A lot of English learners don’t think about sounding human when they speak English.
Let’s face it…
When we think about English… we think about words…
We think about hours of sitting at a desk with a list of vocabulary and an old textbook..
We think about taking exams and listening to a tape recorder…
But there are some things we DON’T think about…
We don’t always think about having conversations with real people in real situations.
We don’t always think about how our words make others feel.
We don’t always think about being a human when we learn a language.
If that sounds like you and you want to BE MORE HUMAN when you learn speak English, you’re going to love my new “Speak English Like a Human’ series.
So let’s kick off with Part One.
In PART ONE, you’re going to learn how to SOUND more human (and less robotic) by using your voice.
(lol… excuse the pun)
Nobody wants to sound flat and boring when they speak English… yet some people do.
But trust me, they don’t choose to speak like that.
When someone sounds flat and boring, it’s usually because:
That’s why some university lecturers who have had the SAME position for 20+ years put you to sleep when they speak.
When you learn English as a second language, you don’t always know how to make your English sound more ‘full of life’, so you might sound flat and boring.
Now, you’re reading this because you don’t want to sound flat and boring…
You want to sound full of life, interesting and…
So today, we’re going to work on your voice.
Your voice is a powerful tool. You don’t even need to use words and people can feel your mood and understand what you mean. The way that you SAY a word carries different meanings and has different emotions, and mastering that will make you sound more human.
But let’s look at this a bit deeper.
When we speak, we can control the meaning using different parts of our voice:
So let’s look at each one of these in more detail.
Stress is when you make a word or a sound in a sentence stronger.
Natural English uses this speech pattern:
When I went over to see them, they were playing basketball.
Why do we speak like that?
Well, it means we can speak quickly while still giving all the information.
It also means we can skip over some of the words which don’t carry too much information, like the word ‘to’.
But sometimes you want to EMPHASISE something or you really want to make your meaning clear.
That’s when you will use stress to convey that meaning.
Listen to how I say this sentence five times:
“Robin borrowed his keys”[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/339229287″ params=”color=0066cc&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
The first time I say it is the natural way.
The other times, well, I’m putting some meaning into it…
Robin borrowed his keys – it was Robin who borrowed the keys (not me)
Robin borrowed his keys – Robin borrowed the keys (he didn’t steal them)
Robin borrowed his keys – Robin borrowed his keys (not hers)
Robin borrowed his keys – Robin borrowed his keys (not his car)
See what I mean?
With stress, you give a standard sentence a whole new meaning.
Intonation is the way your voice goes up and down.
All languages have intonation patterns, so English isn’t unique here either.
However, intonation can also carry a lot of meaning.
For example, it’s the difference between well, well and well.
Or is that…
It’s hard to see the meaning when you write it down like that, but listen to this recording and see if you can notice the difference.[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/339229281″ params=”color=0066cc&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
Did you understand the different meanings?
Let’s look at it in detail…
The first one is a pause to think.
The second one is asking for a reason for someone doing something wrong
And the third one is telling us that a suggestion is coming next
Here’s what they sound like when used in full sentences:[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/339229284″ params=”color=0066cc&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
Being able to understand and use intonation to your advantage will help you speak English like a human!
Have you ever heard an English speaker speak naturally and thought “ehhh…?”
Well, that may have been caused by something called ‘connected speech’.
You see, native English speakers don’t… talk… like… this.
When we speak we connect words sounds together.
Now, there is a WHOOOOLE lot to talk about here, but you don’t need a university education in sounds to speak English like a human, so I’m just going to give you a few examples:
Click here to hear what I mean:[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/339229291″ params=”color=0066cc&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
And that’s how humans, not robots, connect their speech. Mastering it will help you to become more human with your English.
So, you’ve just learnt three ways to make your voice sound more human.
If you want to master these three ways to sound more human (and less like a human), I suggest you try my simple system of NRU (sorry, I don’t have a better name for it).
It stands for:
listen to something and NOTICE the way it is being said. By reading this article, you have effectively started this process.
but don’t JUST listen. REPEAT what you hear and try to say it the same way.
But don’t JUST repeat. Try to USE what you hear in your own life.
Using your voice in this way will turn you into an English speaking human before you know it!
Want some more good news?
This Series will carry on to PART TWO soon…
In part two, we will look at something that is often overlooked, yet it is extremely important if you want to speak English like a human.
Want to be the first to know when Part 2 lands?Just click here and enter your name and email address.
I’ll send it to you when it’s ready.
Sam is the founder and creator of English For Study. He's also a lecturer in EAP/Academic English. Apart from making Academic English easy, he likes learning languages, lifting weights and eating good food.