I don’t speak very clearly. If you have ever hear me speak, it’s as if the words could not get out of my mouth fast enough. Words slur into one another. I also have a bad habit of mixing my timing and rhythm when speaking, despite having English as my first language. This makes my usual rather flat accent into something that sounds very jumbled.

While I would attribute the mixing of timing and rhythm to the rather odd rhythm my brain is used to, this is not very good for communicating, especially with people who are not used to my speech patterns.

Today I was having yum cha with some relatives who spoke mandarin. I too, speak mandarin, but have often felt people cannot understand my mandarin. Anyway, the relative spoke mandarin to the waitress, who replied in the clearest mandarin I’ve ever heard. I told my partner, that her mandarin accent was as if it was BBC English for mandarin. Then it hit me.

My mind had automatically jumped to BBC English because the newscasters on China’s CCTV and Phoenix channels actually do enunciate, as do most older BBC newscasters. The thing about Received Pronounciation is that every word is well-formed and well-pronounced. A sentence is uttered word by word, carefully, each word with deliberation. As a result, clearer speech patterns form.

What we know as RP today only became popular in the 19th century, where clear diction became a mark of class. The original ‘general’ accents of English sounded more like those on Tangiers Island, Virginia. If one were to analyze the speech patterns, one’d say that the words sort-of blended into one another. Where RP is spoken with discrete pronunciation of words, the original ‘general’ British accent is a continuum of syllables.

Maybe to better communicate, it is better to slow down my mind, and speak slower, and with more deliberation. Word by word.

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