This article dives deep into the problem of bad speech habits in the English language plaguing society. Communication is an essential part of our lives, and how we speak to others can make or break our relationships. Unfortunately, bad speech habits have become increasingly common in modern society, causing barriers in effective communication. As Abigail Van Buren wisely noted: "A bad habit never disappears miraculously. It's an undo-it-yourself project." Bad speech habits or mannerisms start in early childhood, teenage years or are developed during adulthood. Social media has not helped in improving the quality of speech among people.
Bad speech habits can manifest in various ways, from using filler words like "um" and "like" to speaking too quickly or too softly. Such habits not only hinder communication but also make it difficult for the speaker to convey their message effectively. Moreover, bad speech habits can be used to project a persona, which can further complicate matters.
Regardless of whether English is your first language or not, bad speech habits can affect everyone. In fact, it's even more challenging for non-native speakers and neurodiverse individuals to overcome these habits like myself. These bad habits have been prevalent for decades and can have a significant impact on our relationships and professional lives. However, being aware of these habits is the first step towards overcoming them and improving our communication skills.
Effective methods to combat bad speech habits
While preparing and practicing are essential steps towards overcoming bad speech habits, there are several other effective methods that can be employed. One such method is to record yourself speaking and listen to the playback. This can help you identify any bad habits that you may not be aware of, such as speaking too quickly or softly.
Another method is to seek feedback from others. Ask a friend, family member, or colleague to listen to you speak and provide constructive criticism. This can be helpful in identifying any bad habits and also in understanding how your speech comes across to others.
Additionally, taking a public speaking course or joining a toastmasters club can also be beneficial. These organizations provide a supportive environment for individuals to practice and improve their communication skills, including overcoming bad speech habits.
Lastly, it's important to remember that breaking bad speech habits takes time and effort. It's a continual process of self-awareness and improvement. However, with consistent practice and dedication, it's possible to overcome these habits and become a more effective communicator.
Common Bad Speech Habits That Hinder Communication
Here are some examples that I have discovered that can be classed as bad speech habits or mannerisms that could distract the listener or the person you are speaking with from the message or information you are trying to convey. Some have multiple of these:
Vocal fry or frying 🍳 (the indifferent attitude girl with an attitude voice with "rrrr" at the end of sentences? This is the biggest trend at the moment and it's laced with bad attitude even if you don't mean to - the perception the listener can have on this is it's bad attitude. Both men and women can fall into this bad habit)
Uptalking (raising volume at the end of every sentence as if it's a question)
Clearing your throat all the time (classic Family Guy episode where 3 guys reading newspaper went into clearing throat chorus)
Apologising or saying sorry constantly or needlessly (eg: sorry, sorry, sorry over and over. You haven't done anything wrong, apologise only when you have actually done something that requires a sorry. I think it's the habit of pre-emptive sorry to avoid being rude or something?)
Boring monotone or flat speak (no tonality in voice and no emotion)
Excessive words at start or at the end or in the middle of sentences such as uhs, ums and filler words (they include "Uh," "Um", "So," "Like," "You know," "Okay," "Actually," "Basically", "Right." "In addition", any repetitive and overused word sequences basically
Distracting mannerisms while speaking (they include clenching your hands, pacing back and forth, keeping your hands in your pockets, twisting your ring, swaying back and forth, fidgeting with an item, placing your hands behind your back, crossing your hands in front of you, etc)
Endless data dumping (saying too many facts and figures etc)
Looking at our notes or somewhere else or at phones too long rather than focusing on the people (exception is neurodiverse people like me, it's difficult for us to do eye contact so please be lenient on this point as you don't know whether the person speaking with you is neurodiverse)
Lack of proper pausing in speech (if you rarely pause peoples brains will crash and you will sound like a machine)
Not using punctuations that are in the text when reading something to people (this is a common problem and it can detract from the real message in the text being read and fail to convey the author's meaning and attitude)
Talking too fast or too slow (this is a common problem as some get into the habit of talking so fast the audience or people listening can't keep up)
Talking too softly or speaking too angrily or overusing or under-using emotions (being too softly spoken may make it difficult for people to trust or believe in your cause or if you speak too angry about a topic you may scare others - so emotionally balancing your speech within your personality is important and helps you to sound more natural).
