Your English is Already Great.
Before we begin, it’s important to establish something really important: your English is great. I mean it.
You are speaking a language that is not your mother tongue, and functioning very well. On a day-to-day basis you’re ordering food, getting from A to B, socializing and forging friendships. So, before we go any further, pat yourself on the back for your achievements. Functioning in a second language is more than many people will ever achieve. Well done.
Next, it’s important to acknowledge something about the English language.
English is wonderful, yes, but it is tricky. It has funny spellings and intonation rules that can get the unaware user into a pickle. So, if you sometimes find yourself confronted with a blank stare when you try to make a joke, tell a story, ask for directions or give a presentation - whatever it is - do not feel disheartened. Firstly, you are not alone; secondly, there are rules and tips that can make things so much easier!
In this blog I am going to give you five quick tips that can be your friendly aids to make speaking English a little less like a walk through boggy countryside after heavy rain (i.e. quite muddy), and a little more like a happy stroll through an English meadow on a sunny day!
Tip 1: Let Your Vowels be Full of Feeling.
This is not just a tip for non native speakers, but for all people who want to be good communicators. This tip alone can transform your communication, and I have written entire blogs, even entire sections of my book, on this. But, for now, a little tip: Vowels are all made with your mouth open, and as a result they can be as long or short as you like. When a word is important (and there should be a few important words in most sentences) then let those vowels be a bit longer, and a bit more full of feeling.
Simply by opening your mouth a little more, you can naturally start to inject more energy and emotion into the word. And the consequence? Well, it will slow you down (without you speaking slowly); it will draw people’s attention to specific words; and it will be more pleasurable to listen to. All good things!
Tip 2: Take a Pause
Taking little pauses is so crucial to speaking well in English. It helps you be in control of what you are saying (rather than the idea run away with you), and it helps the listener feel comfortable, and stay with you, the speaker. I could wax lyrical on the power of pauses (and have in other settings) but suffice to say, they can be dramatic, political, or just downright sociable. In short, they work.
The best place to pause is after an important word. Our thoughts tend to have a natural flow to them and they are packed with important words (or else we would be spluttering grammatical words at people) so a thought or sentence can easily be broken into smaller units. Where you put the pause is largely up to you, but if for example, you say a long 20 word sentence without a pause, then the likelihood is people will struggle to follow. You can pause after one word, or after seven and anything in between. A nice way to think about it is through the metaphor of music, the pauses are like the musical phrases, allowing the listener to enjoy the melody.
Tip 3: Flow Your Words Together
A simple way to sound more fluid is flow your words together. Have you noticed English speakers’ words flow and yet you can clearly understand them? They are unconsciously using something called connected speech, and that is when words flow together within a unit of speech. Sticking with the musical metaphor, connected speech allows for our words to be like the notes within a phrase of music.
They do this by tagging the last letter of a word onto the beginning of the next word. For example, if I were to say an orange elephant’, I wouldn’t pause after each word – An Orange Elephant – it would it would sound stilted and odd. Instead, I can flow it together, as one complete thought or image. To do this I tag the ‘n’ of An onto orange and the ‘g’ of orange onto ‘elephant.’
Connected speech allows the speaker to share ideas, rather than individual words, and it’s a lovely way to find the music in your communication.
Tip 4: Use the Music of Your Voice
You may have noticed, with the example above, that taking pauses gives you space to make each little unit, or phrase, interesting. You get the opportunity to add some music into your words. This is what we call intonation. There is a lot to be said about intonation, but a short tip is to put a little musical hook into your voice, and suddenly things will sound clear and interesting. You can achieve this by varying the pitch and tone of your voice as you move through the phrase, to give emphasis and create interest in your audience.
Tip 5: Use Your Consonants
In English, it is so important that consonants on the end of words are pronounced. Many other languages have a different relationship with consonants, and as such many non-native speakers of English will transfer that relationship over and drop the final consonants, particularly with t’s and d’s. However, in English, leaving out consonants on the ends of words is akin to kicking a ball half way to the goal and then just wandering off. Or handing someone a drink and dropping it just before it reaches their hands. In other words, it’s an unfinished job. And words need to be finished off and treated with respect in order to function as they should.
There are many more tips and tools to speaking better English, some unique to our specific approach (that we have discovered and love sharing with our clients) and others that are out there and up for grabs. These ones are a great start to speaking better English, so I hope you enjoy using them and notice the difference! If you would like to continue your journey to more confident communication in English, then please get in touch and speak to one of our team today on 020 3137 6323.