When someone says they're fluent in a language, we often presume that they can speak and write in that language with near-perfect grammar. Further, they are also expected to have a sizable vocabulary that helps them talk to native speakers with great confidence. However, we often end up ignoring two key factors that contribute to a person's overall fluency in any language. While grammar and vocabulary are certainly important, fluent speakers are also expected to have a great command over the pace and clarity they speak with.
This is because while grammar and vocabulary help us formulate our thoughts, pace and clarity ultimately decide how well we're able to communicate with others. English as a second language speakers without apt knowledge of pace and clarity often find themselves struggling to be understood. This can make it harder for them to connect with native speakers and lack in both personal and professional relationships. But what exactly do pace and clarity entail? How can ESL speakers improve? Let's find out.
Pace refers to the speed at which a person talks. It is commonly measured in linguistics as wpm or words per minute. While there are other ways of measuring speaking pace like words per second (wps), wpm is widely considered to be the standard. An average English speaker talks at around 150 wpm, with slower speakers averaging close to 110 wpm and the faster ones reaching 180 wpm. The average pace of speaking further varies across the different dialects of English.
Native speakers from different parts of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Northern English are known to speak very fast. American speakers from California on the other hand, are notoriously slow to the point of vocal fry. Listening to interview clips featuring native speakers like Kim Kardashian and Katy Perry can help you understand the slow pace associated with the California accent much better. But why is it that some native speakers talk slower than the rest?
This is because the concepts of pace and accents in English are closely interrelated. Accents develop as a result of the large-scale social and cultural events that occur in a city, state, or country. These events often lead foreign speakers from several different countries to English-speaking areas where they develop their own English accents. The pace, rhythm and intonation of these accents are often similar to that of their native tongues. While some languages like Spanish are spoken much faster than English, others like Mandarin, are spoken slower. As a result, foreign speakers adopt different speeds while speaking in English.
The ideal pace for speaking in English depends on the accent you're trying to speak in and the setting in which you're speaking. Different English accents have a different speaking pace that develops as a result of several social and cultural factors. Further, the pace at which native speakers talk can change depending on the setting and context. Office employees delivering a presentation tend to speak slower in order to be heard and understood better. Professionals like radio-hosts or auctioneers, on the other hand, tend to speak much faster than the average person. While pace is generally measured in wpm, it is better for foreign speakers to only use it as a rough benchmark. Speaking pace should be learnt intuitively by listening to native speakers talk and picking up on their rhythm. You can also use common media like TV shows, podcasts, and even news broadcasts to develop a healthy speaking pace that allows you to communicate fluently in English.
Clarity refers to the quality of the information transfer that takes place when you talk to people. It can be seen as a measure of how much of what you say is understood clearly by the listeners. Non-native speakers often struggle with clarity because of their inherent accents and speaking pace, both of which are often different from that of native English speakers. This hinders effective communication, which can severely affect the person's personal and professional relationships. When people don't understand 100% of what you're saying, it leaves room for confusion and misinterpretation, which is especially bad in professional settings. This makes it all the more important for intermediate English speakers to focus on the clarity of their speech just as much as their fluency.
One of the most important aspects of linguistic clarity is pronunciation. ESL speakers can often sound confusing to natives because of the way they pronounce certain words or syllables. For example, French speakers tend to pronounce the 'r' sound from the back of their throats, which adds an imminent growl to it. This can confuse native speakers from Boston and New York where the r sound is dropped altogether. The best way to avoid this is to learn to enunciate every word you say.
Enunciation involves breaking down each word into syllables that you pronounce slowly and clearly. This allows your mouth to become familiar with the way it is supposed to move while pronouncing certain syllables. Experts also suggest practising in front of a mirror to clearly see what position your mouth is supposed to be in while pronouncing these syllables.
Like most other things, speaking clearly requires regular practice and keen observation. Practising with your friends and asking them to enunciate with you can help you get familiar with the accent you're trying to master and speak clearly. You can then focus on getting the pace and intonation of your speech right to sound more like a native speaker.
At Immigo, we believe in a holistic, hands-on learning approach that helps speakers learn and practice at the same time. Try Immigo for free and start learning how to speak clearly today!