The basketball season has finished and many are now watching baseball.

The “three strikes rule” in baseball can also be applied to speaking-clarity and a listener’s tolerance of confusion.   If the listener is still confused after three attempts to understand the speaker, the listener will start to “tune out” the speaker.

How do we keep our listeners’ attention?

Let’s review the first of the top three issues for ESOL speakers from “The Articulate Advantage” March ‘15 article.


Speaking Speed:

Speaking too fast often causes the speaker to eliminate key syllables within words, make sound substitutions and use incorrect linking or stress patterns.

The listener must have time to make “edits” or they will often quit trying to understand.

How do you slow down? On the website, Baseball Mental Game Tips, the author Patrick Cohn quoted Brad Holman, pitching coach for Triple-A Round Rock Express, “Don’t be too quick. Step back and take a breath.” The same holds true for speaking. Here are three strategies to slow down so that the listener may understand you better.

1. Choose an article from an online news source. An article about baseball might work. Or find another easy article. Find a paragraph that has 100 to 125 words.

  • Highlight and copy this paragraph to a word document. Do a word count to confirm the number of words.
  • Record your speaking while you read this article aloud.
  • Go back and check your time. Did you do it in less than 60 seconds? If so, you spoke too fast. Do it again until you can slow down your speaking speed enough to say it in the full 60 to 70 seconds. It feels too slow, yet this makes you very aware of your own pronunciation and your audience’s response.
  1. Next, Listen again.
  • How long were your pauses between sentences? Where did you put the pauses?
  • Using pauses between sentences allows the listener to edit and understand your content better.
  • Try for .5 to 1 second pauses between sentences. Remember, this helps the listener “edit”.
  1. Did you find words with more than two syllables in the paragraph?
  • Three, four and five+ syllable words often are mispronounced. Underline these words.
  • Use an online dictionary to determine how they are said correctly. Even if you don’t say the vowels or consonants correctly, you must be able to say the right amount of syllables. English spelling often does not give you the correct pronunciation.
  • Record the target word three times. Make certain that you are correct. If not, do it again, until you can pronounce the correct number of syllables correctly. Then record each sentence with the target word.


Do you need more help? Contact me for a free initial consultation. If you are a member of a Toastmaster’s Club, check out my article in the July 2014, Toastmasters magazine. “Sound Strategies To Make Sure Your English Is Understood”

You’ve worked hard, earned the degrees and certifications, acquired a position at a successful corporation, developed and contributed to successful projects, yet the significant promotions are elusive.

Your manager has asked you to:

  • Do Contribute more in meetings,
  • Be more assertive,
  • Do speak up.

It’s a constant question. What does one do or say to contribute more, to be more assertive, or speak up? Some get frustrated thinking that they have really tried multiple times, and still were not really understood.

And here is what you have:
A variable awareness of the issues without adequate transformational knowledge
or the strategies for change across increasingly demanding communicative situations.


Using Clear, Effective Leadership Phrases

Think of a stool. It must have at least 3 legs to be stable. Likewise, we must stabilize a new skill at all three (3) levels of practice to habitually have access to new skills.

Here’s how you can harness the Power of (3) Three within this series.

In the coming months, read each article, note the targets. Then write each of them on your Smartphone, a Post-It note or somewhere that you will see the targets daily.

  • Three (3) executive level words/ phrases of NAE (North American English)
  • Three (3) target pronunciation goals within these phrases.
  • Three (3) example situations in which to use these new phrases.


Practice and implement:

  • These specific pronunciation targets within the words and phrases.
  • The examples that are given or Executive Communication situations, while also developing and expanding your own Executive Communication responses in sentences through multiple sentence responses
  • Three (3) times per day, everyday, for (3) three weeks.

The top three issues for most English Speakers as an Other Language (ESOL).

Why? When these issues are intertwined most native English listeners will not be able to clearly understand the ESOL speaker no matter how much the listener tries.

