One of the biggest traps that foreign English speakers fall for is trying to speak TOO FAST.
You know what? Even I still fall for it every once in a while, and every time it happens I literally have to persuade myself by saying – “Robby, calm down, don’t rush, you know it for a fact that it doesn’t matter if it takes you 10 seconds longer to get the message across! Take your time, slow down and you’re going to be much easier to understand!”
Yet so many foreigners are under the wrong impression that to speak fluent English you must speak fast. Well, most native English speakers would indeed speak English quite fast – just like any other native language speaker would speak their language.
It’s not always the case though. There are situations when EVEN NATIVE SPEAKERS would find it hard to maintain a continuous, fast speech. Stressful environment, high expectations from others, not being familiar with the topic that’s being discussed – all these and a number of other factors may seriously impede any native English speaker’s natural ability to produce fast, continuous and uninterrupted speech.
So if even native English speakers can run into such problems, why would foreigners like me and you be any different? I think that our ability to speak English shouldn’t be judged on our nationality grounds. We, just like any native English speaker, are entitled to have moments of confusion, take time to make the point, and it shouldn’t be perceived as an inability to speak fluent English. It should be taken for what it is – slower speech – and it shouldn’t be attributed to our foreign national background!
On many occasions a slow and controlled manner of speech doesn’t even indicate any issues the speaker might be having. It’s just the way the particular person speaks, and whether others like it or not, they have to accept it, full stop ❗
One of my favorite actors Benicio Del Toro, for example, quite often speaks slowly and takes his time choosing the right words when giving interviews. He doesn’t give a damn about what others might think about it! And mind this – he’s a Hollywood celebrity and speaks fluent English. Well, originally he’s from Puerto Rico and speaks Spanish, but he’s spent most of his life in the States and his English is absolutely fluent.
So here’s what you can learn from Benicio:
- It’s OK to pause in a mid-sentence;
- It’s OK to repeat a word a number of times to buy time;
- It’s OK to speak very slowly!
All the above symptoms MAY indicate the typical English fluency issue. If you CHOOSE to resort to such techniques when speaking English and use them as means to explain your point in a conversation without being stressed out and nervous – it’s a different story altogether.
It’s completely natural, and if your conversation partner takes it for inability to speak fluent English just because you’re a foreign English speaker – well… just ignore it! You should have more serious matters to think about than some arrogant person’s opinion about your level of spoken English.
If you put opinion of others above yours and try to:
- Pretend to be a native English speaker (do you seriously think anyone will buy it?);
- Speed up your speech to make it look as if you’re a super-fluent and fast speaker…
… you risk seriously damaging your fluency and confidence. Your eagerness to please your ambition or others will backfire and you risk getting completely tongue-tied.
I’ve analyzed one of Benicio Del Toro’s interviews below. I’ve embedded the YouTube video below as well, so you can watch it first and then read the analysis below.
If you’re always worried about what native English speakers will think of your slower speech, you’ll see how much you can learn from Benicio!
Seriously – pay all your attention to the way he speaks if you often catch yourself speeding up your speech and eventually getting tongue-tied and stuck in a middle of conversation!
Interviewer: “You haven’t had the easiest time promoting this – it’s an indie film – obviously not the amount of money that other films have behind it. You’ve also had protests along the way and also some heat from some journalists. Do you expect to have this kind of thing?”
Benicio: “Yeah, I expected, and I’m willing… willing to… to … to… to taste it, to… to be… to be … to be able to talk to anyone.” This is a natural way to buy more time to think about the question. Pay attention to the fact that the whole sentence doesn’t make a lot of sense. Benicio is just saying some random bits of text while forming his thoughts and coming up with the real answer.
Many foreign English speakers get completely taken aback when faced with an unexpected question and just freeze. The alternative – repeating a couple of phrases all over again until you figure out what to actually say – is more natural and will open up your mind for the rest of the conversation.
And now Benicio starts with the real answer: “The problem is – the people are rude, and don’t wanna listen. That’s the problem. If you wanna have a conversation, let’s just be heard on both sides, you know.” Note the small-talk phrase “you know” in the end. It’s a great way to establish a friendly atmosphere. It’s also easy to overdo it, you know? 🙂 Still it’s better to say something – even if it’s “you know” after every second sentence – than stay quiet and say nothing at all!
“So… The problem that I’ve had.. err.. if I’ve had problems with journalists is that… “ Benicio buys time again. You can feel after the hesitating manner of this sentence that he’s not sure what he’s going to say next.
Now Benicio paraphrases the whole thing and gives it in a form of a question: “What’s the point of being a journalist if you’re just gonna talk to me and tell me stuff?” Remember – paraphrasing is essential for fluent English because in real-life conversation you’ll often find yourself in similar situations when you can’t form an immediate answer and the whole point you’re trying to explain kind of keeps eluding you. So you simply use completely different words to get the message across!
“Then just write a letter and well… in my own time I’ll write you back or e-mail you, you know?” Here we can see two filler-phrases – “well” and “you know”. Once again – use small-talk phrases to fill pauses!
“But… err.. if you’re just gonna have a one-way conversation… then… you know… Why do I have to be… err… part of a…” Once again Benicio hits a wall because he’s struggling to form a clear message. Logical solution – paraphrase! That’s what he does next – and starts the sentence with another small-talk phrase “I mean”:
“I mean – it’s OK to.. to have your thoughts and all that stuff but… but err… “ Note that he uses very simple words. “Thoughts” instead of “opinion” and “stuff” – can you see that there’s nothing wrong with speaking simple, plain English? If you’ve always been under the impression you have to use super-sophisticated words to be a fluent English speaker – wake up! If you sometimes struggle to get your message across – be as simple as you can just to make your point. Whether you’re a foreign or a native English speaker is IRRELEVANT! Let others think what they want.
“My experience with the ones that I’ve had some problems because they didn’t listen… they were not listening at all what you were saying so… “ Did you notice how Benicio corrected himself? He swapped “they didn’t listen” for “they were not listening” – no problem! The same way you should never be ashamed of making an odd mistake here and there. Just go back and correct it – and simply IGNORE the fact that you just corrected yourself. It’s NOTHING worth fretting over!
“I got tired of repeating myself… you know. And it’s always good to turn the page, you know? Some people get stuck on one page and just ta ta ta ta ta ta ta… and it was good to turn that page so… I’m turning the page right now!” A couple of more “you know’s” – so as you can see it’s one of those phrases you can add to your spoken English vocabulary to sound more native and easy-going 😉
Well, I hope you got the most out of this Benicio Del Toro’s interview analysis. I did it with the sole purpose in mind to show you that it’s completely normal to speak in a SLOW manner and TAKE YOUR TIME to make your point. Native English speakers do it, so why couldn’t you do it? Just because you have these super-high expectations towards your English fluency due to the wrong assumption that fluent English = fast and flawless English?
Forget all that bull…t!
A typical real-life conversation – especially if you’re not familiar with the topic and you have to struggle a bit to make your point is often just as the one you just heard:
- Short sentences;
- Buying time by using phrases like – you know etc.
- Correcting your mistakes – it’s not a big deal at all!
- Not giving a damn about what others might think about the way you speak!
And here are a couple more Benicio’s interviews – watch them and I hope you’ll be completely convinced that it’s totally OK to hesitate a bit – especially if you’re in the spotlight! 🙂
P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!