Essential Tips for Clear Communication in English

1. Find a good speaking rhythm
The problem: If you try to speak too fast, your words don’t come out right. But if you try to slow down, you have trouble focusing.

The solution: You need to work on your speaking rhythm, or the speed and “sound” of your speaking.

Finding your perfect speaking rhythm will really help to improve your fluency. A good speaking pace is comfortable for you and the listener, keeps you focused, and gives you enough time to think through what you want to say.

Try it yourself: To find the perfect rhythm, you might have to experiment a little. Find a short paragraph, or even just a sentence to say.
Say the sentence slowly, then again faster, and again. Once you reach a speech that doesn’t feel comfortable (is too fast), slow back down. Repeat this with a few sentences, and soon you’ll find that perfect speed.

Once you find the right speed, you can work on the rhythm, which is the stress and intonation (how high or low a sound is) of your voice when you speak. To do this, choose a video that has subtitles.

2. Make sure you’re understood
The problem: Because of the language barrier, you’re never sure if people really understood what you meant.

The solution: Just ask them. Most of the time, you can make sure someone understood what you said by asking them to repeat what you said.

If you’re worried about sounding rude, you can remind them that you are still learning English, and you want to make sure you expressed yourself correctly.

Try it yourself: Practice with a speaking partner, or just try this in any English conversation: The next time you give any instructions, directions or information, follow it up with one of these phrases:

  • I want to make sure you got that. Would you mind repeating it?
  • I’m not sure if I said that right. Can you please repeat it?
  • Can you please run that by me, so I know you got it?
  • I’d like to be sure I’m expressing myself clearly. Could you please tell me what I’ve just said, so I know we’re on the same page?
  • By having the listener repeat what you said, you can make sure you were understood, or clarify anything they didn’t get (understand).

3. Keep talking
The problem: You may have trouble speaking fluently if you’re unsure of your grammar or vocabulary. However, stopping a lot when you talk can make it difficult for people to focus on what you’re saying.

The solution: Know your filler phrases!

Filler phrases are phrases (and words) that act like placeholders in a sentence. They fill in silences so that your speech is not interrupted. They don’t really add anything to the conversation, though, so they give you a little time to think of what to say.

Some examples of filler phrases are:

Um, uh
You know…
To be honest…

4. Watch your body language
The problem: You are saying one thing, but your body is saying something different.

The solution: You might not know this, but your body speaks almost as loudly as you. The way you sit, the way you hold your hands, even which direction you look at—all these things can change the meaning of the words you speak.

For example, if you tell someone you would love to have lunch with them, but your arms are crossed and you’re not smiling, they might think that you don’t actually want to do it. If you’re nervous about speaking English incorrectly, you might show negative body language. And you might be misunderstood because of that. So the most important thing is to relax!

For native speakers, most body language is intuitive. That means you do it without thinking about or having to learn it. Not all of it, however, is universal. That is, not all body language and gestures mean the same thing in different cultures. (So you might have to do some learning here!)

5. Use appropriate language
The problem: You know “regular” English, so you’re not sure how to communicate to someone who speaks professional English or uses slang.

The solution: Sometimes it’s appropriate to switch to a more casual or a more formal manner of speaking. Depending on your English learning goal, you might already be learning professional or conversational English. Listen to how your conversation partner is speaking, take notice of your situation and environment, and try to match the type of English.

If you’re only learning regular English, don’t worry: Most of the time standard English works perfectly well as a communication tool, no matter who you’re speaking to.

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