Heather Hansen asked:
Of course you speak English – who doesn’t? But how well do you speak this international language? Are you clear, concise and grammatically correct? Do people talk about you and the things you say? And are they talking for the right reasons?
It used to be that just speaking English (at any level) was enough to open the doors of opportunity, but times are quickly changing. Most recent estimates place speakers of English as a fluent second language or additional foreign language at over one billion.
It is no longer an advantage to speak English, but a requirement! Just speaking English isn’t so impressive anymore – unless you speak it really well.
Many talented and competent professionals who are doing their best to speak good English are left behind. Many don’t even realize why. How many times have you heard a colleague make the same mistake over and over again and never corrected him?
Perfecting the way you speak is challenging, but by applying these tips and tricks, you will ease communication, speed up your work flow and become a more effective business leader.
Since English is being used as a lingua franca by more and more non-native speakers, clarity should always be your first priority (whether English happens to be your native language or not). There are a number of things you can do to improve the clarity of your speech.
We all speak too fast. It’s a terrible habit! And the faster we speak, the more mumbled our speech becomes.
Slowing down the pace of your speech is vital in situations where visual communication is lacking, for example an international conference call. It is just as important however, while running a meeting or delivering a presentation.
Make sure everyone can follow what you are saying at all times. Otherwise, what’s the point of saying it?
Colloquial speech is littered with signs of laziness. We drop word endings, run our words together and create sentences that never seem to end.
Sometimes it is too easy to take this style of speech into the boardroom.
Be sure to enunciate your words. Put a special focus on word endings such as ‘ed’ and ‘s’ that act as grammatical markers.
If you leave the ‘ed’ off of a past tense verb (Our profits increase last year instead of ‘increased’) it sounds as though you are making a very basic mistake in English.
Your education, aptitude and credibility could be questioned.
Practice vowels & consonants
An additional challenge in English is that we have so many words that are identical except for the vowel.
Take this string of words for example: mat, met, mitt, mutt, mate, might and moot. Do they all sound different when you say them? They should!
Read the words in random order and have someone write down what they hear. Did they hear what you said? Create other lists of words like this to identify your problem sounds and practice, practice, practice!
Consonant sounds can be just as tricky. Be sure you differentiate between voiced and unvoiced sounds, for example, ‘d’ and ‘t.’ The words ‘said’ and ‘set’ should sound different. You should be using your voice to make the ‘d’ sound, whereas the ‘t’ sound only uses air.
You can create word pairs similar to the vowels above to practice these sounds and others like ‘v’ and ‘f,’ ‘z’ and ‘s,’ ‘b’ and ‘p,’ and ‘g’ and ‘k.’
For most, grammar lessons are thankfully a thing of the distance past. Although lessons usually weren’t fun or interesting, there was a reason why we were drilled in English grammar.
Have you ever thought about what your grammar says about you?
Proper grammar signals a higher level of education, professionalism and, in many cases, success.
Breaking grammar rules can signal a lack of attention to detail, laziness and can be a general irritant and distraction for those who do observe grammar rules.
Not to mention the miscommunication that can happen in written correspondence like email. Think how much time is wasted clarifying the meaning of mails where the structure is so mangled that the message is lost.
If you feel like you never really learned grammar properly or think you might be making mistakes, but don’t really understand why, seek out answers to your questions.
1. Ask a colleague whose language skills you admire to proof-read some of your written work. Ask them to be honest with you about your mistakes. If you’re making the mistakes in your writing, you can assume that you are making the same mistakes (and then some) in your speech.
2. Have a grammar reference on hand at all times – right next to your English dictionary. Local book stores have plenty of references in the language and linguistics sections.
3. Enroll in a refresher course in English. The right teacher can make the subject interesting and enlightening. And speaking better English is definitely worth the investment! Your colleagues and clients will thank you!