Keep It Slow, Keep It Lazy

January 8th, 2010


Most of us feel, when we are learning to speak another language, that if we could just think and talk faster, we would be speaking better. In my experience teaching English as a second language at the Lake Tahoe Institute of English, it is exactly the opposite that is true.


We American English speakers are a lazy group, in general. Because we speak from the middle of our mouths, we can’t make sounds as quickly as in other languages. We need to speak fairly slowly in order to speak clearly. If English as a second language learners would force themselves to speak more slowly, rather than more quickly, they would sound much better to a native English speaking ear. So, all you language learners out there, keep it slow, keep it lazy. You will be amazed at how much better understood you will be.


Remember, too, to hold your mouth in the correct position. The point of articulation for English is in the middle of the mouth. The tongue is not held taut, as in many languages, but is rather lazily held in an almost hollow shape. The tongue moves slowly, and does not punch the front teeth. Relax your jaw, and, especially, relax the corners of your mouth. Don’t work your lips too much; keep them back and relaxed. Remember, slow and lazy is good.

In general, when speaking English the lips are more relaxed and back than in many languages. Two exceptions to this are when saying the letters R and W. In order to properly enunciate these two letters, the lips push out dramatically (for English) and with force.


And, a final tip for speaking English clearly, so that you can be understood, is to keep the consonant sounds strong. Remember, vowel sounds are a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y. All the other letters are consonants. Give these letters more force and clarity when you speak. That is, of course, except when there are exceptions, as there always are in English, and the letter is silent or aspirated. 

And, don’t forget to enunciate the final p, b, t, and d sounds.  Many speakers of English as a second language drop those sounds off the ends of words, which makes them very difficult to understand.

So, slow down, take it easy, don’t try to go too fast.
The song Summertime, from Porgy and Bess demonstrates, both through the lyrics, and also the tempo of the song, just what I’m saying. Follow this link to give it a listen:


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