Estimated Lesson Time: 4 minutes
Imagine being the human resources director for a large firm. You are reviewing applications and seeking candidates to fill a top-level position. After searching through hundreds of resumes, you come across a candidate that looks perfect on paper, and you arrange an interview. Within the first 30 seconds of the interview, you realize you’ve made a mistake when the candidate says to you, “Thanks for invitin’ me here. It’s frezzin’ outside—I prob’ly shoulda worn a heav’yer coat.” Although the candidate looks like a professional and has the credentials to back him up, you do not give him the job because you know his poor articulation will evoke negative perceptions in customers who speak with him.
Articulation is the process by which sounds, syllables, and words are formed when your tongue, jaw, teeth, lips, and palate alter the air stream coming from the vocal folds. Poor articulation is when the sounds of words are omitted, substituted, distorted, or just plain slurred. The two most common problem areas are adjacent words that are blended together, as in “shoulda” for “should have,” and sounds in words that are omitted, as in “fishin” for “fishing.” Here is a list of some of the more common problem words:
gonna = going to
woulda = would have
coulda = could have
shoulda = should have
ta = to
moun’n = mountain
foun’n = fountain
finely = finally
probly = probably
whatcha = what are you
gimmie = give me
importn = important
ya = you
and dropping the “g” from any word ending in “ing”
Poor articulation can certainly be due to physical or mental disorders beyond our immediate control. Not everyone is gifted with the ability to clearly articulate words. However, the large majority of articulation problems are due to factors within our complete control. If you are one of those people fortunate enough to have the ability to clearly articulate words, you must not take it for granted.
Here are the top three reasons most people succumb to sloppy articulation along with some suggestions for improvement.
- Influenced by parents, siblings, or friends who did not articulate sounds. Most of us learn our speech patterns by listening to those around us. If our parents or other vocal influences we had while growing up did not articulate words clearly, the chances are we have adopted the same bad habits. Listen to professional speakers or radio personalities with good articulation. Take the time to talk to yourself (preferably when no one is around) and work on the words that give you the most trouble.
- Just plain lazy. It is easier to say “nothin’” then strain to articulate that trailing “g.” It seems to be natural to look for easier ways of doing things and speaking is no different. However, we know by now that success is not about taking the easy way out. Concentrate and become aware of your articulation and work to improve it where needed.
- Speaking too quickly. When we rush our speech, it is difficult not to combine sounds of words together or omit certain sounds in words. Slow down. Think about the moving of your mouth, and even exaggerate the movement of your mouth at first if necessary.
Poor articulation is often a result of years of bad habit. The good news is while it may seem challenging at first to clearly articulate all of your words, clear articulation will quickly replace poor articulation, and become a new habit. You have already started to become aware of your articulation and you will now notice whenever you slur your words.
Good articulation does not mean “changing who you are” or “speaking like a snob”; think of it as just being appropriate. Good articulation is not the same as being formal; it is just not being lazy. Nobody will think less of you for using good articulation.
Articulation and the adequacy of our speech affect our social, emotional, educational, and vocational status, as well as the overall quality of our lives. Make a conscious effort to no longer slur your words. You will find that others will perceive you to be more educated. You will find yourself to be more self-confident than ever before while having more opportunities that can lead you to success.
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Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):
- Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
- Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
- What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)