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Book B5: How to deal with hesitation

How to deal with hesitation

How to deal with hesitation
By Prof. Kev Nair

"Prof. Kev Nair, an eminent scholar of international repute and a renowned English language lexicographer, goes into this question in depth and comes up with clear answers in Fluentzy, a series of twenty definitive books on the subject authored by him. These 20 self-study books, as a set, constitute a dedicated system of fluency building. This fluency-building system is highly popular among advanced learners in over 45 countries around the world. ... How to Deal with Hesitation is a book on hesitation management"
The New Indian Express.

Please note: This book is not sold separately. It is available for sale only as part of Fluentzy: The English Fluency Encyclopedia.

Sample pages from this book

How to deal with hesitation

Here’s a Lesson that’s going to do two things for you: It’ll keep your speech flow from breaking up. And it’ll help you keep up a regular flow of speech.

Pauses and syllable lengthening
As a background to what follows, you must note one thing: In speech, pauses are as important as words themselves.

A pause is a temporary stop or break in speech - a momentary silence when you stop uttering words. A momentary stopping of the speech flow. A momentary stopping of the sound stream.

Pauses are important, because they help you divide up what you want to say into chunks of manageable sizes. And what’s more, they help you deal with hesitation.

There are two types of pauses. They are: (i) Junction pauses; and (ii) Hesitation pauses.

Junction pauses
Junction pauses are pauses made at junctions between idea units. That is, they’re made at the ends of idea units (= chunks).

Why does a speaker pause at an idea unit junction? The reason is usually one of the following:

• To mark the end of one idea unit and the beginning of the next; or

• To take a breath; or

• To give a moment or two to the listener — to digest the idea contained in the idea unit that the speaker has just uttered.

So generally, when you pause at an idea unit junction, your aim is not to deal with hesitation. Most often, your aim (in making a junction pause) is to mark off one idea unit from the next. And you mark off one idea unit from the next one, because of two reasons:

(a) Your listeners will then find it easier to understand you properly.

(b) You will then find it easier to go on with your speech without faltering.

So remember this: You’re free to make a junction pause, even if you have no hesitation when you’ve finished uttering an idea unit.

As you know, an ideal idea unit ends at a grammatical break, and so an ideal idea unit is a whole (= unfragmented) grammatical unit. So an ideal idea unit junction would be a grammatical junction.

Now go through the following examples. In these examples, the symbol ‘ + ’ indicates a grammatical junction, that is, an ideal idea unit junction. And the pauses you make at these junctions are junction pauses, and they mark off one idea unit from the next.

Eg: • Mr. Gupta + please come over here. • For three hours + he waited there. • Finally + he gave it to me. • The route we took + wasn’t short. • What he told me + wasn’t the truth. • I met him there + and he came with me. • Ask her father + or one of her brothers. • He left the place + after John and others had come. • Before I came + nobody had left the place. • He’s been with that company + since last April. • I asked him to tell me + if he had seen it.

Junction pauses and grammatical breaks
Spontaneous speech
When you speak spontaneously, what’s the natural way of composing and delivering speech? You know, the natural way is to compose and deliver the things you want to say chunk by chunk — each chunk containing a few closely connected words. About 80% of all the chunks would normally contain 1 to 7 words per chunk. The most frequent number of words per chunk is about 5 words, and such a chunk would take about 2 seconds to utter. As you know, each such chunk is an idea unit.

So you can see that the junctions between every two idea units are natural points for making pauses, and so natural points for your organs of speech to get momentary rest. And there’s a strong tendency for most of these idea units to be whole (unfragmented) grammatical units. (= whole clauses or whole phrases; sometimes even single words). The idea units marked off by the ‘ + ’ sign in the above examples are all whole, unfragmented idea units.

Occasionally, a chunk (uttered as a single idea unit) may even consist of two (or even three) whole grammatical units (each unit being short — and made up of just 1 or 2 or 3 words).

Eg: • [(breakfast) (and dinner)]. • [(dozens) (of people)]. • [(He parked) (off the main street)]. • [(a matter) (of great importance)]. • [(You know) (what he said) (surprised me)]. • [(This happened) (at about 10 O’ clock) (last night)].

So the junction between an idea unit (whether it contains only one grammatical unit or two or three) and the idea unit next to it tends to be a natural grammatical break — a grammatical junction.

But remember that this is just a tendency. And so, this is just what’s likely to happen often, or what happens often — but not what actually happens all the time.

