Learning English as a second language requires putting effort into consistent practice because practicing makes you better at speaking. However, you can't attain perfection and confidence without understanding English pronunciation, grammar, and usage.
To help you better understand how to speak confidently, we will explain Standard American English and how it differs from other varieties. You'll also learn about the several difficulties in speaking confidently.
What is Standard American English
Standard American English (SAE) refers to the form of English Language approved for formal use in the United States based on a set of rules. It can either be spoken or written as used in schools, offices or heard on newscasts.
To speak confidently, you must adhere to grammar, spelling, and contextual usage rules and neutralize other dialect variations.
The word standard makes it sound like a more logical form of English compared to others. But is this true?
While every language has its unique form, below are a few differences between SAE and other English dialects.
Standard American English vs. Local American Dialect
In 1780, John Adams wrote to Congress proposing the establishment of an academy that would create the norms for Standard American English. This codification aimed to develop a generally accepted set of rules for how Americans speak or write.
However, there are over 24 local variations of American English. These dialect variations were due to migration and societal changes within the various American states. Below are a few regional American dialects.
New York English
New York, one of the biggest cities in America, has several subdialects. However, they generally pronounce some words differently. For instance, they stress the 'aw' sound on words with 'ou', 'of', 'or', 'au', 'ar', and 'aw'. Some examples of words within this category include:
- Corner – caw-nah
- Office – Aw-ffice
- Awful – awe-ful
- Burrito – Baw-rrito
- Scarf – scawf
- Author – Aw-thaw or Aw-thor
- Boston – Baw-ston
Eastern New England English
Eastern New England English, or the Yankee dialect, is another variation of American English. They have a non-rhoticity - they do not sound an 'r' that comes after a verb, as in a car, horse, or poor. However, they pronounce words that end in /ə/, /ɑ/, or /ɔ/ with a linking 'r' sound. For instance, they will read 'law and power' as 'lauren power'.
Chicago Urban English
The Chicago accent pronounces some words starting with 'th' as 'd'. For example, they pronounce 'this' as 'dis' and 'that' as 'dat'. They also pronounce with a vowel shift, like 'hot dog' sounds 'haht dahg'.
Standard American English vs. Other English Dialect
Other English dialects are popular amongst different cultures or tribes outside America. For instance, British English, common amongst the British and African American Vernacular English (AAVE), is coined from American English and common amongst African Americans.
AAVE, also known as Ebonics, was coined from general American English. However, there are several differences. Some of them are:
- Remove or add morphemes: For example, 'I ride in my sister car.' (possessive 's missing).
- Subject-verb agreement: For example, 'They was looking outside.'
- Habitual be on repeated action: For example, 'He be getting beaten all the time.'
- Regularized Reflexive: For example, 'He hit hisself against the wall.'
- Appositive pronouns: For example, 'My mama she cooked me some nice meals.'
Below are a few examples of British English dialects.
- Vocabulary: For example, the front of a car is called bonnet in Britain but hood in America.
- Auxiliary verbs: Brits use the word 'shall' compared to Americans using 'will' or 'would'. For instance, Brits will say, 'I shall go out soon.' But Americans will say, 'I will go out soon.'
- Verb past tense: In British, you'll likely see most past tenses carry 't' as opposed to 'ed' in American English.
- Question tags: Brits love to include a question tag at the end of a statement. For instance, 'You don't like pizza, do you?' Americans do not really mind using this.
While no English dialect is supreme to the other, some are globally recognized and are used for communicating and learning in business spaces, classrooms, mainstream media, and different official settings.
Challenges in Speaking Confidently
Generally, the inability to communicate fluently leads to a loss of confidence. This section highlights several problems native and non-native speakers encounter that could restrict communication.
Challenges Native Speakers Face During Communication
While it might sound impossible that native speakers will face difficulties communicating, the challenge is often in communicating with non-natives. Some of these challenges include:
Native speakers often use accents that others find confusing and hard to understand. This can cause their listeners to misunderstand them.
The native English vocabulary contains several words that non-native speakers may not understand. Also, some phrases in the native English vocabulary may have a different meaning and usage in other English dialects. For instance, the word 'pants' in the US refers to trousers or outerwear worn from the waist down. However, in the UK, it refers to underwear.
Native English speakers often use unofficial words to explain or reference things. These slangs are shared amongst them and are easily understood within their circle. However, this is not the case with non-native speakers. For example, native speakers might use slangs like wanna (want to), hang out (spend time having fun), etc.
Challenges Non-Native Speakers Face During Communication
Some challenges Non-native or ESL (English as a second language) speakers face that may restrict communication and cause a lack of confidence are:
Rhythm and Speed Contrast
Different tribes or parts of the world speak or read with varying speed patterns. For instance, the traditional Chinese language is very fast and requires speakers to speak very fast. This natural rhythm can influence their speech when communicating in English. They will have to repeat themselves often during conversations with someone who is used to a different speech speed.
