public speaking

I’m going back and forth on this. I present sometimes for work, in Mexico, to audiences of native Spanish speakers. Generally, I think it is douchey when people present in English to Spanish audiences. I have seen enough gringos do it; it just excludes a lot of people. I watch the 50 percent of the crowd that grows tired after a few minutes of the concentration it takes to follow along. The presenter really misses out on the chance to connect with a lot of their audience– do they not care? Do they prefer making a half-connection in English over sending someone else to present who speaks Spanish? Do they not get that “everyone speaks English” means in many cases “some knowledge of English but don’t practice it regularly?” Do they have no choice?

There are exceptions, when presenting in English does not come off as out-of-touch. Sometimes, like in Tijuana, my audience is truly bilingual, so in those cases it would be silly or awkward for me to present in Spanish. Or what if my audience tells me they prefer I present in English because I am better-spoken in English, or because they believe I will be more comfortable? Or when my audience’s English is worse than my Spanish, but they can still get a good gist of what I am saying in English? Sometimes, some members of the audience believe it’s more prestigious to listen to me if I present in English.

I guess a lot of times it’s a judgment call. Know your audience, prepare for them, etc. I have actually been in the situation where on-site I realized it would be preferable to the audience if I gave the presentation in English (e.g, client was Mexican-American, living in Mexico but his Spanish wasn’t actually that great), yet I had prepared and practiced the presentation several times in Spanish and not at all in English.

Of course, especially in the North of Mexico, I have also presented in Espanglish.

I saw a guy at Campus Party last night in Mexico City that was on a panel discussion, conducted in Spanish, but he was speaking English. Clearly he understood enough Spanish to understand the questions and dialog of the other panelists, but he felt more comfortable answering in English, even though it meant a lot of people might not understand him. He seemed like he was from California (you can just tell sometimes), so maybe they are less uptight about language formalities.

For me, except in the case of bilingual audiences, to present in English here can sacrifice clarity and accessibility for eloquence (maybe) and (false) prestige. Not a good swap. I think even if it means structuring my message through a simpler vocabulary and less complex grammar than I would in English, that is fine.

I admit that any kind of “structuring” might be hard to do ad hoc in a panel discussion, though, especially if you are not used to speaking that way. And then, maybe your Spanish just doesn’t have enough fluency to be clear.

Also, I am definitely someone who tries to speak Spanish all the time around Spanish speakers. Given my tendency to use Spanish, it has often come up that, when when my Mexican friends do hear me speaking English, they are pleasantly surprised at how nuanced my speech is– in comparison to my Spanish. So there’s that.


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