I had an interesting conversation with my manager recently. He noticed that when I am upset or excited, the way I talk gets very disorganized. He said that I sound like I am trying to say three different ideas, and mixing them altogether. I don’t do this when I am calm, though. I thought this was a very interesting observation.
In the past, people have told me I speak pretty fast. People who are learning English have a hard time understanding me more than other Americans, and I have even noticed this in myself. I get a bunch of ideas in my head, and I just say them all at once.
But English is my native language. So what happens when I speak Japanese or Korean? It’s even worse! I have often noticed when I speak Japanese that I say something, and immediately after, I know I said it wrong. If I stop and concentrate, think before I speak, then my Japanese sounds better. But again, when I get excited, I tend to speak before I think, and this causes me to say things that don’t make sense, mispronounced, or just sound long and awkward.
Recently I was reading an old article by Antimoon. Antimoon is a great website for people learning English, but also English speakers who are learning other languages. The writers of Antimoon are Polish students who learned English fluently, and when I read their website, I forget that English is their second language. It sounds perfectly fluent to me.
Anyhow, the article talks about how to avoid mistakes when speaking or writing a foreign language. For example, in tip #2 it says:
Be slow and careful….When you’re speaking, it’s okay to build a sentence for some time in your head before you open your mouth.
and in tip #1:
Use simple language. Some beginners try to build very complicated sentences with things like the present perfect tense or conditionals. They make horrible mistakes. Don’t do this! If you’ve just started to speak or write in English, you should say what you can say (simple sentences that you have seen many times) — not what you want to say (complicated sentences). You may feel you’re talking like a child or that you are not expressing your thoughts, but don’t worry about that. Right now, your task is not to express your thoughts freely; your task is to learn the language.
These are both very good bits of advice. When I speak Japanese, and I get excited, I start to make long, non-sensical sentences because I don’t slow down, and I don’t try to keep things simple. Both require concentration, though, and that is my problem.
So, lately, I am trying to pay attention to myself, and when I start getting excited. When speaking English, or Japanese, I try to slow down a little and think what I will say first. My manager told me he used to have the same problem, and had to teach himself to slow down and think before he spoke, so if he can do it, I can do it too.
Slowing down and paying attention is very useful in Buddhism too (or religion in general), because it teaches you to think before you say or do something you will regret later. We all have experiences where we say something that we later regret, but I know from experience that if I slow down and think about it, I usually don’t want to say it, and am glad I didn’t.
So, in a fast-paced world like this, it helps to slow down.