Think in English with Adah

A TEFL blog: You have to train yourself to think in English

How to Speak English Fluently When a Disconnect Happens between Your Brain and Mouth?

This is another “how to” article for those who have found stumbling blocks on their way to becoming fluent speakers of English.

If you take a look at the people around you who believe they speak English in China, it shouldn’t surprise you that most of them have been learning English since school for more than 10 years. But if you are hoping that most of them can speak fluid English without pauses, you must be disappointed. However, if you really give a thought to it, speaking fluent English is not that hard. There are some handy language techniques that make it possible for you to speak English that flows freely – or at least smoothly.

1. Try not to pause for more than 2 seconds

It happens to me when I simply forget what I am going to say next or what the right English word is, especially when doing a public speech with many eyes staring at me. This may be caused by an unexpected blackout of our brain – a temporary loss of memory and thoughts that results in a disconnect between ideas. (I bet this also occurrs to you and some of you may even wonder where you are and why you are standing here doing a speech. )

Most people would just stop talking if their consicious minds put on a strike. But don’t panic. The key is you shouldn’t have a silent pause for more than 2 seconds. This seemingly insignificant time span can be detrimental to the fluency of your entire speech. As they say it in English, a little gall spoils a great deal of honey.  

Now it is the perfect time to use some small words and phrases that can help you get over this horrible moment. Here are some life-saving hesitation devices:

er…         I mean…       Let me see/think…       

uhh…     sort of/ kind of…       basically…            

mmm…     um…      you know…        well…       

Using these devices can help to maintain a highly fluent speech. If you use them skillfully, it doesn’t even come to the audience’s notice that there is a disconnect between your ideas.

And the best thing is, using these words does not require you to think at all. When we are applying these words, we should think fast in order to generate the next idea. I am sure that all of you can multitask well. Because we think much more speedily than we speak, two seconds should be enough for us to brainstorm the next sentence. You may just seam the ideas together by using this easy yet powerful needle - hesitation phrases.

2. Do NOT repeat words or phrases

Some people like to repeat a part of their sentence when they are working on the next part. A few people even repeat a word for more than 5 times! Repetition actually makes things worse. You can leave a bad impression either that you do not own enough vocabulary to support your opinions or you are really nervous at the moment. Repetition is a sign for many kinds of weaknesses and you should never let it get in the way.

My suggestion is there is no point in going backward. Always move forward, even though you may speak slowly because you are trying to figure out the next part of your sentence. Slowing down is better than going back. If you still haven’t worked out what you are going to say after you have lowered the speaking speed, you may need to refer to the first section of this essay.

I believe your English will undergo a metamorphosis after you practice following these tips here. Be sure to share how you feel about this post by adding a comment down below.

Word bank:

1.  stumbling blocks (noun phrase) something that causes problems and prevents you from achieving your aim

2. fluid /’flu:id/  (adj) smooth, graceful and flowing like a liquid

3. blackout (n) a temporary loss of consciousness, sight or memory

4. seemingly (adv) in a way that appears to be true but may in fact not be

5. detrimental /ˌdetriˈmentl/ (adj) harmful (~to someone/ something)

6. gall /ɡɔːl/ (n) a digestive juice secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder that is usually bitter

7. multitask /ˌmʌltiˈtɑːsk/ (v) to do several things at the same time

8. seam /si:m/ (v) to sew or join two edges of fabric together; (n) a line along which two edges of fabric, etc. are joined or sewn together

9. needle /ni:dl/ (n) a small thin piece of steel that you use for sewing, with a point at one end and a hole for the thread at the other

10. metamorphosis /ˌmetəˈmɔːfəsɪs/ (n) a process in which somebody/something changes completely into something different from an immature form to an adult form, such as the process that a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly

How to deal with requests from your boss or client?

Would you just say NO to your boss when they ask you to help them fix their computer at home this weekend? Or would you just say YES but deep down you really hate to do this using your weekend time?  

Tell you what, my colleagues who work in the IT outsourcing field would not really dare to say No to their boss or client. It is very brusque (rude) and even risky to say NO to your client or boss especially in China. The reason is rooted in the Confucian doctrine that prevails in the Asian cultures. You are supposed to “obey” a person who is superior (having a higher rank) to you, especially when you work for this person.  

However, is there a way for you to work an angle (to make something suit your needs or purposes) about this? There is such a way and I am going to write about it for you.  

Remember, what your boss/ client asks you to do is just a request, not a complaint. In the service industry, a request is a statement or act of asking for some extra products or services beyond the service scope. The word “extra” means what your boss asks you to do is outside of your job responsibilities. You have a right to think about whether you have to grant (to allow someone to have or do what they want) the request or not. You may ask yourself this question “Is it really that easy for me to do this favor?”  