  1. Speaking Speed:
    Speaking too fast often causes the speaker to eliminate key syllables within words, make sound substitutions and use incorrect linking or stress patterns.
    If the speaker is speaking too quickly, the listener also has less time to make “edits” and will often quit trying to understand after two or three requests for clarification.
  2. Rhythm:
    The two rhythm aspects of NAE are: Linking – NAE words often link the ending sound of words with the beginning sound of the following word. Example: “Sound of = soun-duv”
    NAE is a “stress-timed” language. High content words, such as nouns, active verbs, adjectives and adverbs. having longer duration than “function” words, such as prepositions, pronouns, auxiliary verb [is,].
  3. Vowel Substitutions: In most languages, vowels carry much of the meaning of a word.
    NA English has many more, as well as some very different, vowel sounds [18] than Spanish [5], Mandarin [~5], And different uses of vowels than French [12 pure & 7 total semi & nasal vowels], Tamil [13]; Persian [8].


The First Step :   Listening Differentiation to understand the differences between different sounds or pronunciations. If one cannot hear differences from one individual speech sound to another then they will not be able to make their own attempts at a target sound correctly:

Best: English Talk Shop has an excellent Listening component / “Listen and Choose”/ to their different versions of the American Speechsounds online software ($75.00 -$150.00). One must attain a 90% on their first choice of each task to be considered “proficient”.

It also will list the all the target pronunciation segments (Rhythm and stress patterns, consonants, all vowels sounds) for multiple background languages.

Purchase through Accent Management Group, LLC /, for a significant discount.

Good: American English Pronunciation Practice – Many-Things: Free: This has short lists and a small listening component of only consonants and vowels. However, does not give as much information for languages sound differences.


The Second Step:   Get an Accountability Partner. It must be someone who speaks NA English proficiently; A Canadian or American with whom you are comfortable. This could be someone at work, or in the community. If you belong to a Toastmasters club in your community, ask another member to be your accountability partner for only specific pronunciation targets.


The Third Step:   Record your efforts and redo each effort until you and your accountability partner agree that you have achieved 90% on your three targets.

Upcoming Resource Lists for Practice: Executive Leadership Phrase Examples:

  • Target Vowel – Long /I/: “I would like your advice.”
  • Target Vowel – Long /A/: “Negotiate in good faith”
  • Target Vowel – Long /O/: “Focus on our goal”
  • Target Vowel – Long /E/: “ Acquire by a feasible means ”
  • Target – /Split Vowels/: “Establish our Pri-orities”; “Good exper-i-ence”

Initial Strategies:

Realize that it takes lots of practice to gain a new skill.  Resolve to do what it takes. This story and video from Fast Company demonstrate the practice across time that each skill takes.

Professional Software:

The best interactive software that I’ve found in the last twenty years is English Talk Shop.

I’ve tried so many software programs and can only recommend English Talk Shop as a premier program. It starts with mastering one’s listening discrimination skill and continues up to common response found in the working world.   *Contact me for a discount code on each program.

Sequential Strategies:
1. Find a Mentor:  It’s best to have a native North American English speaker as a mentor to help when there are questions.  Toastmasters International clubs:  are good place to find and use mentors. Look up “Find a Club” on the upper right or on the Left sidebar to find clubs near you.  Visit those that say “Open to All”.

Listening discrimination: Can you hear the differences between two words with the two different sounds in single words or short phrases?

If we cannot hear the differences in the speech of someone else, then how would one be able to detect if we are pronouncing it correctly or incorrectly?

Your ability to hear the differences in all of your accent targets must be at 90% accuracy across ten sets of ten lists (100 trials). English Talk Shop has an excellent tool to help a student accomplish this.

3. Speaking:  Speaking Speed:  Many individuals think that English speakers speak very quickly.  Then they try to do this without having control of the English sound system.  It does not work.

All languages have different sound systems that are intricately coordinated by muscles of the mouth and throat. One must speak slower in order to monitor and correct the differences in these movements.

The Rainbow” passage is a standard used by linguists to assess differences in speaking speed of connected words in English.

When the sunlight strikes raindrops in the air, they act as a prism and form a rainbow. The rainbow is a division of white light into many beautiful colors. These take the shape of a long round arch, with its path high above, and its two ends apparently beyond the horizon. There is, according to legend, a boiling pot of gold at one end. People look, but no one ever finds it. When a man looks for something beyond his reach, his friends say he is looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

To gain Control of your speaking muscles: You must say and record this paragraph in 55-60 seconds consistently 9 out of 10 times.