Melody and Stress Patterns
In different languages, melody and stress patterns signal competence and make for a better understanding of some words. This difference in melody affects non-native speakers as they have to adjust to the new melody that comes with the English language.
Speech Muscle Contraction
One factor that controls how well we pronounce words in a language is how our muscles contract to sound consonants and vowels. Every language organizes its consonant and vowel sounds differently. For example, the Chinese sound /ai/ in English with a wide open mouth and the sound resting at the back. Adjusting to a different language speech organization can be a challenge at first.
How to Speak Like an American Native Speaker with Confidence?
Like a chameleon, how can we shift our grammar, accent, and vocabulary to resemble Native American speakers? Below are five tips that can help you achieve this.
Familiarize Yourself with Native American Accents
A study at the University of Plymouth shows that children are more likely to pick up an accent from their peers. While this applies only to children below 12 years, people of any age can use other means to learn an American accent. Some include:
Listen to More Native Speakers
To find native American speakers to listen to, you can listen to podcasts like Toasted Sisters and media newscasts. According to research by Krashen, 1982, movies can affect the learning of English as a second language. So, another way to develop an accent is to watch native American movies like Windtalkers, Dance with wolves, etc.
Use Pronunciation Tools
Pronunciation tools help you develop proper listening and speaking skills, which are the basis for accents. These tools give you feedback and evaluate your speech against the standard American accent.
Record and Listen to Yourself
Another way to improve is to practice consistently. As you keep learning, try to practice using a recorder. This way, you can listen to yourself later and compare it to what you learn so that you can observe your progress. If you have a native American around you, this will help them provide you with feedback.
Learn and Practice How English Flows
Every language has different speech patterns, affecting pronunciation's natural flow. Therefore learning how the Natives flow can help you sound confident.
But how can you imitate the flow of the English language? Here are a few tips:
- Join sounds: Native speakers tend to join two consonant sounds ending and starting a word in a sentence. For example, 'I'd decide when to go' will sound more like 'I'decide whento go'.
- Link sounds: Native speakers link sounds of a consonant ending a word with a vowel beginning another. For example, 'Step on the table' will sound more like 'Stepon the table'.
- Remove Sounds: You'd often hear native speakers remove 't' or 'd' sounds whenever it appears within two consonants. For example, 'This is our test week' will sound like 'this is our tes week'.
- Use contractions: Native speakers shorten words to help them speak faster. Words like 'I am' will become 'I'm'. Other examples include they're, it's, we're, etc.
Practice Using Slangs
Native speakers use slang to help pass on an idea without many details in words. For instance, the slang hang out will pass for going out to have fun.
Although every part of America has unique slang, you can practice the general ones. Some examples include:
- Wanna - want to
- Hang out - go out and have fun
- Had a blast - had a really good time
- Driven up the wall - disgusted by your actions
- Amped - super excited
- Bust - caught in the act.
The best way to learn and become confident is to keep practicing. At first, you'd sound less competent and might be laughed at by your colleagues for either sounding poorly or using the wrong phrases. However, keep putting in your best.
How Long Does it Take to Speak Confidently?
Learning to speak confidently takes patience, practice, and consistent effort. The learning duration differs depending on your learning curve and the age you start learning. For some people, it can take over 10 years to become proficient, while others might take 3 years.
For Luiz Souza, it took him about 7 years to become fluent in English as a non-native speaker. According to him, the process took so long because he practiced slowly.
In Ratmir's case, he started learning at age 4. By age 8, which was four years from the time of learning, he could speak English but without an accent. He learned mainly by watching English YouTube gamers.
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) proposed six levels of fluency and estimated each level to take over 200 learning hours. In other words, attaining the highest level of proficiency will require over 1200 hours. This estimation depends on a few factors, including:
- Your level of familiarity with other dialects: How long have you been speaking different dialects? What languages were you born with?
- Level of practice: Gaining mastery in English requires a commitment to practicing regularly. How much time you put into crafting your skill will reflect your level of proficiency.
- External help: Do you receive feedback from colleagues, friends, or tutors? Feedback can help you realize fault areas and determine how fast you learn.
How to Speak Confidently in Public?
If you ever feel anxious about speaking in public, here are a few things that can help boost your confidence:
Know the Subject
Having in-depth knowledge about a thing automatically boosts confidence. So, try to research the topic you want to speak about. This way, your speech flows logically and naturally.
Know the Audience
Before speaking in a gathering or meeting, learn a thing or two about who you'll be talking to. You should look out for their background and what kind of vocabulary they will better understand. This will help you better adjust to the audience and communicate effectively.
Practice Speaking with the Right Pace
People from different races speak at different paces. However, speaking in public demands a moderate pace to allow your audience to follow. Here are a few tips that can help:
- Speak slowly: Reduce your regular conversation pace but don't be too slow. Maintain speed by observing punctuations and giving breath spaces between ideas.
