Recently, a friend of mine who was born overseas announced that he had signed up for an “accent modification” program at a local university.
He isn’t the first person I know who has done this or expressed interest in this. While I happen to like accents of all sorts, the truth is we are judged by how we talk. As I mentioned a few months ago, a major pet peeve of mine is grown women who talk in childish voices.
This phenomenon seems to be growing. Just the other day I was standing in line when I heard two attractive, very professionally-dressed young women speaking in voices that could have passed for elementary school girls. It wasn’t so much the tone of the voice but their choice of words. (Lots of “likes” and “you knows”.) I’ve also noticed an uptake in slang in every day conversation. (I blame social networking and texting for this.)
While it’s all well and good to keep up with the current jargon, hearing “cray cray” coming out of the mouth of someone who is pushing 30 (or in some cases I have observed, 40) does not sound cool. Rather, it just sounds a little sad.
While I don’t feel that it is necessary to always speak as if we are about to address the Supreme Court, the fact is there is a nice middle ground between sounding like a would-be cast member of Downton Abbey and sounding like a pre-teen girl describing the latest One Direction album.
Therefore, here are some tips for sounding like a grown-up:
1. Remember the rules of good grammar.
Most of us—even those of us who use words for a living—are going to have the odd slip-up. However, keep some basic rules in mind. For example, its is “you and I” before a verb and “you and me” after the verb. When referring to another person besides yourself, remember that they go first. (i.e., “She and I” or “her and me”.)
2. Stop with the slang-please.
While, “cray-cray” has already been mentioned, I’d also like to see the end of such phrases in formal conversation like “just sayin'”, “it’s all good” and “my bad”. While these phrases have entered the popular jargon, they still sound out of place in professional settings. (I’ve actually heard the last one used in a memorable job interview.)
3. Resist stating statements so that they sound like a questions even when they aren’t.
Full disclosure: I am guilty of this one. This usually happens when we end with our voices in a higher pitch than when we started. It’s now common all over the English-speaking world, and there’s even a name for this which has been around for over a decade: uptalk or high-rise terminals.
The best way to avoid this is try and keep your pitch consistent. Also, I’ve noticed I tend to engage in uptalk a lot more when I am nervous or I am uncertain if the person or persons I speak to share my view on a particular subject.
When in doubt call upon that inner confidence. If you don’t have it, then fake it. Chances are, they will never know it’s an act.
How we speak is important. Often how we chose to use words is just as important as how we say them. While it’s neither fun nor doable to watch every word that comes out of our mouths, sounding like an adult the majority of time is something we should aspire to at least in our public lives.
While it’s good to be young in many things—heart, mind and body—speech is not one of them.
Therefore, leave the kids talk to the kids and start sounding like the mature, intelligent adult you are.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise