Managing Mistakes While Speaking

توضیح مختصر: Do you get tongue-tied while you're speaking? Does one small mistake throw you completely off your game? Learn some strategies for managing your mistakes in the moment and getting back on track in this lesson.

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Public Speaking Mistakes

Maybe you’re taking a standardized test of spoken English, like the TOEFL. Or, maybe you’re standing up in front of your class to give a presentation. You’re humming along, but suddenly, you start getting nervous. Maybe you fumble one word, and it freaks you out a little. You lose your flow. You forget words and start stammering or repeating yourself; you don’t even remember what you were talking about. The public speaking dragons swoop down from the sky, claws of humiliation at the ready.

Stop. Backtrack.

If you fumble one word or even a couple of words, and you know how to recover smoothly, you can avoid all of that. In this lesson, that’s exactly what you’ll learn to do.

Everyone Makes Speaking Mistakes

If you’re not a native English speaker, you might not realize exactly how often native speakers mess up their own language. Even if you’ve been speaking English since the day you were speaking at all, it’s tempting to notice only the times you felt stupid and ignore everyone else’s little mistakes.

But here’s the thing: everyone makes little speaking mistakes. Everyone mispronounces words or can’t quite think of the word they want to say or accidentally says the wrong thing and feels dumb about it afterwards. It’s not just you.

Listen to this excerpt from a speech: ‘I don’t believe that our opportunities for growth in the third - sorry, the fourth quarter will be affected by the exchange rate because our international holdings are simply too small a percentage of our total assets.’

Does that speaker come off as dumb for making one mistake? Would you remember that mistake ten minutes later? Would you even notice it if you weren’t listening for it?

Knowing that everyone makes these little mistakes is the first step to recovering from them smoothly, because it’s the reason why you shouldn’t panic over them. It’s not the mistakes you need to worry about; it’s how you respond to them.

Recovering From Mistakes

So, you’ve messed up one word, but you aren’t taking a left turn straight down Panic Lane. So, what should you do instead? Here are a few techniques for recovery : moving past the mistake and getting on with your sentence without making it into a big deal.

First of all, buy yourself time if you need it. You can simply pause in the middle of your sentence and take a breath or fill the space with a word like ‘uh’ or ‘um.’ For example: ‘I don’t know whether he wants to come to Saksk, uh, Saskatchewan or not.’ Here the speaker was having trouble with Saskatchewan, which is a pretty weird word (if you don’t know, it’s a province of Canada). Saying ‘uh’ gave him some time to prepare for saying the word. You don’t want to sit there all day saying ‘uh. . .um. . .well. . .uh,’ but one or two filler words can give you a second or two to let your mouth and your brain get back in sync, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Another tactic is to start over from an earlier point in the sentence. In spoken English, people repeat themselves all the time. Listen to the following sentence: ‘I don’t know whether he wants to come to, uh, to come to Saskatchewan or not.’ This time, maybe the speaker just forgot the word or couldn’t quite think of it, so he just backtracked and took another stab at that part of the sentence.

If you accidentally say the wrong word, like left where you meant right, just correct yourself briefly and move on: ‘Take a right - I mean, a left turn, sorry, a left turn at the light.’ It usually helps to say the correct version twice or emphasize it somehow to make sure that’s the one your audience remembers.

If you realize that you’ve messed up something bigger than one word, no need to panic over that either. You can recover from even a sentence or two that didn’t make any sense. Just use a magic phrase, like ‘What I mean to say is,’ or ‘To recap,’ to let your audience know that you’re going to try saying it a different way. Your listeners want to follow along with you; as long as they can make sense of the second explanation, they’ll be fine.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, you learned some tricks for managing mistakes in spoken English, while you’re speaking. First, realize that there’s no reason to panic over little mistakes. Everyone makes them. If you can recover smoothly, nobody will even notice. To recover, you could use one or more of these strategies:

  • Buy yourself time with a pause or a few filler words.
  • Backtrack and start again from an earlier part of your sentence.
  • If you said the wrong word, just correct yourself briefly and move on.
  • To correct multiple sentences by restarting them more clearly with a phrase like ‘To recap,’ or ‘What I meant to say.’

A few minutes later, your audience won’t even remember you made a mistake!