Hone Your Skills

Language Habits

January 28, 2022
4 Min Read

Language habits are part of our communication apparatus. How you use your language to communicate can impact other aspects of your life as well. The Atlantic mentions that certain language habits carry over into real life and can even affect spending, eating, and other daily actions. Many people don't even realize they have certain language habits until someone points it out to them. Commonly, people who native speakers of a particular language surround have a hard time seeing language habits within that specific subgroup of individuals. How can you tell what your language habits are? You can use a few simple tests to determine what habits you've developed and whether they're helping or hurting your communication.

1. Can I Make Myself Understood?

Language, in essence, is about understanding. If two people don't speak a common language, yet they can use gestures and non-verbal cues to make their message understood, then their language doesn't matter. However, language shortcuts the process of understanding by having agreed-upon words and phrases that carry meaning. Language habits can sometimes serve to help or hinder this process. One of the most common examples of this is slang terminology in everyday speech. Slang, by itself, isn't a bad thing. It serves as a way for language to evolve. However, some versions of slang are highly regional, meaning that native speakers from outside the region won't know what you're talking about.

Code-switching is a way to overcome this issue while still ensuring that everyone understands what you're saying. Thought Co. mentions that code-switching occurs more frequently in speaking than in writing. By knowing when and how to code-switch, a speaker can ensure that their message is understood and none of their audience feels left out or omitted from the discussion. It also aids in approachability, as native dialect speakers might be more inclined to speak to someone else using their dialect. Making yourself understood is the primary goal of language, and asking this question can help to improve your listener's comprehension.

2. Is My Pronunciation Correct?

Unlike many other languages, English isn't phonetic. This stems from how it derives a lot of its core words from two different root languages and then borrows words from several modern languages to go with those. There's no such thing as a standardized rule in English pronunciation, and many non-native speakers know how difficult it is to pronounce a word in English. Diction and stress differ by regional accents as well. Some areas always prefer to put stress on the first syllable, while others defer to the second or last syllable. Yet the accepted pronunciation might not be either of these options, leaving non-regional speakers confused at some points.

Practicing pronunciation is the best way to overcome this hurdle, but it may be difficult to get enough practice. An alternative would be to learn how pronunciation glyphs function and then use the dictionary (or Google Translate) to help with pronunciation. Evaluating how you pronounce certain words to other native speakers can help a person spot the differences and correct them, making it easier for their audience to understand what they're saying. Just because a person is a native speaker doesn’t mean that they're automatically correct when pronouncing a word.

3. Is My Accent Too Thick?

This problem isn't just an issue for non-native speakers. Native speakers of English also have thick accents that can mask the actual words they're trying to say. Accents can be a sore point for many non-native speakers. They always seem to second-guess themselves because they're afraid their accent will overpower what they're trying to say. Naturally, accents fade over time and are replaced with the region’s dialect in which the person speaks the language. Thus, an Indian English speaker may start with a thick accent and then have it fade and mix with whatever area they spend most of their time in. 

CIO notes that many of the issues with accents come from being unable to speak distinctly. Accents become more prominent when a person is emotional. Keeping control of emotions can help to reduce how much the accent impacts the message. Don't try to rush through the words. Instead, take your time and let the words form naturally. Speak with clear diction, but don't over-emphasize the pronunciation. Don't fake it or "borrow" an accent you think is cool, even if it is a regional accent. It's much better to go at your own pace. Language coaching and pronunciation might speed up the adaptation process, but you'll eventually start losing a thick accent the more you communicate. Don't be afraid to speak casually.

4. Can I Be More Detailed?

This habit can impact a person's ability to be understood but may also cause the rest of the audience to be confused as to their message. Many people grow up believing that discussing things and speaking in-depth about a topic isn't desirable. Instead, many of these former students go to great lengths to be concise. While this works well in a written context, it's a terrible practice for using language in a business setting. Spending time elaborating on a topic can go a long way towards helping the audience understand it. However, elaborating on a topic and repeating oneself will bore the audience. Finding the happy balance between the length of speech and information communication is crucial to success in this area.

5. Am I Addressing My Audience Appropriately?

Casual speech and formal speech are usually distinctly different in many languages. Knowing how to casually ask for directions or order a ham sandwich might not translate well into a boardroom discussion. Native speakers of a language have a much better time determining what counts as formal language and what counts as casual and where each type of language fits. Unfortunately, non-native speakers may need to break their casual speaking habits to be taken seriously in a boardroom. Alternatively, some companies prefer keeping things simple and being too uptight might make the audience tense and anxious. A business speaker needs to know when one type of address is better than another and when to change their tone of discussion. Breaking the habit of only relying on casual or formal conversation helps in switching the tone.

Breaking Bad Habits and Forming New Ones

Discussions happen every day, both in business and outside of it. The more an executive practices a particular language, the more they develop habits. Yet not all of these habits are good, and some actively stand in the way of making a business person understood. Finding those habits and seeing how they impact the discussion can help to make a person a more effective communicator.

Say it like you mean it.

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