Last week, I wrote about the need for good English skills in the tourism and heritage industries and that you don’t need to speak English fluently to get the job done. Instead, I recommended aiming for functional fluency, which is a narrower approach to vocabulary and grammar.
Ideally, you would have a great English trainer (like me 🙂) to help you reach functional fluency, but not everyone has that option. So, here’s the technique I developed to help you build your confidence giving tours in English.
Start by writing the tour in your own language. Remember: you are telling a story. What happened, and why did it happen? Why are the objects at your site important and how do they fit into the context of the story you are telling?
Now try to write your tour in English. Do the best you can with the grammar and vocabulary.
After you’ve finished writing your tour in English, drop the original text (the one you wrote in your own language) into a free translator like DeepL or Google Translate. Translators aren’t correct 100% of the time; however, they do a pretty good job. Do a paragraph at a time and compare your English version against the translator’s version. Did you make any mistakes? What were they? Comparing what you wrote with the translated version can be a great learning tool.
Identify any new vocabulary words. While still in the translator, check your pronunciation of these words. Luckily, the generated pronunciation tool for English is usually quite good.
Now practice, practice, practice – both pronunciation and delivery. This is a great exercise to do with someone you trust and who can (gently) correct your mistakes.
Try to memorize as much of the tour as possible. This makes it easier when you have to do it in front of the paying public. I also suggest putting your written tour outline in a binder. Keep that binder with you when you give your tours (if it’s allowed). I did this when I started giving tours. It really gave me confidence knowing that if I forgot what came next, I could always sneak a peek when the guests were moving from place to place.
It’s also a good idea to keep information that isn’t part of the main tour in your binder, just in case someone asks. For example, you could keep a list of plant names if you are giving a nature tour. If you are giving a tour of a historic house, you could keep a list of the main objects in each room with the date, artist, furniture maker, etc. When this idea was first suggested to me, I thought it would make me look unprofessional. However, it had the opposite effect. Guests were impressed that I was so prepared to answer their questions.
Prepare for questions. It’s a good idea to work with your colleagues on this one. Which questions do you get asked the most? Keep a list of all of them – both about the tour and any other questions you might be asked. For example, when I worked for the Park Service, I was asked questions about my site, as well as things like: “Do you know a good place to eat around here?” Keeping a list, and practicing both the questions and answers, will make you the go-to person at your site.
What do you do if someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer? That’s easy! Admit that you don’t know and promise to find the answer when the tour ends. That level of service always impresses guests.
Next week we are going to talk about how to tell a story and how much information to give your guests in order to avoid what I call the “information dump.”
In the meantime, if you have any questions, comments, or if you just want to get in touch, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Marshallsay, owner and founder of Marshallsay English, is a public historian and Business English teacher. She provides English language training and editing services to the tourism and museum industries.