Sep 2, 2010

Can you present in your mother tongue?

This post has been written for people living in countries like India. Our mother tongue is not English but we communicate in English all the time.


Which language do you use to make presentations? English, of course. This is so obvious to us that the question might seem ridiculous. English is all pervasive in our lives. Most Indians speak their mother tongue at home but when it comes to business communication, we always speak English.

Imagine presenting in your mother tongue. Just imagine... go back to the presentation you gave last week. Would you be comfortable presenting it in your mother tongue?

I work as a marketing manager. Few months back my company launched its products in Orissa (one of the states of India whose language is Oriya). Most people in my organisation belong to a different state (Andhra Pradesh) and hence I was given the responsibility to present to the audience in Hindi (my mother tongue) because no one knew Oriya and Hindi was understood by almost everyone in the audience. The decision not to present in English was taken at the last minute and hence there was no time to prepare. The audience knew simple English but Hindi was a better choice if audience understanding had to be increased. The slides were in English and I was trying my best to talk in Hindi. I found it very awkward because I had never done so in the past. It was tough.

This situation is rare but not impossible. At times it can be better not to talk in English if your audience understands the native tongue better. If you are into sales & marketing or in training you can look at this as a better way to make your audience understand your message.

If you are faced with a similar situation the following tips can take help you deliver a good speech/presentation.

1. Practice: You are not habituated to speak in your mother tongue and hence the situation becomes very tricky. You need to practice hard. Do a complete mock run of your presentation at least 3 times and speak only in the native language. If possible, get someone to hear you speak and give feedback on your speech and body language.

2. Cocktail:
You will keep mixing English words in between your native language.This is absolutely fine as long as they are words which have no easy alternatives in your native tongue. Presenting in Hindi does not mean not using English words at all. Simple English words which your audience will understand can be freely used. Remember, the objective is to make your audience understand. That's it.

3. Slides in English only: Do not try to make the slides in your native language. It does not help. Keep content limited and keep it in English. Any good presentation ensures audience looks at you more than they look at the slides. Keep presenting in your native tongue while the slides are in English.

4. Don't read from the slides: Reading from the slides is a sin in presenting. Yet presenters keep making the mistake. It also happens because people do not remember their content. When you present in your native tongue reading from the slides will make your life even more miserable. You'll have to read from the slides and try to translate for the audience. The better way out is to prepare so well so that you need not look at the slides and read out content.

5. Share a Handout: I would strongly advise getting a handout made in the native language. Your handout will communicate your message and more (you can add detailed explanation there which you could not cover during the presentation). Your handout will ensure your audience understands your message properly and carries your message home.

If you have had any similar experience, I would like to hear from you. To share your experience or your views on this post, do leave a comment.


Image: Arvind Balaraman