Sloppy Speech


We Need to Take Lessons from the My Fair Lady Playbook

Diction is dying!  Professor Henry Higgins would flip if he rematerialized today in a world laden with such sloppy speech.
If the name Henry Higgins is foreign to you, he is the central male character in the long running Broadway play My Fair Lady.  The story centers on a master of phoneticist, Professor Henry Higgins, who takes on the seemingly insurmountable challenge of correcting the dreadful speech of a flower girl named Eliza Doolittle.
Sadly there’s no shortage of sloppy speakers.  And it’s not all ethnic difficulties or accents that make understanding someone a challenge.  Literally they don’t articulate their words and they mumble.
Speaking in soft tones or a whisper is not the same as not enunciating.  It’s not the volume that’s lacking; it’s the diction.
Every time I fill out a survey for a recent flight or take a customer service evaluation, diction and communication clarity are the hallmarks of my assessment.
Speech and Hearing Closely Linked
Currently, I don’t have any difficulties hearing at any pitch range.  However many people by their mid 60’s, are starting to experience some age related problems.  Over time hearing loss can become a significant issue, usually manageable with hearing devices.  (See my previous article “Why Is There a Stigma About Using Hearing Aides?”)
But difficulty “hearing” someone isn’t just dependent on volume.  It is also significantly related to “understanding” them; in other words, clear pronunciation and not sloppy speech.
Suggested Tips
From my experience, these are the primary issues that need improvement so pony up sloppy speakers!
  • People talk too fast, especially when delivering a message.  I know you know what you’re talking about, but I don’t know what you want me to know, so please slow down a little.  This is especially true when speaking to someone over the phone.  Voice mail and landline phone answering machine messages are ghastly sometimes to decipher.  Increasing the volume doesn’t help, nor does slowing down the message as it only makes them sound like the annoyingly sluggish Sloths from the movie Zootopia,
  • Enunciate your words!  Let your tongue slide, slap, sizzle, and smartly tap against your teeth, as that’s how words are articulated.  Just as poor handwriting leads to confusion (number 3-with over corrected circles-or an 8? 7 or 1?) information literally gets lost in translation due to poor communication.
Combine sloppy speech from the messenger with even a mild hearing loss in the recipient and that person will request a repeat, maybe more than once.
  • Look at the person, not the wall.  Face the person or people you want to communicate with and stand still.  They might hear the initial part of your message, but not the rest of it if you’re walking away from them jabbering into the air.
Here’s How We Do Better
We live in an international world today with a vast mixture of dialects, cadence (fluctuations in voice pitch), prosody (rhythm), accents, idioms, etc.  These variables can also contribute to communication difficulties.  However the primary problem really is just sloppy, careless speech habits.
Slow down; it’s not a race to see how many words you can cram into 60 seconds.
Look at the lovely face of the person or people to whom you’re speaking.
Your tongue is a muscle.  Exercise it by more accurate placement against your teeth for better diction.

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About Elaine C.Pereira

Elaine retired in June 2010 as a school Occupational Therapist where she worked with special needs children. She lives in southeastern Michigan with her husband, Joe. Between them, they have five children — Joe has three sons and Elaine has twin daughters-and soon-to-be five grandchildren. Elaine has a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy from Wayne State University. Elaine is the author of I Will Never Forget and she was inspired to tell her mother’s incredible story in part to help other caregivers coping with memory loss issues in their loved ones. I Will Never Forget

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