4. Speaking: Single Words: Basically, one cannot run correctly if they are not walking correctly. We must start with single words.

  • One sound at a Time –
    • Target three (3) words with the sound that you want to change
    • Practice these at ten sets of each one in single word level initially with your mentor.
    • Attain a 90% correct level on each set of three.
    • Choose 3 more.  And continue the process until you have 20-30 words with that target sound in the initial middle or final positions of words.

5. Speaking: Phrases: Use is English Talk Shop phrases. Record, listen and assess yourself 20 to 30 times.  Listen and assess.  Are you at 9 of 10 correct?  If not, ask a mentor to listen.

6. Speaking: Sentence Reading: Use the sentences in English Talk Shop. Listen and score your efforts.  Did you make the correct sound/stress pattern/linking 9 out of 10 times?

7. Speaking: Sentences / Phrases:

  • Create your own sentences and phrases with the words with target sound.  Or you can type the target word into “Google”.  There you will find multiple sentences from articles or websites.
  • Read and Record these and play each on back.  Does it sound correct? If not, do NOT proceed until you can make the sound correctly.  Ask your mentor to help.
  • Next:  Pull out a word or phrase and design a new sentence without writing or reading it.  Record this.  Does it sound better or worse?
  • Say 90% correctly.
    • Cannot determine this as yet?  Record a “memo” on your phone and text or email it to your mentor.  What do they say?

8. Speaking: Paragraph Reading:

  • Choose a paragraph from a favorite newspaper or professional publication.  Even better, a white paper related to your industry.  You want to increase your clarity in your industry to increase your prospects of advancing.
    • Hi-lite one target sound in all of the words of a paragraph with yellow. For example:  For all of the /th/ sounds throughout the paper.
    • Read, Record, Replay and Assess: Did you produce 90% of them correctly?  If not, do it again.
      Still uncertain if it is correct or not?  Record a “memo” on your phone and text or email it to your mentor or to me at: I will be happy to listen.9.  Speaking: Multiple Sentences: 30 Second Reply:  Approximately 50 words: 5-7 SentencesMost of what we do throughout our workday is respond to questions from colleagues and clients on the phone or in meetings.  These are usually “extemporaneous”. This means that we often know what we are talking about, yet it is not a “prepared” speech.  However, these situations often cause individuals to speak less clearly.

      • To practice, have a mentor at your work ask you questions and have you record your responses.  Again, Record, Replay and Assess. How did you do?  If it is not 90%, try again.

      :  If you are having a difficulty changing your muscle movements to make the appropriate sound, find a speech pathologist that specializes in Accent Training or contact me at  AMG can help you with your initial issue and then guide you to one of several training options through Accent Management Group, LLC.  We have on-site, on-line individual, group or combination options for training, feedback and practice that start at  $29.95* per hour per person.  [*Group of 5 – Distance Coaching + Mini-Assessment]

Realize that it takes lots of practice to gain a new skill.  Resolve to do what it takes. This story and video from Fast Company demonstrate the practice across time that each skill takes.

The Steps:

  1. Find a Mentor:  It’s best to a native North American English speaker as a mentor to help when there are questions.  Toastmasters International clubs are good places to find and use mentors.
  2. Decrease your speaking rate to 100-110 Words Per Minute (WPM).  Why? Two reasons:
  • It’s a muscle process.  The procedural memory for making speech sounds is automatic.  In the new learning process, your muscles will revert to your first language sound system if you are not consciously slowing down to give your brain time to set up the new sounds.
  • It shows respect for your listeners.  It gives them time to edit and understand what you are saying.
    • Measuring Speaking Speed:
      • Find a paragraph from an article that is ~ 100 words long.  Use the Word Count option of your word processor program to determine this.
      • Audiotape yourself speaking this paragraph.
      • To Count the WPM.  1.  Divide the # Words ÷ # Seconds.  2.  Multiply this # times 60.  This will equal the WPM.   EXAMPLE:  100 words ÷ 40 seconds = 2.5 words per second: THEN Multiply by 60 = 150 WPM
      • Repeat this to until you get to your target.  Do this 2-3+ times.
        Only use professional software that has robust listening discrimination components:  The best interactive software that I have found after searching the last twenty years is American Speechsounds through “English Talk Shop”.

