English is the most widely used language in the world. It contains over one million words and is still growing. It is the official language in over fifty countries (more than 25% of the planet communicates primarily in English), and is the main language of international business and politics.
Mastering the English language is a never-ending task. However, there are a few small changes you can make to the way in which you speak which will transform how you sound to others and how they respond to you. All these techniques will be incredibly helpful for in everyday situations and occasions such as dating, business meetings, making presentations and public speaking.
There are lots of ways in which a gentleman can become more eloquent, such as expanding his vocabulary and improving his use of grammar. These take hard work and dedication, and, if you have the time, are well worth pursuing. But here we will focus on a few simple methods, which, with a little practice, can produce results relatively quickly. Being highly educated takes years of dedication. Speaking well and clearly can be learnt in a few hours.
To speak like a gentleman is not so much about what you say as how you say it. Speaking slowly and clearly are the most important elements in becoming more eloquent. The best way to achieve both of these is to practice enunciating the consonants (all the letters that are not vowels).
Failing to enunciate consonants is common in both North America and the UK. Almost all local dialects have a tendency to slur words together, thus dropping the hard sounds of the consonants. The letter ‘t’ is the one that most often disappears. In North American the ‘t’ is either pronounced as a ‘d’ or dropped altogether. The American golfer Hunter Mahan pronounces his first name “Hunner” – the ‘t’ is dropped. For the well-spoken Brit traveling in North America, a very commonly misunderstood phrase is “please could I have a glass of water?”. It is the word “water” that throws Americans, because they are used to it being pronounced “wahdder”. This is not a criticism of the American dialect, it is just an observation.
A great exercise for practising good pronunciation is to read aloud a well-written piece of prose or poetry from one of the great writers such as Dickens, Bronte, or Kipling. Through reading aloud their work you will also absorb some of the phraseology and syntax. But keep in mind that there is a significant difference between written and spoken language. The writer has a good deal of time to consider what to write and to phrase it. Speaking well is more a matter of training so that it becomes instinctive or natural.
Stand with your back to the wall and read aloud to an empty room, imagining it is full of people, all of whom need to hear clearly every word you say. Once you have mastered a few of your favourite passages, try moving on to something more advanced – tongue twisters. These are great for getting to grips with consonants. Here are some good examples to try:
‘Around the ragged rock the ragged rascal ran.’
‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.’
One of the most common habits of the modern spoken language is the use of filler words such as ‘um’, ‘er’, ‘like’, ‘so’ and ‘you know’. The more a person uses these fillers the less eloquent they sound. It is very difficult to get rid of them altogether as they are an unconscious part of speech – they are due to nervousness and giving oneself time to think of what to say next. Instead of trying to get rid of them, try replacing them with… a pause.
The pause is the most underrated of devices in the spoken language. It gives you time to think, it can be used for dramatic effect and if you are holding the floor and choose to be silent it gives you a strong but subtle level of command.
If you are working out what to say next, just pause. Take a moment to prepare your next words, then say them deliberately and clearly. If you have a dictaphone or other recording device (such as a smartphone), it is well worth recording yourself having a conversation with someone then listening back to it. You may be surprised by the number of times you use filler words. Now listen to a speech by a great orator such as Winston Churchill or Barack Obama. You will notice how they do not use any filler words, but frequently make deliberate pauses.
Now for some grammatical guidance. Almost all languages have complex grammar, that is takes a lifetime to master. In English, there are a few common mistakes, which can be corrected with a few easy methods that will add to your eloquence.
Use of ‘me’ and ‘I’. This is something that people struggle with often when referring to themselves and another person e.g. ‘Jane and I went to the cinema’ or ‘the rain came pelting down on John and me’. Rather than going into the intricacies of the grammatical rules, it is much easier to remember this one rule: remove the other person from the sentence and see if it still sounds correct. For example:
1) (Greg and) I went walking in the woods.
2) The weather was too hot for (Louise and) I.
If you take out the words in brackets you will see that the first phrase sounds correct, but the second one does not. The second phrase should have ‘me’ instead of ‘I’.
Here’s a little trick for expanding your vocabulary and avoiding repetition of the same words or phrases. ‘Nice’ and ‘got’ are frequently overused. Nice is an all-encompassing, but not very descriptive adjective. Got is verb that is misused regularly.
Here’s another rule of thumb to help you using these two words.
i) Replace ‘nice’ with ‘exact’, and ‘nicely’ with ‘exactly’. If the sentence still works with this substitution then you can use nice/nicely e.g. ‘the present fitted nicely into the box’ or ‘he made a nice drawing of the building’.
ii) Replace ‘get’ with ‘obtain’ and ‘got’ with ‘obtained’. Here is an example ‘I’m looking forward to getting a drink’.
Here are some common examples of their incorrect usage and how they sound using the rule:
“We had a nice time at the beach.” / “We had an exact time at the beach.”
“It was late by the time I got to the hotel.” / “It was late by the time I obtained to the hotel.”
Using the rule of thumb these sentences no longer make sense. So, let’s try replacing ‘nice’ and ‘got’ with the alternatives ‘pleasant’ and ‘arrived’. And if you want to be more creative you can always use a thesaurus to find replacements.
An unexpected way to improve your eloquence is not to worry about making mistakes. If you fear making mistakes you will make them. It causes lots of ‘ums’ and ‘ers’! It is better to practise hard, then relax and don’t think about any of the rules or guidelines when you are actually having conversation. Instead of thinking about a right or wrong way to say something, it is better to consider speaking better.
· Enunciate consonants
· Pause instead of saying ‘um’, ‘er’ etc.
· Use of me and I correctly
· Obtain instead of got, and nice instead of exact
· Do not worry about making mistakes
· Practice reading aloud your favourite pieces of prose or poetry
· Advanced – tongue twisters are great for pronouncing consonants