- Practice proper pronunciation: Some words have greater difficulty in pronunciation. If you are to speak on a complex topic that will require calling out difficult words, ensure you practice before time.
- Avoid using placeholders: Resist the temptation to use 'like' or 'um' to fill up a gap or pause in ideas.
Use the Right Language
Trying to impress your listeners is the wrong way to go. So, avoid using words that sound too complex. A rule of thumb will be to use words that are easily understood but not dumb. Be simple but not simplistic.
How to Speak Confidently in Meetings?
Sometimes it can be intimidating to speak in a meeting. But here are a few ways to boost your confidence during your next meeting.
Develop a Positive Mindset
If you think that you are not experienced enough to make suggestions or you know too little, the first way to get past this is to change your mindset. An article on Harvard Business proposed three mind shifts to help start speaking in meetings.
- First shift - From thinking that your ideas are not good enough to knowing they can help the team.
- Second shift - From thinking you are better off quiet to knowing that your team will not benefit from your silence.
- Third shift - From trying to sound impressive to knowing it's all about the team's success.
Prepare for the Meeting
Preparation boosts your confidence and helps provide a basis for ideas. Here are a few tips on how to prepare for a meeting:
- Read the meeting agenda: Before every meeting, the topics it will address will be sent to everyone. Ensure you go through it thoroughly to understand what each section of the meeting will address.
- Write down questions: While reading the agenda, develop one or two questions that add value to the meeting. Avoid asking generic questions that may not be necessary.
- Take notes: You'll likely get ideas and suggestions before the meeting begins. So, take a notepad and pen them down.
- Practice what you'll like to say: You can stay in front of a mirror or discuss it with a coworker. This will help boost your confidence.
- Practice introducing yourself: Since this is what you'll do first in every meeting before speaking, it might be the hardest part. So, practice it until you are confident enough.
Listen and Learn from Others
Watching others do the same thing you are scared of is an excellent way to overcome your fears. Observe those on your team that make brilliant suggestions, and take notes on how they speak and what they say. Also, try to understand why they say what they say.
Speak up Early
Don't be in a rush to speak, but don't also take long before speaking. It might get you into a relaxed mode. You can break the ice by asking a question or contributing to an idea someone gave.
How to Speak Confidently in a Job Interview?
Confidence is one of the traits employers want to see in candidates. But you might be unable to show this if you cannot communicate your ideas well.
So, here are a few tips to speak confidently in your next job interview.
Prepare for the Interview
Spend time researching the company, understand your job requirement, and know the recruiter.
- Research the Company: Employers often ask why you want to work with them. Understanding the company goals can help you answer this. So, learn about the company's founder(s), projects, progress, etc.
- Understand your job role: Job roles vary by company. Read through the job description and relate your experience to the offered position. Articulating the value you're bringing to the company will give you an edge during interviews.
- Know your recruiter or interviewer: You can find them on LinkedIn or Twitter. Read their posts, blogs, or newsletters to learn more about who they are.
Answer Questions Logically
Employers love a well-thought answer. However, ensure that you do this fast. Excellent verbal communication is expected to be fluent. Don't overcomplicate but be smart. To do this, use less complex terms and explain them in detail.
It's natural for you to want to fake an accent or impress the interviewer. But this might not go very well. So, be honest and open with your thoughts.
Don't let the employer alone lead the conversation. Asking questions gives you the power to control the conversation. So, ensure you have questions about the company or role before coming. Try to make them unique to the company and the role, and avoid asking generic questions for which you can easily find public answers.
Are You Looking to Improve Your American English and Speak Confidently?
Everyone can learn to speak confidently with the right help. Get Pronounce Speech Checker. The pronounce app equips speakers with powerful tools to achieve this goal with consistent practice. Do you want to know how? Check out the features below.
Features of Pronounce
The Pronounce app uses advanced speech recognition technology to track your speech quality and pronunciation. Some of its best features include:
Once you sign up on the Pronounce website, it prompts you to record your first speech on the website or with a chrome extension. This helps you know your level of proficiency.
Enjoy self-practicing without paying huge bills for a coach. Pronounce provides cues that assist you during self-practice.
Pronounce offers a free speech check to help you monitor your errors and provides suggestions for improvements.
Worry less about how you are progressing. Pronounce provides timely and detailed feedback to help you see your improvements.
Listen to yourself after recording with the Pronounce read-aloud feature.
How to Use the Pronounce App
- Install the Chrome extension
- Highlight the text you want to read or hear
- Click on the app icon at the top right of your toolbar
- The app records the text, which you can listen to afterward
- You can right-click on the highlighted text and select the context menu to get the correct pronunciation
Becoming proficient and confident in speaking takes awareness, dedication and consistent practice. While hiring a coach might be expensive, you can use apps like Pronounce to self-learn and obtain your desired proficiency.