A word that refers to many things: The movement of a river. A mental state indicating someone is in “the zone.” A workflow that can help with productivity.
When it comes to English as a second language, I use Flow to mean the CONNECTION between words that helps non-native speakers sound more native-like in their speech.
With human beings at the helm of their communication, speech becomes convoluted at times. In order to help my non-native English-speaking friends get the most out of their content, I want to outline my Flow technique. It will be sure to get your listeners to zero in on the IMPORTANT information you are saying.
There are four sub-components of Flow in my methodology:
- Linking, and
- The American Flap Sound.
Contractions are acceptable in both spoken and written English. We make a contraction primarily by combining a pronoun with an auxiliary verb (she’s, we’ll, and they’re, for example.) But did you know that Americans quite often use contractions with verbs, adjectives and other parts of speech? So, we might say something like: “Fred’ll bring the equipment to the meeting.” That’s right! Fred will becomes Fred’ll. Or, we might say: “How’re you going to justify the costs?” How are…It is essential to note that we ONLY do that in our speech. NOT in our writing. If you listen carefully to native American-English speakers, you are going to hear this ALL the time. It creates movement, or Flow, in the sentence towards the most important words.
Now, reductions are interesting because they are similar to contractions except we NEVER write them; AND they are generally a combination of verbs and prepositions. I am sure everyone knows gonna and wanna and hafta which in writing would be going to, want to, and have to. These words get followed by a MAIN verb, adjective or another important part of speech. We look to reduce the preposition in order to hit the keyword: I am gonna THINK about it. He doesn’t wanna DISCUSS it again. We hafta be CAREFUL. Let me reiterate that we do this not to draw attention to the reduction, but to point towards the words that need the MOST attention thereby creating FLOW.
I could say that linking is the most used Flow technique. If we aren’t pausing to make a point, we are always linking our words. Here are two ways in which we connect words with this technique:
1. When a word starts with a vowel, we use the sound before it as a liaison. For example: “We put this on the calendar for the second quarter.” The word this ends in an /s/ and the word on starts with a vowel? You say it like it is one word: thison. And then, we emphasize a completely different word. In this case, we could put the stress on the word calendar. We put thison the CALENDAR for the second quarter. Get it?
2. Another way we link is when one word ends in the same sound as the following word begins. Like: “This seemsto be essential to the plan.” Instead of separating the two words and creating a break, we hold the /s/ this time since it has the same sound at the end of one word and the beginning of the next: Thisssseems to be essential to the plan. And what word do you think becomes the focus of the sentence? Let’s go with PLAN. Thisssseems to be essential to the PLAN. You can bring the listener to the word plan which is much more important here.
The Flap Sound
Alas, a very American way of speaking is with The Flap Sound. The Flap Sound is similar to a /d/ sound except that is very quick. If you try saying da-da-da-da-da, you can do it in two different ways. First, you can do it with a hard /d/ where the emphasis is placed on the articulation of the /d/. Or, you can try The Flap Sound by flipping the /d/ quickly and focusing more on the vowel sound. You can recognize when to use The Flap Sound by looking for words that have a /t/ between two vowels. We change the /t/ to the quick /d/. Remember, the /d/ has to be quick and you have to put emphasis on the vowel of the stressed syllable. Here are some words that Americans will commonly flap:
- letter = LEder
Feel free to check out a video on my YouTube channel that addresses this sound if you would like more information about it now (click here and jump to [2:25].) Otherwise, stay tuned for my upcoming LinkedIn videos on all the Flow components.
To wrap things up, I liken Flow to the musical term, legato. Legato is when musical notes are played or sung SMOOTHLY, tied together if you will. Staccato, on the other hand, is a musical note that is short and followed by silence. English-as-a-second language speakers generally place a lot of attention on the pronunciation of sounds and wind up creating stops in their speech that resemble staccato.
So, if you or someone you know is looking to sound more native-like in your speech, work on your Flow. One way to practice all of these flow components can be by reading out loud. It can be from a book, a poem you LOVE, or from a transcript of a Ted Talk.