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One Shocking Thing Taught in Chinese High Schools: "Um" and "Uh"

Posted by Jeff Hornstein on Feb 6, 2018 10:00:00 AM

Recently, one of my colleagues had a fascinating conversation with a talented young professional    who grew up in China. Apparently all of the students in her high school studied English as a Second Language. Part of their ESL curriculum included watching videos of Americans giving speeches. The goal? Learn the patterns and rhythms of "The American UM."

The videos were played to help teach the young Chinese students to sound American by saturating them with verbally cluttered examples. The logic was that if you pepper your speech with "uh" and "um," you'll blend in.


Given our position around verbal clutter or “fillers” is EXACTLY the opposite, we were shocked to hear that the Chinese students were being taught to incorporate them!

"The American Um" is learned at a young age as a way to camouflage uncertainty, and it turns into fear of what others may think if we are silent. As we mature, some overcome the fear but retain the habit. Either way, almost everyone incorporates some type of filler into their speech patterns.

We all put our own spin on linguistic filler. If you listen, you'll hear patterns. Some of us love to start sentences with the words, "So," or "And". These words add nothing to our message; instead, they dilute it.

The Speaker's Choice encourages our clients to focus on eliminating verbal clutter from your spoken communication. The woman who learned English in China drives the point of this lesson home: Verbal clutter makes you blend in. It is the signature of mediocrity in spoken communication, and mediocrity is what we're trying to break away from.

When you eliminate your clutter, your listeners will retain more of what you say. The solution is to allow for silence. Don't replace the verbal filler with anything. Allow yourself to be silent as you mentally choose your words.

Because the comfort of the verbal clutter will be gone, these silent pauses will feel abnormally long and awkward at first. Rest assured, you will become acclimated to them with practice. The result will be crisper, more powerful spoken delivery.

When you eliminate verbal clutter, you will no longer blend in. Instead, you will stand out.

To learn more about verbal clutter and other common presentation mistakes, and find the perfect program to enhance the leadership of your organization, explore the Corporate Training Program options that The Speaker's Choice offers.

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Communication is consistently ranked the #1 business skill for career advancement.  One distinction between written and spoken communication is profound: Spoken communication is a one-time shot.  You can prepare to speak, but you can't proofread what you’ve said after the fact.

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