I work with a number of people from international backgrounds – mostly working professionals – who want to improve the clarity of their speech for both career and personal purposes. When someone has a first language other than English, it is natural that they speak with a different style from a native English speaker. Each language has its own unique holding posture in which native speakers to that language hold their mouth when they speak. While it is beneficial to work on particular sounds and the overall rhythm of your speech, there are some things you can work on that will improve the clarity of your speech. Implementing these tips can influence how easily your listener understands you.
1. Open your mouth. English has a number of sounds that require you to open your mouth. Remember to drop your jaw down and slightly exaggerate your mouth movements when talking. This will feel funny at first as a number of languages have a more closed mouth position when talking. Opening your mouth more can make a big difference to the clarity of your speech.
2. Slow down. Remind yourself to slow down when you are talking. Speaking slowly has a number of benefits. You will make less sound errors, it will give you more time to think what to say, and it will give your listener more time to understand what you’re saying. As mentioned before, people from overseas say sounds differently and in a different style/rhythm. People therefore need more time to adjust to your speaking style. If you speak slowly, it will give them more time to understand what you’re saying.
3. Speak Up. Get in the habit of speaking more loudly. Hold your head up; don’t speak into the floor. Speaking more loudly will not only help your listeners understand you more easily, but also help you look more confident. Speak with conviction – if you don’t believe what you are saying, neither will your listeners.
4. Develop your awareness. Begin listening to your own speech, and how you are saying certain sounds. Take note of the position of your mouth when saying sounds. Once you are aware of your speech, it is easier to change and improve your speech. You may even like to record your own speech so you can listen more carefully to how it sounds. Areas to take note of include:
- Rate and Volume
- Syllable and Word Stress
- Rhythm and Intonation
- Pronunciation of Sounds – Vowel (e.g. a, e, i) and Consonant (e.g. r, sh, l) Sounds
5. Begin listening to native English speakers. Listen to HOW other people speak English (not just what they are saying). Listen to the way other people say sounds and words. Listen to the way the pitch of their voices goes up and down. The rise & fall of our voice makes our speech clearer and easier for our listener to understand.
6. Identify difficult words. Make a list of words that are difficult for you to say. Practice these words until you can say them more easily.