Knowing how to speak more clearly is one of the most important skills in business English. You may have a wide vocabulary in English, but do your clients understand you? Did you speak more clearly in English? Perhaps you were in a meeting where you made an important point – but everyone looked confused about what you said. Was it the way you pronounced the words, or how quickly you spoke?
The best way to improve your pronunciation is to find a teacher who can help you and correct you. I have a testimony from a Spanish student on my Linkedin profile who I helped improve his pronunciation. However, you can make a start by yourself.
I want to sound like a native English speaker!
This topic is a ‘hot potato’. Which native English speaker do you mean? From Ireland, Nigeria, or New Zealand? Do you mean you want to have a Received Pronunciation accent? In my opinion, you have the right to sound like what you want to sound like. However, English is a global language, and my advice to you is that it is more important to speak clearly than to have Received Pronunciation. That’s why ‘how to speak more clearly in English’ is the title of the blog post.
Back to speaking clearly…
The most important rule to follow is this:
Match the sounds to words.
That’s it. Match the sounds to the words. Find a piece of text that is also an audio clip. Here’s one example. Focus on every word, and the sound of every word.
Try to do this for 5 minutes every day.
That’s also why watching an English show with subtitles in English is best (rather than your own native language).
Slow down the speed in which you speak English. If you don’t feel confident about your pronunciation, then speak slowly. It helps you pronounce the words more easily. It also gives people more time to understand what you want to say.
Give yourself a challenge
Create an opportunity to speak out loud in English. I’m not talking about a conversation or a meet-up group here, I’m talking about an opportunity where you have to give a reading or a presentation or a monologue. This really helps you to focus on the sounds, and the fact that people will be giving you their 100% attention will put the pressure on you to make sure you get it right.
A student of mine is a member of Toastmasters. Another student is a professor and has to give presentations. I read in my Church. How to prepare – I print out what I’m going to read, and then ask a native speaker to record it on my smartphone. I then listen again and again with the sheet in front of me. It also helps you understand the flow of the language and the stress on each word.
If you are an advanced student, one possibility is to take out a subscription to The Economist. Not only do you receive the magazine in written form, but you also can download the audio edition – a great way of matching words to sounds (and also keeping up with international news!).
Be a nerd
If you want to find out how a word is pronounced, type in a word in this dictionary. The funny squiggles show how the word is pronounced. This table shows the sound of each squiggle. You can put the sound of the words together by clicking on each squiggle. There’s a series that teaches you how to make the sounds here.
Remember – match the sounds to words, use the links I’ve given you, watch English programmes with English subtitles, find an opportunity to give a speech, and when you’re not sure, use the dictionary and linguistic table I’ve given you.
So, how do you start improving your business English?
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