Fluency through mouth gymnastics
All non-native speakers of English face a major problem when
they try to speak fluent English.
You see, every language requires your organs
of speech to work in certain ways in order to produce the
sounds and sequences of sounds in that language. Your mother-tongue
is no exception. And mind you, you’ve been using your organs
of speech and producing the sounds and sequences of sounds
in your mother-tongue since you were a child. From such a
long experience, your organs of speech have got into certain
habits. And they now have certain set ways of moving and working:
These are habits that suit mostly your mother-tongue, and
Now many of the sounds and most of the sequences
of sounds in the English language have features that are different
from those of the sounds and sequences of sounds in your mother
tongue. And so the English language requires your organs of
speech to move and work in a different set of ways.
But because your organs of speech tend to
move and work in certain set patterns, they resist and fight
shy of moving and working in the new ways that the English
language requires them to work. And when you speak, they move
in ‘non-English’ ways. This causes you to stumble on some
English sounds at several places, and on most English sound
sequences at most places.
Past experience handicaps advanced
For advanced non-native learners of
English, there’s another difficulty: They know English reasonably
well or quite well. But you see, they’ve been speaking non-fluent
or semi-fluent English for some years. This experience is
actually a liability, and not something helpful. The reason
is this: From the experience they’ve had in speaking non-fluent
or broken English, their organs of speech have acquired the
habit of working in “wrong” ways — because in order to speak
non-fluent English they’ve been using their organs of speech
to work in non-English ways, that is, in the patterns set
by their mother-tongue. So if they want to achieve true fluency,
they’ll first have to get their organs of speech to break
these “wrong” habits, and then re-educate them in the
“right” habits suited to the fluent production of English
So remember this: If you want to become fluent
in spoken English, you should train your organs of speech
to move and work in the way that the English language requires
them to move and work — so that they stop moving and working
in ‘wrong’ ways, and start moving and working in ‘right’ ways
while you’re speaking English.
Now don’t get me wrong: All this doesn’t
mean that, from now on, your organs of speech must stop working
altogether in the way your mother-tongue or any other language
requires them to work. No. What I mean is this: When you speak
English, your organs of speech must work in the way the English
language requires them to work, and not in the way your mother-tongue
requires them to work. And when you speak your mother-tongue,
your organs of speech must work in the way your mother-tongue
requires them to work, and not in any other way.
Now how can you get your organs of speech
to get used to working in the new ways that the English language
requires them to work? The only effective way is this: Train
them. Train them in moving, bending and working in patterns
that they’re not used to. You can do this by uttering aloud
a “sufficient” quantity of specially selected word groups
a “sufficient” number of times. These word groups must be
those that are capable of exercising all the organs of speech
in the new ways.
You see, this sort of training develops the
strength, co-ordination and agility of your organs of speech
and increases their muscular dexterity. We’ll call this sort
of training ‘mouth gymnastics’.
There’s a traditional method that can
train your organs of speech. But this method won’t help you
achieve fluency. This method is to get the learners to train
with what are known as ‘tongue-twisters’ or sentences that
are difficult to say. Here are a few such tongue-twisters:
• Lots of hot coffee in a
proper copper coffee-pot.
• Six thin thistle sticks.
• A pinch of paprika pepper popped in a paper poke.
• Two toads totally tired of trying to trot to Tetbury.
This method is often used in English-speaking
countries to train professionals like drama actors and actresses
who are already fluent in English, but who have to produce
and imitate different types of sounds and sequences of sounds
other than their own genuine sounds. This method is not
suitable to train the organs of speech of people who are trying
to achieve fluency. You see, even native speakers of English
who are quite fluent in speech find it difficult to say these
tongue-twisters easily without special training. So remember
this: What you need is not training with tongue-twisters,
because that kind of training won’t help you achieve fluency.
