Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Now, let's get something straight. This article is not about music. It's about making your English as a second language delivery style far more satisfying and effective for you and for the rest of us.

But wait a second…

Maybe it is a little bit about music. After all, nobody likes to listen to something that isn't music their ears.

So here is the million dollar question:

What makes the delivery style of a speaker of English as a Second Language (ESL) satisfying for any listener?

Perfect grammar? Not really.
Perfect pronunciation? Try again.
Sophisticated vocabulary? Ice cold.

Those are very important, but to reach our goal of listener satisfaction, we need to think outside the box of conventional English courses. In fact, there are just 2 (two) steps to approaching a satisfying delivery style in English as a Second Language:

1) Use the Logic of English when constructing ideas, sentences or phrases, instead of translating from the Logic of your native language to English.

2) Develop a sense of tone. In other words, detect and decide how much formality or informality a situation requires, based on the context at hand.

Delivery style is not rocket science. But just like music, you can learn a lot from assimilating what others do in the same situation. And with the Internet today, you have infinite ways to do that.

From my experience as a TEFL and communication consultant in Latin America, I know that this is actually the area of most difficulty. Coincidentally, it's also the area most overlooked by English courses offered in Spanish-speaking countries.

But the reason for this difficulty in delivery style is simple. Native Spanish speakers often implement the same delivery style in English as they do in Spanish. This means they often use long sentences, BIG academic words (of Latin origin), very few verbs (and hardly ever phrasal verbs), too many nouns, inordinate amounts of passive voice and excessive formality.

Now for our purposes, whether this is the way to go in Spanish is irrelevant. However, in English this delivery style will in most cases undermine the value of your message. It will be perceived as wordy, not entirely candid, and even contrived. Making matters a bit more complex, English Users today have 24/7 access to English thanks to the barrage of mass media that surrounds us. But you have to know when to use what you hear.

A few years ago, I was assisting a team of young professionals. They were writing a power point presentation about "the complications in aspects of the implementation of the principal stage of the …. program". They wanted to know if the goal was clear. I told them that if you read it 27 times, it’s clear, but it sounds awful in English.

I pointed out that it would sound more English to say it was about “The challenges of implementing the main stage of the ... program”. In other words, instead of using the lifeless noun “implementation”, we "implement" something. Instead of using "complications in aspects", we use "challenges". Just reading a few power points by native English speakers (which are available… everywhere) will give you more examples of what is normally used for these.

Then in the next slide, it said, "this is how we wanna do it". Asked why they used it “wanna”, one group member replied, "If Mick Jagger uses it. we can use it too, right?". I understood their dilemma, but reminded them that the leader of the Rolling Stones was most definitely not singing about software architecture, but more informal aspects of life.

In conclusion, delivery style is all about choosing the right words and the right tone, and in recognizing that English works best when it’s written in "English”. At the very least, it’s good way to ensure that your audience won’t say they ”can't get no satisfaction!" from your message.

In the weeks ahead, look for more articles and videos that address how to improve your English delivery style.


get something straight (phrasal verb) - aclarar las cosas de entrada
outside the box (idiomatic expression) – pensar de manera lateral, no convencional
rocket science (idiom) - ciencia oculta
overlooked (adj) - ignorado porque lo pasaron por alto
the way to go (idiom) - lo que hay que hacer
undermine (verb t.) - socavar
wordy (adj) - con palabrería
candid (adj) - franco
contrived (adj) - forzado
24/7 (idiom) - las 24 hs, todos los días de la semana

© 2010 Paul Ponce