I find myself saying phrases in a non-native language that are ambiguous, and often get understood differently from what I meant to say. This can result in what I say being interpreted as the exact opposite of what I mean. I suspect that being a non-native speaker means I'm not as in-tune to the way things are expressed, so my faults in expression give strength to misinterpretations. Sometimes this is similar to how an English learner's "I can/can't do it" might be ambiguous, due to their pronunciation.

How can I practice avoiding ambiguity in conversations, so that I'm better understood?

  • 2
    Can you provide an example or two of what you mean? Otherwise, from the example you provided (can vs. can't) the only answer would be "Improve your enunciation"
    – Flimzy
    Apr 16 '16 at 22:12
  • As for your example, just do not use contractions. They aren't mandatory.
    – user3169
    Apr 16 '16 at 22:32
  • @Flimzy Would it really help to give more examples, or to give my real examples? I'm afraid to derail this into a "how should I speak X language" question, which is not what I meant to ask, and also not really on-topic here. Also, are you certain that improving enunciation is the only way to avoid ambiguity one's enunciation creates? My question is kind of based on the premise that there could be other ways.
    – Dan Getz
    Apr 16 '16 at 22:35
  • Whether enunciation is the best or only solution depends on the nature of your problem. This is why I asked for examples. But if you're unwilling to provide them, it will be very difficult to answer your question. There are many ways language can be "ambiguous".
    – Flimzy
    Apr 17 '16 at 9:25

Well for one, improve your enunciation. If your wording and sentences are correct, it is most likely to your pronunciation that is throwing people off. This usually happens with new speakers and can be fixed with daily practice. Proper enunciation is critical when speaking to others and will decide what other people hear. Practice daily, even stressing some of the differences in similar words (like making the "t" in can't more pronounced to avoid people hearing can).

If you enunciation is correct, then the wording is incorrect. No matter how well you can pronounce the hardest words, the wrong word choice can give people the slip. To fix this, try being precise with your word choice. Don't use vague sentences that might mean something else; say exactly what you mean. Try speaking to your friends and tell them to help you practice by catching you red-handed in your confusing word choice.

If it is both, try a mix of everything: speaking to others and yourself, read/write, watch media, etc.

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