EMMA SERLIN

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - ELO­CU­TION

FOUR­TEEN WEEKS ago, for the first time in a long time, per­haps ever, I had to re­ally re­flect on my own Jewish iden­tity and what it meant to me. The oc­ca­sion — ex­press­ing the im­por­tance of the cir­cum­ci­sion of my un­born son to his fa­ther, who, not be­ing Jewish, wasn’t con­vinced of the need to (in his words) cut off a bit of his son’s pe­nis. We had reached a bit of a stale­mate, so one evening, I had to de­scribe, and in the process ar­tic­u­late for the first time, what be­ing Jewish means to me and why it mat­ters that my son is Jewish.

That process de­manded all my com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, as I lis­tened to my son’s fa­ther, gave space to his views, and then shared my own.

The stakes were high. As I saw it, my son’s fu­ture iden­tity as a Jewish man was at risk. But it wasn’t just the con­tent of our con­ver­sa­tion that mat­tered to me. As an ex­pert in speech and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, it was just as im­por­tant to re­flect on how I put my views across.

I was brought up in North Lon­don and at a young age was aware dif­fer­ent peo­ple had dif­fer­ent ways of speak­ing and that, as a young Jewish per­son in north Lon­don, I had a typ­i­cal ac­cent, known as a twang, that was per­haps in­evitable.

How­ever, in­stead of stay­ing in Lon­don, I was sent away to board­ing school, where I was one of only two or three Jewish pupils, and had elo­cu­tion lessons there, and was en­cour­aged to speak in what is of­fi­cially called Re­ceived Pro­nun­ci­a­tion. Some years later, I be­came aware of the im­pact of that, and its par­tic­u­lar rel­e­vance in my life. Rather than my ac­cent plac­ing me in north Lon­don, peo­ple in­stead asked if I was from the Home Coun­ties.

I of­ten re­flect on the strange story of how I, with my north Lon­don Jewish roots, came to build a busi­ness based on what used to be called “elo­cu­tion”. When I founded the Lon­don Speech Workshop many of our ini­tial clients were non-na­tive English speak­ers com­ing to us be­cause they wanted to soften their ac­cents in some way.

As I built my ca­reer and busi­ness — at least in part from the way I spoke — I of­ten thought about how com­plex­i­ties of how ac­cents af­fect us, and how they hold so much of our iden­tity and cul­tural makeup. They rep­re­sent not just who we are but also who we want to be.

Our coaches give clients guid­ance to help them feel more fully them­selves while speak­ing in English, so the lan­guage could re­flect who they were rather than in some way shut them out. We were help­ing them as­sim­i­late in the place they had cho­sen to call home. This is, at its heart, a mi­grant is­sue, one that would have been so rel­e­vant to my great grand­par­ents.

Ac­cents are tribal. They tell peo­ple Baby talk: Emma Serlin and son Leo where we be­long. And so to have an ac­cent is both a badge of iden­tity and some­thing that can shut the door in other ar­eas.

For so many im­mi­grants, Jewish and non-Jewish, their ac­cents have been both a bless­ing and a curse, claim­ing where they be­long and also chal­leng­ing their as­sim­i­la­tion. For my Masters de­gree in psy­chol­ogy I stud­ied the re­la­tion­ship that one’s ac­cent has with one’s iden­tity and the ten­sion between the de­sire to as­sim­i­late and the need to be loyal to one’s roots.

Th­ese tribal badges are so much a part of be­ing Jewish. We are so good at as­sim­i­la­tion and yet the power of Ju­daism is the tribe, the loy­alty to the tribe; the close­ness of our fam­i­lies and the power of our tra­di­tions. Per­haps it’s in­evitable that my work gives peo­ple the tools to as­sim­i­late, while be­ing sen­si­tive to the con­flict in­her­ent in that.

But this kind of train­ing is part of some­thing larger and more ex­cit­ing, be­cause re­ally ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion is much more than elo­cu­tion.

Un­lock­ing the power of your voice is only part of the story. Peo­ple need to un­der­stand the very best way to get their mes­sage across.

Why is it that some peo­ple, like Michelle Obama or An­gelina Jolie, com­mu­ni­cate with such grace, charm and charisma, while oth­ers — Hil­lary Clin­ton be­ing an ex­am­ple — trag­i­cally fail?

The Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Equa­tion, as I call it, in­volves two parts — au­then­tic­ity plus con­nec­tion. And in pin­ning down what au­then­tic­ity re­ally means, per­haps it was my Jewish roots again that led me to psy­chol­ogy. So, ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion means un­der­stand­ing the val­ues that un­der­pin your mes­sage, your unique point of view and, es­pe­cially for many women, ap­pre­ci­at­ing your right to speak and make your voice heard.

I find Vic­tor Frankl’s phi­los­o­phy par­tic­u­larly in­spir­ing. Frankl be­lieved hu­mans are mo­ti­vated by an in­ner pull to find mean­ing in their lives. If we can find this mean­ing, we can find our con­tent­ment with it.

If peo­ple con­nect with their val­ues when they speak, what they re­ally care about, what mat­ters to them, then it can’t help but be au­then­tic and com­pelling.

And what’s the sec­ond part of the equa­tion? That’s the con­nec­tion — and that’s where my other love, drama, kicks in. I worked in the­atre, film and TV be­fore find­ing my vo­ca­tion as a com­mu­ni­ca­tion guru, and I found that us­ing tech­niques de­rived from act­ing can open peo­ple’s eyes to an en­tirely new way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing.

Com­bin­ing psy­chol­ogy and the­atre can cre­ate re­sults that are, well, dra­matic.

It’s be­come my mis­sion to im­prove the way we com­mu­ni­cate — at work, as well as at home and in our per­sonal lives.

And al­though I’m not a re­li­gious Jew I cer­tainly find my cul­tural back­ground play­ing out in my work, in my love of lan­guage, of psy­chol­ogy, and a bit of an en­tre­pre­neur­ial streak, too.

At my son’s cir­cum­ci­sion cer­e­mony back in De­cem­ber, I was able to cel­e­brate my own Jewish­ness with a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

With my Jewish fam­ily on one side, and his fa­ther’s Ital­ian fam­ily on the other, unit­ing over this rite of pas­sage, we had a very spe­cial and beau­ti­ful event for our son.

Emma Serlin’s book ‘The Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Equa­tion’ is avail­able on Ama­zon

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