So first, instead of giving a YES or No answer directly, you may explain to your boss/ client the difficulties in fulfilling the request. Use polite language in your explanation though. For example, if you have already made a plan for this weekend, you may say:  

I’m afraid that helping you fix your computer this weekend is not so possible because I have made a travel plan for the weekend. My girlfriend/ boyfriend really looks forward to this trip. ” 

Or  Unfortunately, it won’t be possible for me to come to your home this weekend to fix your computer because I have made an appointment with the dentist and I may have a small surgery then.” 

Knowing your difficulties, your boss/ client should start to understand the predicament (a difficult situation) that they have put you in now. But people don’t stop unless they find a solution to the problem. Then why don’t you offer a solution to the requestor by giving some extra conditions?  

The following solutions can be good enough to show that you do care about your boss/ client’s request and you may impress your boss/ client by your solution providing skills: 

Solution #1: However, as you need to use your computer this weekend, if you can bring your computer to the office this Friday morning, I can have a look at it.” (condition: changing the deadline)

Solution #2: On the other hand, I know a computer maintenance store just near the office. They fixed my computer last time at a very low price. You may call this number to get a technician for door-to-door service.” (condition: recommending another company)

Solution #3: The only thing I can suggest is that you can ask our colleague Jim to check your computer. I know that he just lives next door to you!” (condition: recommending another person) 

Which one is your favorite? : P 

How to make successful personal complaints face-to-face?

How to make complaints face-to-face that people can actually accept (even with delight) is not a hard task. You may become a skillful complainant after you take my two cents (meaning: opinions said in a humble way).

1. Anger  makes things worse

Of course our toleration has amounted (meaning: to add up in quantity) to a maximal point when we feel the need to make a complaint. But don’t let anger rule us. If you vent (meaning: express) your anger on the person who upsets you, the negative emotions may rebound (meaning: to spring back) on you in a way that could make it even worse.

For example, suppose you are dining in a restaurant and another customer sitting at the next table is smoking, but you don’t smoke. This can actually happen in any public places in China, such as a restaurant, a railway station or even a library. If you just use the blunt (meaning: very direct) language in the signs that we usually see in public places in China – “No smoking” or “Stop smoking”, the smoker may feel that their self-esteem (or the term “face” that originated from our Chinese culture) is under threat and they may even go further and blow smoke in your face!

I have to point out that the moral standards that people are supposed to feel guilty when receiving complaints can’t really apply here in urban China. But I am not saying that these common moral standards do no exist in China. They are still observed in the less urbanized areas such as my hometown. However, you need to be careful when making complaints in the cities of China because strangers can simply get quite aggressive (meaning: angry or rude with a tendency to fight, attack, or argue) and hostile (meaning: unfriendly) with each other. It can be just the reverse in China. The complainee can even shout at the complainant. So don’t show your anger unless you want to get yourself into real trouble.

2. Use polite language and an amiable tone

Making complaints face-to-face can have a quite face-threatening effect on the person that you complain to. However, the politeness of your language can have a great effect on the results.

Let’s refer back to the previous example. Compare these 2 ways of raising a complaint:

(1) “Stop smoking!” / “Don’t smoke here.” (in an angry tone)

(2)  “Could you please not smoke here because this is a non-smoking area?” (in an amiable and polite tone with a smile)

You’d better use a question instead of a statement in order to avoid challenging the complainee’s face.  Asking the complainee a question means they are still entitled (meaning: have the right to do something) to choices, but a statement sounds more like a strong negative order. The complainee may feel they have been forced to do something they are not willing to do. Face is a big deal in China. Nobody likes to lose face in front of the public.

3. Always include a solution in your complaint

A complaint that does not suggest a solution is not a real complaint, but merely an expression of negative emotions. Giving a appropriate solution is the real purpose of any successful complaint. 

It is equally important that the complainee actually accepts the solution that you propose. To make your complaints easier to be adopted, you can mention the solution as a kind suggestion, which makes it less menacing (meaning: threatening). You may even offer your help if necessary.

Here comes a refined complaint for the smoking scene:

“Excuse me. Would you mind smoking in the smoking area just over there? I’m sure you will like the fresh air there. You may meet some new people there.”

This is another one for finding a seat on a metro train/ bus:

“Excuse me. I’d like to sit down. Could you please move your bag onto the luggage rack? If you don’t mind, I can help you with it.”

If you were the smoker, would you feel comfortable and delighted to follow my suggestions? : )