Club's speakers improve in 2 languages
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 1, 2004
Marissa Belles

Practice your Spanish, or practica su inglÚs.

La Voz de Oro, a bilingual Toastmasters Club, helps its members do both, and on Sept. 15 the group celebrated Mexican Independence Day with authentic food, music and, of course, speeches.

"Language and culture are inseparable," member Lisa Koss said.

"You can't have one without the other, and that is why it is not only fun but important to have nights like this."

Members of La Voz de Oro meet the first and third Wednesday of every month to practice public speaking and leadership skills with speeches and informal programs. It is part of the international Toastmasters movement, which is devoted to making effective oral communication a worldwide reality.

"We have people of all fluency levels of English and Spanish," club President Dina Figueroa said. "In business, if you are bilingual, you have a definite edge, especially living in a city as diverse as Phoenix."

Figueroa opened the evening with the rattle of colorful maracas as Koss quizzed the audience members about their knowledge of Mexican Independence Day. For balance, Michael Tharp gave a speech about American history, conducting table topic sessions and a question-and-answer session that covered such subjects as patriotism and respect for national symbols.

"In the business world, how one presents themselves in speech and mannerisms strongly influences his or her overall success," Figueroa said. "La Voz de Oro is a place to come and informally hone those skills."

The members alternate roles from speaker and evaluator to pause counter and timekeeper. After formal speeches, an evaluator offers constructive criticism, combining recommendations for improvement with positive reinforcement of the speaker's strengths.

Justin Randall, Toastmasters area governor, alternated between English and Spanish during the evening's keynote address. He reflected on the humorous stumbles faced while learning another language.

"The idea is to provide a safe environment in which people feel free to practice their public speaking in any language," Koss said.

"It is a constructive process, but it is also a fun one. We share a lot of laughs." Koss, founder and CEO of International Advantage, said speaking well is a universal benefit.

"What is awesome about this Toastmasters chapter is that it's bilingual," Koss said. "With the demographics being what they are, leadership roles are facilitated when you can break down language barriers."

Despite the fact that it is bilingual, many of the skills they learn have less to do with the language and more to do with a person's overall presentation.

"Pauses, the way a person stands, the speed and volume of their voice, these are all things that are evaluated in public speaking, no matter the language," Figueroa said.

"People come here to better themselves and to learn another language, it's like two for the price of one."

The mission of all Toastmaster clubs is to provide a mutually supportive environment where every member has the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.