When you speak spontaneously, (that is, without prior planning or preparation), idea unit junctions may not often coincide with grammatical junctions. You see, spontaneous speech situations are not ideal, because in those situations, you’re not delivering something planned ahead, or composed or organized in advance. Nor are you making a scripted speech. When you speak spontaneously, you find yourself having to compose your speech and speak at the same time. You have to think and plan your speech, produce it, organize it and process it as you go along. And the time you have at your disposal, in order to do all this, is limited to the duration of speech.

What fluent speakers do in such a situation is to put together units of ideas or information that occur to them on the spot. They put them together by using such words and structures as occur to them on the spot. And they refine and clarify things as they speak along — by uttering other clarifying idea units.

This is so, whether the spontaneous speech situation is public, non-public, formal, non-formal, informal or casual or whatever.

So when fluent speakers speak spontaneously, their idea units may not often end exactly at grammatical breaks, and so their idea units may not often be whole grammatical units. Their idea units would be a word or two shorter than a whole grammatical unit, or a word or two longer than a whole grammatical unit. That is, their idea units would often be fragmented grammatical units. And so, many of the chunk junctions may not happen to be grammatical junctions.

In other words, many of the junction pauses in spontaneous speech may not actually happen at grammatical junctions. (Most often, they happen at the foot-boundary next to a grammatical junction).

Non-spontaneous speech
Bear in mind that we’ve been speaking about spontaneous speech — speech that’s produced without prior planning, preparation or rehearsal.

But when you speak after preparation, or when you speak about something that you have spoken about several times before, most idea units tend to be whole grammatical units, and most idea unit junctions tend to be grammatical junctions. This is because in such cases, you don’t hesitate as much as you do when you speak about a new topic spontaneously.

When you read aloud from a prepared text or when you prepare your speech thoroughly in advance and deliver it in a formal setting, almost all idea units would end at grammatical breaks. That is, almost all idea units would then be whole (= unfragmented) grammatical units. And so, in these ideal situations, almost all idea unit junctions would coincide with grammatical junctions. And in these situations, almost all junction pauses happen at grammatical junctions.

Hesitation pauses
Hesitation pauses are pauses that speakers make whenever they have some kind of hesitation. You can make these pauses anywhere — at any point in the speech stream. Yes, any: You can make them not only in the middle, but also at the end or at the beginning of idea units.

Normally, you make a hesitation pause under the following circumstances:

• You make a hesitation pause when you’re uncertain about what to say next, or when you’re deciding what to say next. This often happens when you have something to say, but you have not planned it in detail. This is a speech-planning pause, and this usually occurs immediately after the first one or two words in an idea unit — often after the very first word.

• You make a hesitation pause when you’re not sure that what you’ve said or what you’re going to say is right.

• You make a hesitation pause when you have difficulty in finding an appropriate word.

• You make a hesitation pause when you want to utter a word that’s specially significant or that’s of high lexical content or that may sound surprising in that context.

• You make a hesitation pause when you have difficulty completing a particular syntactic structure.

Remember that when you want to deal with hesitation, you’re free to pause anywhere in your utterance — that is, not only in the middle of an idea unit, but also at the end or even at the beginning of an idea unit. So suppose that you pause at a junction, and that your aim in pausing there is to deal with a hesitation, then that pause is actually a hesitation pause, rather than a junction pause, though you make it at a junction.

You’ve already seen in this Lesson that you can make a junction pause even if you have no hesitation when you reach a junction. But as far as a hesitation pause is concerned, speakers normally make it only if they have some hesitation. Mind you, when you speak spontaneously even for a few seconds, there will be points of hesitation here and there in your speech. That is, whenever anybody speaks continuously, they’ll certainly hesitate every now and then.

So a hesitation pause is made because of this reason: You won’t be able to go on with your speech without faltering — if you don’t pause at every point of hesitation and deal with the hesitation properly.

Now go through the following examples. In these examples, the symbol ‘–’ stands for a hesitation pause, and the symbol ‘+’ stands for a junction pause.

Eg: • Who planned + and directed the – campaign? • If – you have any doubts + why don’t you – express them? • Pull on the rope + and see if it’s – secure. • Fry the onions + but – don’t use too much – oil. • He shows – contempt for everybody. • That road +– ran by the side of a – railway. • He had a job + in the – Civil Service.

In this Lesson, we’ll be dealing with hesitation pauses in detail.
Don’t get worried over the difference between junction pauses and hesitation pauses or about any other aspect now. Once you finish going through the explanations and examples, you’ll find that this is not a complicated topic at all.


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