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Why you stumble over your words

Men's Health logo Men's Health 25/03/2016 Markham Heid
Man Speaking © Photograph by Shutterstock Man Speaking Ever know exactly what you want to say, but your words come out all garbled? 

This usually happens when you least expect it. It’s not like you suddenly forgot how to form a sentence - it’s more like a temporary system error in your control center. 

At the same time your brain is working out a whole series of different words and statements for you to say, it’s also trying to coordinate the movements of your mouth, tongue, lips, and focal folds, says Jonathan Preston, an assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders at Syracuse University. 

The problem: Sometimes your brain moves faster than your mouth. When you try to speed up your speech in order to keep pace, you end up tripping over your words, says Preston.

Your nerves make things worse. If you’re anxious about how you look or sound while speakin - especially if you’re in front of a lot of people - that’s one more bowling pin your brain has to juggle. This leads to even more linguistic slip-ups, Preston says. 

But you can put a stop to these occasional, ill-timed stumbles. It just takes a little practice. 

1. Slow down

The faster you talk, the more likely you are to make a mistake, says Preston.

Focus on slowing your speaking pace. Imagine you’re reading a piece of text - the kind you might recite at a wedding or business presentation. 

Pause briefly, and think your entire sentence through. When you speak more deliberately, you keep your brain and mouth moving at the same tempo. 

As a bonus, this also helps you connect better with your audience. 

Researchers from the University of Michigan analysed the phone calls of telemarketers and found that people who paused frequently during their pitch were more persuasive than callers who spoke uninterrupted. 

The researchers say people typically pause about five times a minute. This speech pattern sounds more believable to listeners than when you spit out words without any breaks.  

2. Speak clearly

Some people with serious stutters or pathological speaking problems may overcome their difficulties by talking in a different accent, or raising or lowering their voices, says Preston.

“When you speak in a way that’s out of the ordinary for you, you shift attention away from what you’re saying, and put it on how you’re saying it.”

This change in focus leads to fewer tied tongues, he says. 

You don’t need to talk like you’re a character in a Guy Ritchie flick. Just clearly annunciate each word you say.  

Like speaking more slowly, precisely forming your words can keep your brain from running ahead of your mouth, Preston says. 

3. Remember, nobody cares

Of course you hear your own goofs, so you probably think everyone else spots them, too.

Relax. Occasional speech stumbles are super common and acceptable, says Preston. Since we all slip up, it’s likely the people around you don’t even notice, he says.

Famous people who've overcome stuttering and speech impediments

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