How Emotional Stress harms Communication Skills

One of the most frustrating experiences one can have is when we are not able to understand each other. The most common but also less frustrating situation is of course travelling to a country we don’t speak the language of or when meeting a tourist in our town who does not speak our language.


Being an expat, I have been living in France for five years now, and I still have these moments on a regular basis. I would say that my French is nowadays at a “Full professional proficiency” like they say on LinkedIn, and I am pretty sure that most of my French contacts would agree.

I speak French on a daily basis in both my social and private life but also in a professional context. But there is this phenomenon of the German accent.

Amongst my friends and also in a work related situation, I have never encountered any problem or even confusion. To the contrary, French people actually appreciate when us foreigners speak French with them. There is one odd scenario though.

At least once a month and particularly during summer time when all the young, untrained summer jobbers work in the bakeries and supermarkets I get stuck in a dialogue, even multiple times per week.

I call this phenomenon the “accent kill switch”. As soon as I order something and the person behind the counter notices that I speak French with an accent, the kill switch clicks and they think that they cannot understand me, supposedly because I was not speaking French.

Yes, I know, I am pronouncing some French words a little differently than the locals but there is really no objective reason that it could not be understood.

It then usually takes me three to four times to get the message across, sometimes longer when the other person tries to activate his or her English. Sometimes the situation gets so far that I start to doubt my ability to speak French.

Stress seems to have a severe impact on our ability to think clearly and a natural reaction is the need to get out of this situation as quickly as possible.

While those every day life situations are frustrating but not harmful, there are also situations that go far beyond the usual problem of not speaking or understanding a foreign language.

How do you deal with a speech disabled person or how to deal with the local population in a war zone where clear communication can even decide over life or death?

Today, technology can play a key role in lowering the stress in for most people unusual situations, from the local coffee shop to a mountain village in Afghanistan. Let’s take a look some examples.

MyVoice - Location based App for the Speech-Disabled

MyVoice can best be described as a mix between Foursquare and a text-to-speech dictionary. Depending on the location the speech disabled person is at the moment, MyVoice will recognize different locations like supermarkets, hotels or restaurants around and provide a set of useful phrases for related situations like ordering coffee.

The app will evolve over time as the user himself or his family can add new sets of phrases to it, even remotely over the Internet from the other side of the country.

Verbally - Assisted Speech for the iPad

Verbally is an application for the iPad, making use of the bigger screen and full keyboard layout. The speech disabled can either choose words from a word grid or type phrases on the keyboard. There are multiple features to make the process of writing sentences quicker like predictions of the words written or pre-loaded sentences. The app also features a text-to-speech function.

TripLingo - Dari iPhone App

This iPhone app is created for the soldiers and NGO workers in Afghanistan. TripLingo creates culture centered travel applications that features a set of useful phrases in four different versions from formal to casual and slang up to crazy. The Dari app features 750 phrases and 500 common words with pronunciation. To put all this into context, users can also learn about the culture, customs, etiquette and religion of Afghanistan.

To sum this up, technology especially the new mobile devices can give us a feeling of security which leads to less stressful situations which then helps us to open our mind for the really important part of human interaction, to listen to and to understand and communicate with the other side.

Picture: Morguefile

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