What’s worse than getting confused looks when you’re speaking English? When you’re asked to repeat yourself over and over again… Doesn’t that make you mad? It can seem awkward when you aren’t very confident in your English skills. You might be constantly asking yourself if a word is pronounced incorrectly or if you’re speaking too fast. Without an expert to analyze your speech in detail, it’s difficult to know. The good news is that you can learn how to keep the conversation going by following these steps rather than giving up or making the same mistakes over and over again.
Remember that there are two sides to a conversation. It’s no fun for anyone involved when people don’t understand each other. Keep calm and maintain your sense of humor to keep from getting agitated. You’ve only got a momentary problem, so stay calm, laugh, and smile. You will both get it in the end and you will be able to resume the flow of your conversations.
It is common for non-native speakers to speak too quickly in English since their native language likely has more syllables per second. Because they speak at this fast rate, Americans find it difficult to understand them. For certain vowels, such as ‘Caught’ and ‘Chat,’ American English speakers open their mouths more, which slows down their speech. You should therefore be confident when speaking English and enjoy the nuances of the language. Taking a short pause between short groups of words at a time can be a good trick. Taking this step will help you to express yourself better and receive fewer awkward stares.
It’s more common that Americans are too polite to interrupt you when you say something they don’t understand. The person may not want to make you feel embarrassed, or they might not feel comfortable stopping the flow of conversation to tell you. But, you might notice anyways that they look confused. You should let them know that it’s okay if they can’t understand. Occasionally, they might just need you to repeat the last word or they might not have heard you say the first time. A simple phrase like “Did you understand me?” can be all you need to continue the conversation.
This strategy is underused, but highly effective. Make your message simpler by using words that your listener is likely to understand. Rephrase what you said if they do not understand you the way you said it the first time. A strategy like this can be more effective than saying the same sentence over and over again. If you told your colleagues, “Due to a power outage at home, I couldn’t make the meeting this morning”, you would receive a confused look. It could have been rephrased as: “I missed the meeting because the power went out.” By avoiding jargon and using short sentences, you will be more easily understandable.
In case you’ve done everything we mentioned in the previous sections and the conversation is still stuck, spell the word out-loud, or if you have paper and a pen at hand, write it down. In many cases, the problem is not your pronunciation, but instead your word stress or intonation. You can help your listener understand what you actually meant by spelling out the word and using letters such as ‘C as in Cat, A as on Apple, N as in Night’. Once your speaking partner realizes what you were trying to say, you will both laugh at the misunderstanding.