The Best Tip You’ll Ever Get for Speaking a Foreign Language

September 5th, 2010

A Slow and Lazy Language

As I’ve mentioned before, English is a slow and lazy language, except maybe as it is spoken in New York.  In general, we speak more slowly than speakers of many other languages.  Our ears aren’t tuned to very rapid speech, so most English speakers will find it difficult to understand a fast talker.  Add a foreign accent to rapid speech, and most English speakers will have real trouble with comprehension.

Comprehension is Key

The primary need of learners of English as a foreign language is to both understand what is being said to them, and to be understood by others.  Sounding intelligent, well-read, professional or charming is, believe me, of purely secondary importance to understanding and being understood.  That can come later.  First, you have to understand what others are saying to you, and you have to be understood by those you are speaking to.

Fast Does Not Equal Smart

Interestingly, most learners are more occupied with sounding smart (or at least not sounding too stupid!) than with being understood.  And, in their native languages, most learners of English as a foreign language are used to speaking quickly – much more quickly than they should be speaking in English.  So, in order to feel at least somewhat smart and accomplished, most English as a foreign language speakers try to speak very rapidly.  Wrong move!

Recently I was listening to an interview in English that featured three French CEOs.  All three had heavy accents, but a good command of English.  Two spoke very rapidly, and were nearly impossible to understand.  The third spoke English with just as heavy an accent, but he spoke very slowly and thoughtfully.  He was very easy to understand, in spite of his accent, and actually sounded like a much better speaker of English than the other two (which he really wasn’t).

Slow Down, Repeat Less

So slow down.  It may seem painfully slow to you, but you will be understood, which is what you want.  And, if you set a slow pace, people you are speaking to will unconsciously slow down, too, so you will be better able to understand them.

Slow it way down.  You’ll be surprised at how much less frequently you will be asked to repeat yourself.

3 Responses to “The Best Tip You’ll Ever Get for Speaking a Foreign Language”

  1. Brenda says:

    This is so true. My study of Spanish has been greatly facilitated by listening to News in Slow Spanish. I love it and can understand almost all, yet when I listen to a tv show or people on the street, comprehension goes way down.

  2. Way cool, numerous really good points! I appreciate you penning this posting and the rest of your internet site is awesome!

  3. TahoeEnglish says:

    Thanks so much! I really appreciate your comments.

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