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Public speaking - Learn to Listen

Gennaio 2018
Il salto di qualità per migliorare la pronuncia sta nel sapere identificare i suoni che vengono “mangiati” dai madrelingua e riprodurre lo stesso effetto. La prima regola è dedicarsi all’ascolto: ecco dei consigli per iniziare a ridurre la distanza fra il parlato e lo scritto.

di Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts
Rachel Roberts

I repeat this phrase every time I talk or write about public speaking: If you want to speak well, you have to learn to listen. What’s more, you have to listen actively, or ‘mindfully’. You must pay attention not just to the sounds you hear, but to the way an English mother-tongue speaker puts those sounds together.


The best place to do this is in an ‘input-rich environment’ - an environment where you are surrounded by input, for example, would be a study period in an English-speaking country, preferably with a home stay with a host family. In this situation you really are immersed in English: lessons in the morning, activities in the afternoon, mealtimes spent with your host family and every time you buy a snack or a souvenir you are forced to interact. Even if you just sit alone in a park having a sandwich, you can tune in to the conversations you hear around you and ask yourself this vital question: ‘How do English speakers say what they say?’


Many of you will think you know the answer to this. The vast majority of students of English complain that British people ‘eat’ their words. But do you know how we eat them? Which words disappear and which remain?
Here is an excellent exercise to discover the answer to this question, radically improve your listening skills and help you acquire that difficult English intonation all at the same time. Choose a piece of audio to which you have also the written text. Any Speak Up article, complete with audio file, will work perfectly. Without looking at the written text, listen to the recording and choose a short excerpt that appeals to you. Now, listen again, pausing at the end of each sentence for a few seconds and writing down the words you heard clearly. Don’t try to write complete sentences and leave a lot of space between the words.
Listen to the rest of your excerpt, repeating the process – pause at the end of each sentence or long phrase, and write down the words you heard pronounced loudly and clearly. The first time you try this exercise, you can repeat the procedure and add some extra words.
Then, look at your ‘skeleton sentences’ and try to complete them using your knowledge of English.


Now have a look at the written text and see how close your version is to the original. You will probably discover two things. The first is that, by concentrating only on the clearly spoken words, you were more easily able to understand the meaning or gist of the text. The second is that the missing words – the words you had to fill in later – were probably all pronouns, articles, prepositions and auxiliary verbs. In other words, all those little words we consider unimportant.
English mother-tongue speakers tend to squeeze these little words in between the words that contain the information and we often run them together. ‘There were many people’ can sound like ‘Thuwu many people.’


If you practise this technique, you will soon begin to understand the mechanism of English intonation and that is the first step towards acquiring it for yourself. Any of you who have a preference for British and American songs will suddenly find that the words fit much better to the music if you eat them in the right way! In any case your public speaking, or even singing, will suddenly begin to sound much more natural.

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