I’ve always spoken English. I never really spent a lot of time thinking about what it took to speak “good English” because it’s my native tongue. However, when I started working with speakers for whom English was not their first language, I quickly came to understand just how hard it is to give a good speech in English if it’s not your first language. That’s “hard”, but not “impossible”…
The Challenge Of Speaking In English As A Second Language
While working with clients, I’ve often been asked “so how can I improve my English speaking skills?” The people asking me this are generally well-educated and do an ok job of speaking English in personal conversations, it’s just when it comes to giving a speech that things seem to fall apart for them.
I always have to break it to them that there is no magic “silver bullet” to improving one’s English. So much of the language is based less on the words themselves and rather on how the words are used. Given this limitation, I offer them the following three suggestions:
- Dive In: the best way to pick up on how any language is being used in real life is to immerse yourself in it as much as you can. This means that you need to break out of your circle of friends who speak your native language and spend more time with English speakers. No it’s not going to be easy, but this is one of the best ways to learn.
- Read, read, read: I’m not talking about spending time with the classics of English literature, but rather taking the time to read the daily newspaper and weekly magazines (USA Today, Time, People, Rolling Stone, etc.). These media sources are written to be read by the masses and by studying how they communicate, you’ll both build your vocabulary and you’ll shape how you use your words.
- Get A Role Model: there’s got to be someone in your life that you believe does a very good job of speaking English. TV personalities are just fine for this task. Spend the time studying them, repeat what they say, and work to “become” them. This will not only improve your English language skills, but it will also give you the confidence that you’ll need the next time you are giving a speech.
Ways To Hide Any English Problems That You May Have
English is a goofy language. It has been built from so many other languages that it can be very difficult to master. Since it will take time to improve your English speaking skills, one of the things that you can do right away is to change how you give a speech in order to hide any English challenges that you are having.
The first thing that you can do is to start to use more one-syllable words. All too often I see my clients attempting to use complex multi-syllable words in order to impress their audience; however, since these words can be harder to pronounce correctly they just end up taking away from the impact of their speech. Using short words gives your speech a “punch” that will connect with your audience.
Next, you need to keep your sentences short. All too often non-native English speakers tend to create long and involved sentences that just seem to go on and on. The right thing to do is after you’ve created a speech take the time to go back and break-up any long thoughts into multiple short thoughts. This way you’ll be able to speak more clearly and connect with your audience better.
Ways To Improve The English That You Use In Your Speeches
There are several things that a non-native English speaker can do to improve a speech. Once again, these are probably best introduced over time as the speaker becomes more comfortable with using them:
- Stories Are Good: every audience loves a good story. Taking the time to build a story that paints a vivid mental image will capture your audience’s imagination and will allow them to overlook any language issues.
- Incorporate Places: the more that you can include places that your audience can visualize, the easier it will be for them to follow your speech. If you stumble over some words, it won’t matter because your audience is already picturing what you are talking about.
What All Of This Means For You
English is a fantastic language – so much can be expressed in it. However, it is among the most difficult of languages to learn. Learning to apply what you’ve learned about another language when you are delivering a speech in English is hard to do, but the results make it well worth the effort!
– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
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Question For You: What do you think the most effective way to learn a new language is?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
I’m not sure if this falls into the “good news” or “bad news” category, but it turns out that your audience may have already made up their mind about listening to what you have to say even before you open your mouth to speak. Do I have your attention now?