Slowing Down

Written by Lauren Carter | Last updated:

I hope you’ve been having a lovely week so far. Today I want to share with you why slowing down when you talk is one of the best and simplest things you can do to improve your communication skills. This works for anyone, but it works particularly well for your non-native English-speaking students with low English literacy.

Why you need to slow down

If you’ve ever learned a second language (which I highly suggest you do), you’ll know that listening is hard. There are so many processes going on in our beautiful little brains when we’re listening, so it’s actually a lot more complex than you might think. When we’re listening, we have to:

  • Listen to the individual sounds (called phonemes) and work out the differences between them.
  • Group those sounds into chunks to form words.
  • Process the word and work out what it actually means.
  • Work out the sense of the meaning if the word has multiple meanings.
  • Process the sentence structure (called syntax) as a whole to understand the meaning.

Now, that sounds like a lot of work for our brains to do because it is. When we speak our native language, we take all of these processes for granted. All of this sounds hard enough, but wait there’s more (said in a cheesy infomercial way ?) . . . you must do ALL of this at the speed the other person is speaking. You don’t have control over how quickly information is coming at you. If you miss even one thing, then you’ve lost your spot and *buzzzz* you’re out of the competition (aka conversation).

When we break it down like this, listening is a mighty feat. Our brains are truly incredible machines because we often don’t even give these processes a second thought.

How to slow down

While we can’t go into our students’ or clients’ heads and make them understand everything we’re saying, there are a few things we can do to make the process easier for them. One thing that will be massively helpful to them is slowing down. Just talk slowly. Pause between sentences. Relax. Be calm. Breathe.

Now, there is one caveat here, and I’m going to be blunt: speaking slowly doesn’t mean speaking to them like they’re an idiot. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: all of someone’s thoughts, knowledge, and past experiences are locked inside their brain in their language. Just because they can’t articulate themselves in English doesn’t mean they don’t have important and worthwhile things to say. Believe me, they want to say everything that’s on their mind so they can just get through this conversation with you. They would do anything to help you understand what they’re trying to say, but they can’t because they don’t have the language skills to do it. But YOU can help them.

So here’s how to speak slowly:

  • Breathe and be aware of your talking speed.
  • Notice when you start to speed up and then slow back down.
  • Chunk words together and pause briefly between each chunk.
  • Don’t raise your voice.
  • Don’t say exactly the same thing with unnatural pauses and elongated stress or pronunciation when someone says they don’t understand.

I’ll be sharing more about these topics in the coming weeks and months, so don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense to you right now. All will be revealed soon, my friend!

This Week’s Challenge

So my friend, my challenge for you this week is to pay attention to your talking speed. Notice when you speed up and then slow back down. Don’t beat yourself up if you catch yourself speaking too quickly. It all comes with practice, and you’ll get better as time goes on.

I encourage you to also pay attention to your tone of voice. Do you raise your voice or speak in a condescending way? Just notice it, don’t judge it. You may have had years of speaking like this, so don’t expect it to change overnight. This will take time and that’s okay.