I have tried so many software programs and can only recommend English Talk Shop as a premier program. It starts with mastering one’s listening discrimination skill and continues up to common response found in the working world. Contact me for a discount code on each program.

We will discuss more steps in the upcoming articles.

Remember: 1. Find a native English speaking Mentor. You cannot do this alone. 2. Measure your speaking rate and S-L-O-W down.  Your listeners really do want to understand you. You owe it to yourself and them.  3. Invest, yes, Invest in only software that has full systems listening components.

Contact me at for a discount code for the American Speechsounds from

If you have a telephone, you have had the experience of talking to a support center person or a sales person with an accent.  My mother, who is very hearing impaired struggles with this.   And….so do many of the managers and their international teams, who are not hearing impaired.  The phone is better than straight email.  It allows for flexibility of Q & A’s. Until, someone stops listening… Why?

Sometimes it feels like we are dealing with multiple “distortions” on these phone conferences. So, we move closer to the phone.  Then we have others speak LOUDER, s-l-o-w-er, ask for repetitions or clarification.

Finally we ask the other person or get asked, “Can you send me an email about that?” or worse, someone just …..Stops Listening.

And, no matter how valuable the information is – the other person is not “buying” our ideas.  The tenet for many in sales is:  “A confused mind never buys.”

Why do people seem to understand each other when someone is talking live and yet struggle when they are on the phone?

Several reasons.

1. When speaking face to face we subconsciously use facial gestures and body language that cues the listener on the emotional tone as well as (even small) gestures that indicated size and shape of what we are discussing. Also a speaker can subconsciously monitor the listener’s body language and modify their message if they observe confusion.   We cannot observe each other on the phone.  Even videoconferencing is difficult as we feel constrained to  one position. In person, our subconscious gives us lots of information, letting us modify and edit much quicker. We do not get that with phone call meetings.

2. We all know that Native English speakers have a much more difficult time understanding speakers of English as a second language (L2 English speakers) than do the L2 speakers seem to understand each other.  Why?  “Not because it’s less difficult

It is because they are already accustomed to paying attention for longer periods.  However, they still get confused as we get confused with the differences in the pronunciation; the dropped syllables (“Idee” for “Ide-a”) strange vowels, (“Tex” for “Takes), different stress patterns (“e-CON-o-mic” for “e-co-NOM-ic”), along with different sentence rhythms that we are accustomed to in native English.

Most L2 English speakers will not tell you that they do not understand.  Most Native English speakers do not tell the L2 speakers that they do not understand.  They each get off of the phone and complain.

GOAL: Get the information on the First Call.

STRATEGY: Avoid confusion:

(a) Send a full transcript of information and information requests (in sentences) of your side of the conversation. Have them send their response, also.
(b) Speak slower and use repetition.
(c) Simplify the number of topics to be in the phone call.  Keep it to 3 or 4 topics at most:  (d) Have only one, yes, just  (1), primary “call to action” per phone call.  – Teams from Asia often feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of “deliverables” that their Western counterparts demand.

And often the language of the requests is filled with colloquialisms that are unfamiliar to them. So…they get confused and do not “deliver”. When they successfully deliver two or three different times, then make it two “deliverables”.  You need them to perform, so break it into small bites.

Communication in the First 8 Seconds

I recently spoke with a friend that I met when I lived in Shanghai, China from 2006 to 2008.  “Leah” was the China Country Manager for a small manufacturing group out of the USA.  She was educated in the USA and continues to be a passionate believer in the power of effective communication.  And… while in China, found that her speaking skills had eroded.

Even though I was leaving China to return to the USA, I encouraged her to review Bates Communications archived articles and videos for ideas. Even with her busy schedule, she became an enthusiastic student.

After her contract was finished in China, she returned to the USA and continued to work on her speaking and effective communication.  She even started a “speaking school” for children in her community, with a focus on having fun while speaking.

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