received understanding of the question before addressing the answer. Repeat and clarify key points from the presentation, offer a different tangent and ultimately a personal discussion for their questioner after the close.


Speaking in tongues is a gift and a privilege for both presenters and audience. It relies upon construction of single, effective and memorable message, appropriate supportive media that highlights context above translation and delivered with as much clarity as possible but at a reduced pace; everyone has an accent.

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