How to Achieve Communicative "Perfection:" Use Perfect Listening Comprehension & Perfectly Clear Speech

How to Achieve Communicative "Perfection:" Use Perfect Listening Comprehension & Perfectly Clear Speech

Frustrated with what passes for “communication” in today’s linguistically evolving world? What do these humorous attempts to get and give info make you want to say?

American English - ESL - Humor
Ironic, isn’t it? Images with verbiage like the above make it hard to decide what to write in an article called “How to Decide What You Want to Hear or Say.” In both listening and speaking, ferreting out “Truth in Our Times” gets more and more difficult in the “Age of Alternative Facts.”

Before considering the kinds of talk apt to make communication difficult in today’s world (disputes, attempts at problem solving or conflict resolution, legal talk, persuasion, efforts to sell, debate) what is it that’s worth “perfect” (or at least effective) understanding and expression of meaning? Surely we can begin with what’s least controversial and most simple: everyday talk on everyday topics.

What do we already know from previous articles? Mostly, we’re aware of how words and sentences are pronounced in phrases and sentences. We can understand and (re)produce the features of comprehensible, expressive speech: vowel + consonant sounds in all word positions; appropriate syllable stress; an even (or purposely uneven) rhythm or speech music; meaning focus in phrases and sentences; timing with rate + pausing that make a difference; and (step or glide down) falling intonation compared to (step or glide up) rising inflection. And finally, we have some idea of how to combine the above features to meaning.

Here are links to previous blog posts on those subjects:

So now that we have the ability to understand and say what we wish, what do we want to hear and say? In ordinary work/life circumstances, most of us talk either about:

1. Ourselves: our backgrounds, life situations, studies, work, interests, needs, wants, feelings, thoughts, opinions, hopes, plans, and/or 

2. Everything Else—which can be categorized as being about:

  • Things:  what they are, how they look/feel/sound/smell/taste, how they compare 
  • Places:  where they are, what they're like, how to get there
  • People:  who they are, what they did/do, how/why they're worth attention

Are you a language teacher, second-language learner, and/or native speaker working on your use of English in everyday situations? Then in addition to clarity of accent, you’ll probably want to pay attention to other aspects of language:

GRAMMAR & STRUCTURE How Words - nouns, pronouns, and adjectives - Fit Together to Express MeaningGrammar - words and phrases you’ll need for listening/speaking intents and purposesGrammar - NOTIONS & FUNCTIONS: noun phrases, tense forms, and verb phrases, with and without objects
So what else might be useful to know in hearing and talking about non-controversial topics? In Speaking: Oral Language Skills for Real-Life Communication, there are explanations, sample conversations and speeches, oral-practice activities, and assignments related to eight kinds of speech. Here are the introductory “Mini-Lectures” about the gentlest of these categories: Short Talk, Not Small Talk; Talking about Anything; Instructional Speech; Narration (Story-Telling)

Oral Skills - Speaking - Short Talks with explanations, sample conversations, speeches, practice activities, and assignments Oral Skills - Speaking: explanations, sample conversations and speeches, oral-practice activities, and assignments  Oral Skills - Speaking - Instructional Speech with explanations, sample conversations and speeches, oral-practice activities, and assignments  Speaking - Oral Skills - Narration and Story Telling explanations, sample conversations, speeches, oral-practice activities, and assignments

Yet even these four kinds of “harmless talk” are hard to perfect—to guarantee that they’ll lead to real understanding, true expression, and effective communication.

The next article will attempt to address "more difficult” kinds of talk: Problem-Solving, Conflict Resolution, Persuasive Selling, and Debate. So far, it’s entitled “Imperfect, Incomplete, & Imprecise Talk on Everything but Everyday Topics.”

In the meantime, here are links to the original texts the above samples were taken from: 


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About Work/Life English
For over 35 years, Work/Life English has been dedicated to improving the lives of native and non-native English language learners. We offer a comprehensive range of fun, effective English language improvement lessons, strategies, and activities to help adult education ESL educators successfully engage their English language students and improve their English competencies, leading to a host of positive effects in students’ professional and personal lives. Better English, Better Life. For more information, visit
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