Speak slowly to improve your English fluency
Three simple strategies can quickly increase your English fluency. Most folks don’t know them because they are not usually taught in English training. English classes focus on your message, what you are trying to say: the meaning of your words. What classes don’t teach is how to make your speech into pleasing English sounds. When you think about it, speaking and singing are similar (as rap and hip hop music also demonstrate.) Though singing is more poetic, our regular speech also contains rhythms and patterns which help listeners understand the overall meaning.
Rely on Breath
The first strategy is based on the fact that both speaking and singing rely on breath. If we have insufficient breath, then our vocal production will suffer. So before you start speaking (or singing), exhale all your old air and take in a deep breath of fresh air. When your inhalation is complete, then begin your first words. You will have a reservoir of breath to use for a whole sentence. Just like filling up your petrol tank before a travel, fill up your lungs before speaking. Breathing also calms our minds and gives a few moments to select our first words. When it’s your turn to speak, try exhaling and inhaling before you begin.
Check your rate of speech
The second strategy is selecting the correct speed. Most of my trainees initially believe they need to speak fast. Humans talk faster when excited or stressed, but very rapid speech is hard to understand and remember. Since we live in an exciting and stressful world, people are excited and stressed all the time but that does not make them more fluent. Newscasters and sports casters on television have to speak fast, but that does not make them easier to understand. When the President gives an important speech, he speaks slowly and clearly. Even native English speakers cannot speak correctly while speaking too rapidly. Even if they could, listeners would have trouble keeping up with them.
Non-native speakers face an additional challenge. Their brains are already wired for their native language. Our very thoughts and concepts are shaped by our first language. Additional languages can never be processed as efficiently as the original language that shaped our minds after infancy. Some people learn to overcome this, but most of us need to slow down while speaking in a foreign language. We have to work harder and be more careful than we need to in our first language. Usually I am able to convince students that slower is better. After all, once you speak perfectly you can always work on increasing your speed. See if speaking more slowly feels more comfortable and sounds better to others. Try recording yourself speaking fast, and then repeating it slowly. Which sounds better?
Giving right pauses at the right place
The third strategy is to speak in phrases. A phrase is a group of words that are related, such as several adjectives and a noun: a big, black, hairy dog. All types of words can appear as a part of a phrase. English classes stress words and sentences, but spoken English sounds more like a series of phrases with a longer pause at the end of each sentence. A sentence is a group of words that express one complete thought, while phrases only express certain aspects of that one complete thought, such as subject, verb, object, etc. Related words in a phrase need to be spoken together, with a brief pause at the end of each phrase. In written English, sometimes this brief pause is marked by a comma (,). But even if there is no comma, pausing at the end of a phrase helps the listener digest the words before you go on to the next phrase.
People tell me that in languages, all words have equal space between them. Therefore they never considered varying the spaces between the words in the manner I suggest. Though difficult to demonstrate in writing, try this exercise. Try recording yourself saying the words separately, like a list:
- Ask yourself, what is the subject? What qualities does it have?
- What did the subject do? How did he do it?
- When, where, why did the subject do the action?
Now speak the sentence as three phrases. When you read this sentence, pause briefly at the end of the first two phrases and a little longer after the final one (the end of the sentence.)
The big black dog…ran quickly…down the street……….
Speaking in phrases also allows you to regulate your breath better, helping you stay calm and focused. Even if your grammar is not perfect or if your vocabulary is not great, you can still sound better speaking English by changing your behaviour. Sounding better will give you more confidence, even if you need to keep learning new words. Try learning 10-20 words each week. In one year you can learn 500-1000 words. Since most people, even native speakers, only use around 1000-2000 words in every day conversation, you can double or triple your vocabulary over time.
Azhar Ahmed (Director-Training)