While talking you invade the personal space of others (some people have a habit of walking up to you so close they want to kiss you or give you a hug. In some circles this is given as advice to build rapport but these days this is not advised especially as there may be neurodiverse people like me for whom this may be uncomfortable)
Apologising and then saying "but" halfway through a sentence means you aren't really apologising (it doesn't equalise the conversation when you keep saying sorry. What fosters respect is avoiding unnecessary sorries)
Not speaking in a respectful tone or having a bad attitude tone ir talking down on someone (I've always been taught when I worked in customer service is to imagine yourself on level surface with the person you are talking to and speak to them as an eul whether its in person, over the phone or on video meetings or in text based communication. Never talk down on someone inside your mind, always view the other person as equal or greater than yourself)
Furrowed Brows & a Scrunched-Up Face (may come across as intimidating or hostile)
Facing your head down when reading or speaking (your vocal cords/voice box is squashed when that happens as you voice box is inside your throat under your jaw, so if you face your head down it constricts your voice box from working properly, look up even if you aren't making eye contact, voice carries better)
Mumbling words or not opening mouth in the right way (I used to have that problem because English is my second language, so my advice is open your mouth wide when the word requires it and practice the movements of every letter spoken in the mirror or selfie camera. It is easy to speak english but still have the mouth muscle mannerisms of your mother tongue. Practice the "english" movements of your tongue and mouth for each english letter and word - see this Youtube search)
Knowingly or unknowingly constricting your voice box or closing your mouth tunnel and speaking through the nose to sound like a cartoon character like Bugs Bunny or screeching your voice like Fran Drescher in the The Nanny tv series. (In the dating scene, I hear some women do that with their voice boxes and I cringe. Is it something to do with pushing the tongue to the upper palate and squashing the voice box as a habit or is it closing the mouth tunnel muscles and speaking almost through the nasal passage or it's psychological? It's a free country of course so people can speak how they like but my preference in dating is I want t hear the full flavoured woman's real voice not bugs bunny or the Nanny)
Although emojis, hashtags and acronyms are the big hype these days among young people please avoid them in real life when talking with people - real life is not a social media platform. For example don't use in real life: LOLs (just laugh instead), YOYO's (just say the full expression "you only live once" - don't put acronyms in your speech), saying a hashtag out loud (real life is not social media so don't use hashtags in everyday speech), saying "smile emoji" (just smile instead), in extension don't use too many acronyms at all unless you explain them.
There are bad speech habits that are caused by speech illnesses and speech impediments or mental health or physical causes and some that don't have a cure and many of the above issues can come into play. (If you have an illness or damage then don't worry about the points above that you can't improve or are working on. Many people in the world face these including some of them I experience as a neurodiverse person. Do your best and the audience will do the rest as they say.)
Also in principle, some of these tips can be useful in other forms of speaking English such as sign language.
This is not an exhaustive list of bad speech habits or aspects. Share the ones you have noticed in the comments below and I will research them and include them in this article.
In conclusion, communication is a crucial aspect of our lives, and bad speech habits can hinder effective communication, leading to misunderstandings and relationship breakdowns. However, recognizing and overcoming bad speech habits is possible with consistent effort and practice.
By recording ourselves, seeking feedback, joining public speaking clubs, and being self-aware, we can improve our communication skills and become better communicators.
It's essential to avoid bad speech habits such as vocal fry, uptalking, excessive use of filler words, and talking too softly or too angrily.
By avoiding these habits and improving our communication skills, we can strengthen our relationships, build trust, and excel in our personal and professional lives better. We must always improve and never give up. Communication using speech or an alternative if we are unable to speak
One of the most famous quotes about not giving up is from Winston Churchill, who said, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." This quote is a reminder that even when faced with failure, we must not give up, but instead find the courage to keep going in our practice to be better communicators despite our bad habits or speech impediments and above all just do your best and leave the rest.
(written with the help of voice dictation & generative ai)