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Scarier Than Halloween November 3, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Accents, English, Speaking, Toastmasters.

I just delivered a Toastmasters speech on the past Wednesday, right on the Halloween. No, this was not the scary part. It was my first speech in 11 months. This was not that scary either. The real scary moment was when I received the recording afterwards, and I watched myself delivering my speech.

Many people, including myself, find it very uncomfortable watching ourselves or listening to our own voices. A while ago, I posted in the language forum, asking why so many forum members claimed to speak multiple languages but yet not many members have recorded their own audio clips. I only got 3 or 4 answers back, saying that they were afraid of listening to their own voices.

Indeed, I have realized that this is a severe problem for myself. This past week, my company had a major upgrade to its telephony system, and all of us had to reset their voice mailboxes and record their greetings again. It took me 5-6 takes to record a short greeting that was acceptable to me.

Ever since I had taken the “Accent reduction course“, I would occasionally sit beside my laptop and record myself reading some short passages in English. Listening to them simply makes me shiver. Lately, I had installed Pamela for Skype and had tried recording my Skpye conversations a few times. My own voice just sounds so weird to me when I play back the recordings.

Perhaps it is time to fix the problem once and for all. It seems that I am the only person that rarely listen to my own voice. So here is something I am going to try. I will carry a portable recorder with me and record my own voice everyday. I will then listen to all the recordings afterwards. I will try it out for a week or so and see how it goes.


Fear Factor April 6, 2007

Posted by Edwin in English, Speaking, Toastmasters.
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For many people, fear is probably the greatest factor in hindering our speaking progress. When speaking our target language to another person, either a native or non-native speaker, we are often afraid of being judged. We just don’t feel comfortable. Imagine how this fear factor could increase in magnitude if you have to speak the language in front of a group of people?

My Mandarin progress stagnated once again in the month of March. The reason? I decided to participate in the Toastmasters International Speech Contest this year. Out of my already packed schedule, I could only afford to give up the 10-minute-or-so daily Mandarin drilling session to practice my speech.

The club-level contest was not difficult to get through since there were only 2 contestants in my club. The next level was the area-level contest. We had 7 contestants coming from several clubs. I ended up the third place and I was very happy with the result. The winner was a Chinese gentleman who had been with the Toastmasters for about 15 years. English was not his native language, and he spoke it with a thick Cantonese accent. But his delivery was outstanding.

The next came the division-level contest which was held last Thursday. The 7 winners from the area-level contests completed at this level. I decided to go and watch, and at the end I was not disappointed. All 8 speeches, including the target speech for the evaluation contest, were just remarkable! I learned a lot about public speaking just by listening to those speeches that evening.

Guess who won the division-level contest? The Chinese veteran!

There he was, delivering his speech in his non-native language, still with a heavy accent (4 out of the other 6 contestants spoke English as their first language). At his age of about 50, he probably could not improve his accent or his fluency much more. Nevertheless, he managed to overcome all the difficulties. He accepted his limitations and focused on what he could improve instead. He worked very hard on his delivery skills (vocal variety and gesture) together with his strengths (content and humour). At the end, he came out to become the best in the division, 50 clubs in total!

I asked the Chinese veteran if he had been in the next level (the district level) before. To my surprise, he told me that he had even been at the regional level in the past. I believe this is the level after the district level.

Passing the Time January 17, 2007

Posted by Edwin in English, Grammar, Toastmasters.

Should we correct other people’s grammar? Would we like them to do the same to us? If so, how should we go about doing it?

There has been a rather active discussion on Master Steve’s blog last week about correcting grammar during conversations. Coincidentally, Grammar Girl published a podcast on the same subject around the same time.

My opinion is that it is normally not appropriate to correct each other’s grammar during a conversation, unless the other side specifically requests for it. But yet, I believe having designated times in doing such an activity is very helpful to learners of languages, which by the way, include our own native tongues.

The Toastmasters club is one great example. For those who think this club is only there to help you overcome the fear of public speaking, it provides much more than this. One special area in Toastmasters is the ‘evaluation session’. Every part of the meeting gets evaluated at the end.

Last week, I was assigned to be the chairman of my Toastmasters club meeting. At one point, I said something like, ‘I would like to pass the time to our Toastmaster”. It just happened that another person said the same thing a while later. In the evaluation session, the General Evaluator pointed out that this is indeed not a correct sentence. ‘Passing the time to whoever’ does not make much sence in English. It turned out that I subconsciously borrowed it from a Chinese usage (將時間交給…), which is perfectly correct.

If incidents like this one never happens, I will probably never know my mistake. Therefore, my own opinion on the whole issue of ‘correcting other people’s grammar’ is that, in general, people would love to hear the corrections, but it has to be done in an appropriate way. To me this means at the right place, at the right time, and using the right tone.