Are you often frustrated by the fact that despite being quite a well-spoken foreign English speaker you can’t always speak in full sentences? Are you even getting stuck in a middle of conversation because you WANT to finish a sentence but for some reason you just CAN’T?
Let me tell you – you’re not alone. It’s quite normal! By the way – hadn’t you noticed that even native English speakers sometimes hesitate when they speak?
When we write, we have all the time in the world to think over the word placement in a sentence. We can scribble out what we wrote and re-write it so that it sounds much better. As we write, we can formulate our thoughts precisely as we intend because we can take extra time to pick the most fitting words. And most importantly, we can compose nice, complete sentences to create an easy-to-understand message!
When we speak, it’s a bit different story. Unless you’re a very eloquent foreign English speaker, your speech will be quite different from a written piece of text.
Well, I’ve always held the opinion that the best way to write is to actually speak about the subject aloud and put it all down on paper. Still, when we speak, quite often our mind drifts away and we can’t articulate our thoughts exactly as we want. Especially – when we have to talk about something we’re not really familiar with!
If it’s becoming a real issue, it has to be dealt with. But no matter what situation you find yourself in, it always helps to be aware of the fact that in real life English communication people often speak in short, often unfinished and broken sentences
Shorter Sentences – Escape From “Monkey-Mind”!
You shouldn’t take it as a norm; yet when your English confidence is on the line you’d better look at speaking in short word bursts as a normal occurrence instead of freaking out over it and trying to speak perfectly at all costs!
Speaking under stressful conditions will most likely make your English speech less fluent. You’re more prone to making a mistake here and there, or you can confuse one word with another.
The most dreadful situation, however, is when you completely lose your ability to express your thoughts; you kind of know what you intended to say but it just doesn’t come out of your mouth. Some foreign English speakers will even experience the so called “monkey-mind” state when your head feels “stuffed” with racing thoughts and ideas making it impossible to think straight and speak normal English.
What I advise on such situations is the following basics steps:
- calm down and stop struggling;
- make conscious effort to slow down your speech;
- don’t try to force a native English pronunciation if it doesn’t really work out for you and you fee it might be hampering your fluency.
On top of it all, however, it’s very important to bear in mind that you don’t have to aim for perfection and don’t try to speak as you’d write – in grammatically perfect, long sentences. You might be thinking that it’s all or nothing – you either struggle with English fluency big time OR speak in full, long sentences.
First of all, I don’t even define English fluency with perfection. Secondly, coming back to today’s topic, you can speak in short, very simple sentences just to get your message across. And you don’t have to perceive it as a sign of inferior English knowledge!
It’s normal, it happens all the time with native English speakers, and it’s a perfect way of managing your English communication whenever you find yourself in a stressful situation like a meeting, an appointment, an interview or a conversation with a stranger.
Imagine yourself having a conversation with an English speaking friend of yours about the terrible earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011. Your friend asks you – “So how do those tsunamis really form? We’ve all heard about them but I’ve never really understood the very process behind their formation!”
Let’s assume for the argument’s sake that you’re not very good at discussing technical terms in English. You have a pretty good understanding of how tsunamis form but you can’t say it all in a long sentence automatically like: “Tsunamis are formed when a seabed is suddenly deformed by tectonic plates pressing against each other and the upper plate being suddenly released. The resulting tectonic uplift releases enormous amount of energy into overlying water mass causing it to move upwards and form a gigantic tsunami wave”.
You KNOW that you’d be perfectly fine if you had to write it down. You KNOW that you could articulate your knowledge into such sentences if you could think about it for a while. And you even KNOW that you could be capable of saying it if speaking with yourself!
But now, in a situation when someone else asks you a question and quite naturally you have to give a fairly quick response, your mind may start racing and suddenly it becomes quite difficult to put your English thoughts into the exact words and form nice, long sentences as you speak.
Don’t try to be perfect by all means
A perfectly normal response to your friend’s question would be something along the lines of:
“Well, to put it simply, tsunamis are caused by earthquakes. So here’s how it works. Two tectonic plates are pressing against each other. Tectonic plate is a certain area of the Earth’s crust. So the upper plate is kind of stuck to the bottom plate. And then at some stage it suddenly breaks free. The movement is very fast. Water right above this tectonic plate is pushed up forming the tsunami wave.”
You see, you can explain your point using short and easy to construct sentences. And please remember that it doesn’t necessarily signify lack of English fluency! On many occasions both native and foreign English speakers use shorter sentences and simpler words to make the verbal message easy to perceive!
Can’t Handle It? Make It Even Simpler!
The previous message can be simplified even further: “Here’s two tectonic plates, right? They’re stuck. Then the top one slips. Water is being pushed up. So that’s how tsunamis happen.”
I’m not saying you have to simplify everything you say to such a basic level. My point is that if you struggle with explaining something in a conversation; rather go for very simple, basic verbal means of expression instead of frantically trying to create the perfect sentence in your mind, thus risking confusing your conversation partner because he’s not going to wait 30 seconds before you’re ready to speak, right?
Next time when you listen to an English speaking person talk, try to make notice of how often their speech consists of short, simple sentences. Pay attention to how sentences can be even cut short if the person can’t really finish them off.
Say for example you start saying “Sometimes tectonic plates are…” and then all of a sudden you can’t really finish off the same sentence, because you’re struggling a bit to put it all in the right words. Now it’s perfectly fine to cut the sentence short and start a new one – “Well, you see, if they’re stuck together, they can’t move.”
The main point I was trying to make is that quite often both foreign and native English speakers use short sentences and a few word combinations when speaking.
Partially it’s because when we speak, we don’t have time to prepare the thought beforehand and polish it to perfection. Also, it’s only natural that when we find ourselves in a stressful situation, it doesn’t really matter if you’re a native or a foreign English speaker; you’ll find it harder to speak very freely using long, well-spoken sentences.
Make it your goal to make yourself clear instead of trying to create a perfect, long sentence
And even though sometimes you may worry about what others will assume hearing you speak in a very simple way, don’t fret over it, and let it go!
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