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I have a problem that has been bothering me since I became conscious of it. I am not fluent in my speech. This has really affected my confidence such that I'm not able to speak in impromptu situations, ask questions or answer questions when asked.

I always feel like I have to rehearse my responses so that at least they are organized when they come out my mouth. Excellent communication is key for success in one's professional life and I have tried various methods to improve my communication ability but it seems to be in vain.

Sometimes I am able to articulate my thoughts well, but other times I just mix up things confusing myself and everyone else. I really need help on how to overcome this situation and I would appreciate if this help comes from someone who has been in my position and has overcome it.

  • Welcome to Language Learning! – fi12 Nov 10 '16 at 22:18
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This is an area that linguists call communicative strategies (or communication strategies). There are several strategies that you can use:

  • Circumlocution: using different words or phrases to express your meaning. For example, saying "my father's mother" instead of "my grandmother".
  • Semantic avoidance: avoiding a problematic word by using a different one. For example, avoiding an English phrasal verb because you don't know how to use it correctly (and replacing it with a different verb).
  • Word coinage: making up a word because you can't find (or don't know) the required word. For example, "airball" instead of "balloon".
  • Literal translation: translating word for word from your native language when you can't come up with an appropriate formulation in the target language.
  • Language switch: using words or phrases from your native language (without translating them), hoping that the hearer will understand what you mean.
  • Appeal for assistance: asking the other person for the correct term. (Many language teachers encourage you to learn how to say, "How do you say X in [language]?" or "What is this called?", so you can use this strategy.)
  • Miming: "acting out" what you mean, e.g. moving your hands as if you were turning a steering wheel when you don't know the word for "driving".
  • Topic avoidance: avoiding to talk about a specific topic because you lack the vocabulary or other language skills to talk about it.
  • Message abandonment: stopping in the middle of something you are saying because you don't know the words or the grammar to continue. (It may sound ironic that researchers have identified this as a communicative strategy. You should use the strategies at the top of the list first.)

Researchers have classified communication strategies in various different ways. The classification by Elaine Tarone is cited in many papers, e.g. in Techniques to Teach Communication Strategies by Maleki (2010) and in Chinese Learners’ Communication Strategies Research: a Case Study at Shandong Jiaotong University by Yang and Gai (2010).

  • This is a great answer! – fi12 Nov 13 '16 at 3:21
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change your mindset

Keep in mind not to overrate grammaticality. You should only care about grammar as much as you need to be able to communicate your message effectively. Be an innovator! make up new words! Play with grammar!

Of course, don't be afraid to make mistakes. I encourage mistakes because nothing makes things quite so learnable. I do understand that this is easier said than done.

read more, read anything

Sometimes I am able to articulate my thoughts well but other times I just mix up things confusing myself and everyone else.

I've been there! Sometimes it seems like your tongue just does what it's supposed to do, and other times, it's tied to a railroad track. The best thing you can do is read. It seems counterintuitive, but the more you read, the more your tongue just does what it's supposed to.

Linguist Stephen Krashen and others stress this. Read anything in your target language. And read a lot of it. You should strive to be that guy who's read the most in the room, or in the school, or on the planet.

You will not learn new ways to express yourself by speaking. You must do that by understanding others. That being said, however...

practice sounds

In the car, on the bus, walking to class, wherever—make sounds in your language. If you think pronunciation is getting in your way, try listening carefully to some recordings. Practice those sounds like a child practices sounds, if you're brave enough!

get nerdy

If you're the studious type, learn the IPA. Study phonetics and phonology. If you have trouble figuring out what sounds a speaker is actually making this will help a lot. Be forewarned, it does take a bit of time investment to learn this.

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