If an advanced to proficient speaker of English listens to a presentation or webcast in spoken English, would you say that he or she is processing what the speaker is saying said word by word? Probably not.
The reality is that we humans process real-time speech in chunks, not word by word. There are cues, or signals, which help us to efficiently process the speaker’s information, attitude, emotional reaction, etc. To retain what the speaker says. The same goes for spoken English.
Talk Like a Stop Sign
A stop sign is a cue or signal. When you’re driving down the road, like in the picture above, and see the stop sign coming up in one or two blocks (or some meters away), you anticipate that you’ll need to stop soon, or that you SHOULD stop soon.
When you look past the stop sign, you can see two red markers at the bend of the curve. These signal that you won’t (or shouldn’t) continue straight ahead but rather veer to your right as you continue forward. You’re able to anticipate what’s coming up next. When you’re actually at the bend of the curve, you are able to spend less processing effort on the fact that you need to veer to the right and take in more of what’s before you. The trees, the sky, etc.
It’s the same thing with language. Every language has it’s own cues or signals to help the listener process what’s coming next. This helps the listener to absorb more of what’s being said in chunks.
If you slow down your speech AND concentrate on projecting the cues or signals so that they can be easily received (like that of a stop sign), you are essentially requiring less processing effort of the listener. This better ensures that the listener sticks with you each step of the way while ALSO retaining more of what you’re saying.
What Does a Stop Sign Look Like in Spoken English?
Speech. It’s planned or unplanned. Either way, for the listener it’s spontaneous. Who knows what the speaker will do when talking about the Quarter 1 trends for company X.
Every language has its own cues or signals to help the listener process what the speaker is saying in real-time spontaneous speech.
In English, these are stress and intonation. When a speaker of English produces a controlled sound with these signals in place, the listener is more likely to efficiently process and retain more of what the speaker is saying.
Need a little help?
Are you wanting to talk a little more like a stop sign in spoken English? Join us this Thursday, February 8th, for the start of a 6-week English pronunciation skills course in the Chicago Loop. I will help demystify the English sound system by working with the various levels of stress & intonation patterns in spoken English.
You will come out of this course being able to efficiently highlight specific points of information and convey your attitude as you intend when speaking with colleagues, clients, etc in spoken English.