A good percentage of my client’s presentations deal with technology and science. There are numerous hurdles to overcome when presenting technology; how to make data interesting, how to use metaphor to make complex concepts digestible, how to use wit and humor to engage the audience, etc. But the most difficult aspect of talking science for many presenters is the manner in which they speak.
I think Pranav Mistry gives a good speech here despite having imperfect English. There are moments when his excitement gets the best of him, and he talks too quickly, but the bulk of his presentation is done at a measured pace. When he takes the time to breathe in between thoughts, and slow down, he is much more clear. These “micro-pauses” allow his brain to process what his articulators (lips, tongue, lower jaw, and soft palate) are doing and gives him a moment to think about language. Most of Mr. Mistry’s pronunciation mistakes (some w-v confusion, syllable stress mistakes, problems with phrasing) occur when he is speaking quickly. His brain doesn’t have time to think about pacing, articulation and the like.
You can imagine the left frontal lobe to be a little like a busy highway. The more congested the neural pathways are that connect the brain together, the less likely they are to transmit information. If you speak fast, you clog your frontal lobe with information, and it cannot do what it does best, produce language. So take your time!
There are two English languages; the spoken language and the written language. Broken English happens when the speaker does not understand the difference between the two. In many other languages, one symbol equals one sound, hence the spoken and written languages are one. This is not the case with English. There are 26 letters in the alphabet, but there are 44 sounds in well spoken English. One letter in English can have many sounds, and one sound in English has no letter equivalent at all.
But because many foreigners assume that the written and spoken languages are essentially the same, that the English language is phonetic, they assume that if they master the written language, they will be mastering the spoken language as well. Because English is not a phonetic language, it is essential that students understand that the spoken and written languages are largely distinct, and learn their separate rules and logic. Over time, the vague connection between the two can be gleaned.
What happens to your English if you don’t understand that the “o” symbol can be pronounced many different ways? “Hot” sounds like “hope”. “Pot” sounds like “Pope”. And on and on. Mispronunciation becomes common because the speaker is pronouncing the 26 letters of the alphabet, rather than the 44 sounds of English. To avoid this, it’s important to be sure to learn the spoken language concurrentlywith the written language, and with the same vigor.
Understanding the difference between the spoken and written language is only half the battle. If you want to speak English excellently, you must fight against a larger, more insidious force than this basic misconception. Do you know what it is? Your Iphone. Unfortunately, we live in a society that prizes the written language to the detriment of the spoken language. How many of your friends prize public speaking, and can’t stand dawdling on their Iphones? None? Yea me too. Since Guttenberg’s time, we have canonized writing, and eschewed speaking. To win the battle of better English, you have to resist the pull of the written word, on your computer screen, Iphone, tablet, TV, ect, and begin to open your ears to the sounds of English.
As the video above attests, more and more people are seeking out accent reduction classes. Initially, accent reduction was popular in large cities like New York City, but it is growing, and reaching into bedroom communities all across the country. Many professionals in states like New Jersey, Washington, and Arizona are signing up for accent reduction.
So what should you look out for while considering a class? Here are three things to avoid:
1) No relevant experience – Anyone can call themselves an accent reduction coach, so it’s important to check on your teacher’s credentials. Validate that your teacher has experience teaching at the collegiate level or a Masters Degree in Speech Pathology.
2) No lesson plan – if you’ve spent any time researching options for accent reduction classes, you are probably aware that there are many teachers who tend to wing it when it comes to the lesson plan. Not so good. A solid accent reduction program will take between 8-12 hours and will involve a full evaluation to start. Your syllabus (yes you should have a syllabus) should cover core vowel and consonant sounds, but also more advanced concepts like sentence and syllable stress, and intonation.
3) No patience – is your teacher rolling his or her eyes at you every time you struggle with a sound change? Acting dismissive or disdainful toward your questions? Not good. In fact, that’s very, very bad. Accent modification takes time, and it is imperative you study with a teacher who is willing to explain concepts calmly, and answer your questions enthusiastically.