S is for Slow Down
This is probably the best strategy of all. If you take nothing else away from this section of the course, take this one with you! Everyone will appreciate it if you take more time. You’ll have more time to think and get your tongue around difficult words and phrases.
Major Objections to this Strategy
It will make me sound stupid
This is probably the most frequently raised objection.
The first thing to note, is that this is a very subjective perception. If someone thinks that you’re stupid for speaking slowly or at least more slowly than you would in your mother tongue, then that’s more of a reflection on them not you.
The second point is that if you’re feeling like this it’s possibly a self-esteem issue. In my experience, this is a very common experience for migrants. You’ve uprooted your family and moved to a new culture and are having to depend on your wits as you deal with a steep learning curve. Self-esteem is easily very dented. We have a publication on the Clearly Talking website that deals with this, Seven Secrets for Excellent Self-Esteem.
I won’t sound like a native speaker
Simply put, you aren’t a native speaker and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you arrive in Australia or another English speaking culture in your late twenties or early thirties, it’s very unlikely that you will ever sound completely like a native. Your accent is part of who you think you are. I haven’t met a single client who has not been proud of their native culture.
As we have already covered in this course, everyone has an accent which defines us.
I am a dual British and Australian citizen. I’ve lived in Australia for twenty years, but I still have an English accent, although it is not as strong as it was when I first arrived. I was in my early forties when we migrated having been brought up in the UK. If I speak to my British friends and relatives they now think I sound Australian. Among other things, my accent tells people where I’m from, it’s very much a part of who I think I am. When people ask I say that I’m a Paussie, a portmanteau of Pommie and Aussie. My accent helps me standout from the crowd, it’s uniquely me.
People will interrupt me
If they interrupt you, they’re probably being rude and need to learn how to listen. Seriously!
There are ways to keep control of a conversation without blurting it all out at once. In meetings, have a pad of paper in front of you and make notes about what you want to say and return to these points if it’s appropriate.
Pay attention to your own non-verbal skills, things like smiling, nodding, shaking your head, raising your hand and so on. All these things indicate that you are actively participating in a conversation.
It may surprise you, but speaking in a more measured way is actually a way of holding a conversation. Not that it’s something you should try and engineer, but if someone interrupts you in mid-sentence and you continue to speak, it will wrong-foot them. This gives you the advantage.
It’s important to be clear in your own mind about what you want to say. Understand the point that you want to make and make it. This direct may be alien in some cultures but in western societies it is often vital. This might require a shift of mindset.
Gives you more time to think
If you’ve come to us to help you communicate because you’ve got a strong accent, then it’s obvious that your first language is not English. The English language won’t be the first thing that springs to mind when you’re tired, under stress or upset. English may not even be your second language. Many of our clients are polyglots, typically that means you speak three or more languages.
Effectively this means that anyone with a strong accent is having to process every thought through several layers and against several languages each with their own complex grammar and vocabulary. I’m learning Welsh where the word order is very different from English.
To say “Dylan has a dog” you have to put the whole thing the other way round and drop the indefinite article, “Mae ci gan Dylan.”
I also speak French. There the way you express possessives is different. To say “Dylan’s dog” you say “Le chien de Dylan.”
I don’t speak much Hindi at all but I do know that typically the verb goes at the end of a sentence, so to say “My name is Robert.” you have to put the “is” at the end, “My name Robert is.” or “मेरा नाम रॉबर्ट है” or “mera naam robart hai”
Hindi, English, French and Welsh are in the same Indo-European language group meaning that they share common features. Imagine if you’re coming to English from Chinese, Tamil, or Arabic which are in entirely different language families.
Do yourself a favour! Slow down and give yourself more time for quality control.
Makes it easier to pronounce difficult sounds
English has a few unique sounds. Things like the th sounds, which we haven’t made any easier by making the same digraph (two letter combination) stand for four different sounds. See the Wikipedia article on Th in English.
Most people coming to English for the first time find the “W” sound tricky. Some groups muddle “W” and “V” so “wet” comes out as “vet” and “vet” as “wet”, an obvious source of confusion.
Others find “Ls” and “Rs” almost impossible.
The reason for this is that these sounds don’t appear in your mother tongue. Persuading your vocal apparatus to perform a new set of movements and shapes to create the new sound doesn’t come as easily as you might think it should. Going slower makes it easier to manage the new sounds.
Speech is requires just as much physical coordination as for example driving. For those of you who have learnt to drive a car, you will remember that your first lessons were mostly in first and second gear on quiet back roads. You didn’t graduate to the motorways until you were a lot more confident.
Emphasises the Points you’re trying to Make
This is the antithesis of the third objection above: people will interrupt me. In fact speaking slowly or at least in a more measured way enables to you to command a conversation much more effectively. It enables you to be more expressive in the way that you speak. You have the opportunity to inject more inflection, pitch and emphasis. These are the things which together make your speech more interesting and consequently memorable.