There’s also a variation of the tongue-twister
training. This is to keep uttering aloud poems or nonsense
word groups overstuffed with a particular sound or sequences
of sounds. This method is also employed to train drama actors
and actresses. Often, this method is adopted in English-speaking
countries to train children in nursery schools in the basic
sounds of English. Here are two such traditional poems:
• Round and round the rugged rocks
The ragged rascals ran their rural races.
• Betty Botter bought some butter,
But, she said the butter’s bitter;
If I put in my batter
It will make my batter bitter.
So she bought a bit of butter
Better than her bitter butter,
And she put it in her batter,
And so the batter wasn’t bitter.
• Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled
A peck of pickled pepper Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper,
Where’s the peck of pickled pepper Peter Piper picked?
But understand this: Even this method is
not suitable for adult fluency trainees, because the skill
of making the basic English sounds with perfection won’t make
you fluent in speech. First of all, what you need is not
just the skill of making the basic sounds in isolation,
but the skill of making sequences of those sounds —
that is, the basic sounds in a variety of combinations. Secondly,
it’s even not enough that you gain the skill of making sequences
of the basic sounds. What you need is the skill of making
sequences of those sounds as they occur in the word groups
used in normal speech. And the word groups used in normal
speech are of a kind totally different from the poems, nursery
rhymes and nonsense word groups overstuffed with one or two
Fluency in “wrong” usages is a handicap
There’s another reason why the mouth
gymnastics that non-native speakers do must be with everyday
word groups, and not with tongue twisters or nonsense word
groups or poems and nursery rhymes overstuffed with one or
two specific sounds.
We’ve already seen that advanced non-native
learners have an added difficulty, because their organs of
speech have acquired fluency in working in the ‘wrong’ ways.
Now advanced non-native learners face yet another difficulty.
As they have the experience of speaking English for a few
years, the chances are that they’ve acquired fluency in wrong
and inappropriate usages — usages that do not occur in genuine,
natural, native English. If they want to achieve fluency in
genuine English, they’ll have to break these wrong habits,
too — and they’ll have to pick up native speaker-like habits.
Training with specially selected everyday
word groups would help you get over all these difficulties
at one stroke.
So what I’m going to do in this Lesson is
to give you collections of everyday word groups. These word
groups are not random ones and have not been
put together in a random way. No. They’re specially selected
word groups. You see, each collection has been put together
in such a way as to give most training to a particular organ
of speech. This training helps that organ to stop being clumsy,
stiff and awkward while producing English sound sequences
and to start producing them smoothly and with suppleness —
in co-ordination with other organs of speech. Each collection
focuses attention on a particular organ of speech — that is,
on the way it works together with one or more other organs
in order to produce connected speech. And you’ll not find
them overstuffed with any particular sound to an extent that
is artificial. You see, in natural speech, there’s always
a certain interval between the occurrences of the same sound
or the same sequence of sounds within a word group uttered
as a single unit.
Word classes for mouth gymnastics
You’ll find the collections of word
groups you’re going to get categorized into three major classes:
1). Throat class. 2). Mouth class. 3).
And you’ll find the word groups under each
class grouped organwise as follows:
1). Throat class.
(i) Larynx group. (ii) Pharynx group. (iii)
2). Mouth class.
(i) Tongue group. (ii) Dental group. (iii)
Alveolar group. (iv) Hard palate group. (v) Velar-proper
group. (vi) Lip group.
3). Nasal class.
Knowledge of organs of speech
Strictly speaking, it’s not necessary
for you to understand why I’ve called a particular group of
words a ‘larynx group’, ‘alveolar group’, etc. Nor is it essential
to find out what a larynx or pharynx is. All that you need
to do is to train your organs of speech with the word groups
given under each head. This is because it’s from this practice
that the organs become supple and you get control over them
and become able to move them and bend them and make them work
the way English language wants them to move, bend and work.
But experience has shown one thing: If you’re
a serious fluency trainee, you’ll find it helpful to have
at least a general idea of what your organs of speech are,
and what roles they play in forming speech sounds. This understanding
helps you have a clear idea of how one English sound differs
in quality from another. And this awareness would keep working
inside you and would help you pronounce English better.