I’m about to give you a piece of advice that may seem a little hypocritical, but I’d like for you to hear me out.
Today I’m going to encourage you to slow down when speaking English.
First, we’ll look at the reasons why it’s so important to speak more slowly if you’re a non-native English speaker (even if you’re fluent!).
I’m also going to give you specific examples of how slowing down can help you refine and improve your accent when speaking English.
Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: I know I speak English quickly! 😉
But remember: I’m a native English speaker and I speak very clearly and expressively.
It’s pretty easy to follow me once your ear adjusts to my natural speed.
(In fact, many members of the English with Kim community have share that once they start to understand me, it helps them understand other Americans too!)
However, if you’re a non-native speaker, speaking English more quickly can actually enhance your accent, make it more obvious, and make it more challenging for native English speakers to understand you.
My Experience Speaking Spanish Too Quickly
I’ll give you an example from my own experience speaking Spanish as a non-native speaker.
As you may know, I speak Spanish fluently, and I’ve spent about five years living and traveling in South America. (You can read more about my story if you’d like.)
Because I speak fluently, I’m excited to share my ideas; I want to connect in conversation and get my words out as quickly as possible.
However, this actually enhances my accent when speaking Spanish! 😖
Last year, I received some feedback from a native Spanish speaker: if I would simply slow down and give my mouth time to fully form the words, fully pronounce the sounds, and fully produce the vowels, I would actually be able speak Spanish with less of an accent AND speak more clearly.
In the future, I’m going to take this advice and speak Spanish more slowly so that I can finally reduce my accent and sound a little more natural.
I want to encourage you to do the same.
Speaking Too Quickly Makes It Hard For People to Understand You
As a non-native English speaker, speeding up can actually make it harder for other people to understand you.
When you’re nervous or even excited about a topic, it’s common to speed up: you want to get through your ideas more quickly, have a deeper conversation, or simply finish talking.
The very first thing I notice when I start working with my clients on accent reduction is that they’re almost always fluent in English!
This means that they speak quickly, confidently, and comfortably on a wide variety of topics.
Unfortunately, this fluency has a down side; they’ve increased their speech rate, which actually makes their accent more pronounced and obvious!
Why is that?
When you have an accent, you’re not naturally moving your mouth the same way as a native speaker.
To reduce your accent, you need to slow down in order to give your mouth more time to participate.
As you’ll see below, slowing down enables you pay more attention to key elements of your accent that will help you be more easily understood.
I want to remind you that accents are a fact of life. There’s no problem with having an accent.
Rather than stressing out about sounding exactly like a native, I emphasize speaking more clearly so that people can understand you, especially in professional and academic situations. (Imagine not having to repeat yourself!)
Now that you are going to focus on being understood when speaking English, you’re going to need to slow down, and then you’re going to need to slow down even more.
Let’s talk about the specific aspects of your accent that slowing down will help you with:
- word stress
- vowel shaping
- pitch variation
- consonant clusters
Slowing down gives your mouth time to fully form these different sounds and shift between various positions.
Slowing Down Enables You to Clearly Produce Word Stress
To start, let’s talk about one of my favorite topics: word stress.
If you’ve watched any of my videos on word stress, you know that word stress is when you make one syllable of a word l-o-n-g-e-r, LOUDER, and higher in pitch.
If you’re speaking quickly, you’re not giving your mouth enough time to obviously lengthen this stressed syllable.
When you slow down, you can take the time to make the syllable longer.
Let’s look at a very common example: the word “today.”
Many non-native speakers rush through the word “today” because it’s only two syllables, you say it all the time, and it’s really easy to understand.
But if you really want to ensure you’re creating the right stress pattern on this word, you must lengthen “day”, the stressed syllable, like this: to-DAAAAAY.
When you stress “day” and make it longer, louder, and higher in pitch, it’s so much easier for a native English speaker to understand you.
Slowing Down Gives You Time to Shape Your Vowels & Change Your Pitch
When I really slow down and exaggerate that word, you notice that my mouth is physically moving more because I’m shaping the vowel with my lips and mouth.
(You’ll need to watch the video at 4:28 to see what I mean.)
This stressed syllable – “day” – has a long vowel “a” (/ey/).
As my lips shape the vowel, I’m also changing my pitch and creating pitch variation through opening and closing my mouth.
By choosing to slow down, you’ll finally be able to create these vowel shapes, which in turn will help you control your pitch.
You need to combine word stress – making one syllable of a word longer, louder, and higher and pitch – with vowel shaping in order to sound more like a native English speaker.
Don’t worry; when my clients first start working with me, they’re not yet fully creating all of these different shapes and sounds, either.
Your mouth needs time, exercise, and consistent practice to fully produce all of these sounds that are essential to natural spoken English.
Slowing Down Can Help You Effectively Use Intonation
As I stated above, varying your pitch helps you produce the natural music of English; most importantly, it helps you effectively use intonation.
For an example of intonation in a short phrase, start with my video on how to pronounce “How are you?”
Let’s take a look at the word “really.” This simple word can express a wide variety of attitudes: surprise, shock, annoyance, and frustration.
Different tones express different emotions and attitudes.
You need more time to move your pitch up and down in order to express your tone of voice.
Slowing down enables you to create more variation in your tone, which, in turn, is going to help you express yourself more clearly.
Remember, intonation is key to speaking English more like a native English speaker.
Slow Down to Pronounce Consonant Clusters Accurately
Last but not least, slowing down will also enable you to get through those tricky consonant clusters.
Many non-native speakers struggle with producing words like “tree,” “green,” and “three” because you have to move your lips, tongue, and teeth between these different sounds.
Let’s be honest: non-native speakers often speed up when saying words with difficult sounds because we don’t want people to hear that we can’t quite get them right.
But if you slow down, you’re going to give your mouth time to move between all of those shapes and be much more likely to say it correctly!
When I say the word “green,” my mouth is moving more than it would on the word “do.”
Even though “green” is just one syllable long, there are several sounds and shapes you need to move through!
(Watch the video at 7:30 to see how my mouth moves during this word.)
Try saying the word yourself: when you slow down, you’ll notice your mouth has time to move between all of those sounds!
As you can see, slowing down is required to give your mouth the time it needs in order to produce all of the unique sounds and shapes that give English its character.
If you want to sound more natural, I encourage you to work on slowing down starting now.
More good news: slowing down also enables other people to understand the key points in your message. For more details, check out my video on Seven Ways to Use Your Voice and Breath to Sound More Professional in English.
I hope this video has helped you understand how slowing down can help you speak more clearly and be more easily understood by native English speakers.
Now it’s your turn! Watch the video and imitate the way I say “today,” “really,” and “green.” I suggest you exaggerate the shapes in order to get used to moving through the different mouth positions.
Afterwards, leave a comment and let me know if you plan to slow down. Are there any words you struggle with that might get easier if you stop rushing through them? Share which words are challenging so I can keep them in mind for future videos!
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