Word (Dis)Association Activity (Post 30)

This activity can be used either as a challenging game or, more seriously, to try to find out more about the person you’re talking to.

We all associate different things in our minds. So, for example, snow might, for you, conjure up images of cold, wet, darkness, hunger and other unpleasant things. For me, however, snow suggests whiteness, crisp cold air, sparkling sunlight, blue skies and Christmas. These associations are called the connotations of the word. A word’s connotations are not its literal meaning (which is its definition) but its associations.

Connotations can be different from person to person, therefore. Some words are generally agreed to have similar connotations for most English speakers, however. For example, jolly, fatherly and homely are all thought to have positive connotations for most people. Cold, tight and ghost are all thought to have negative connotations for most people.

You can see that this is far from being universal. Each of the six words above could easily have completely different connotations for some people.

However, this game – or activity – allows you to have your own associations.

If you are using it as a game, you need to be prepared to defend your associations.

You can either be reasonable with one another and make your own judgments, or you can appoint a third person as judge (or arbiter).

Version 1: Speaker A mentions a word, and within a reasonable space of time Speaker B has to respond with a word associated with it. Versions of Speaker A’s word are not allowed. So, for example, if A says snow, B may not say snowing or snowfall. (S)He may say cold, or Christmas, or wet, or any number of things . . . but if B says, for example, hippopotamus, A may well challenge him/her.

Then, it is up to B to defend him/herself by explaining why hippopotamus is associated with snow. If B fails to explain this convincingly, A gains a point and comes up with another word for B to respond to. If a reasonable explanation is forthcoming, the game continues: A has to come up with a word which is associated with hippopotamus.

A might say river or water or horse. If, however, A says cloud, B might reasonably challenge this. A must defend his/her choice of cloud; if he/he is successful (coming up with a convincing explanation), the game continues, with B responding to cloud. If A fails to defend the choice, however, B gains a point and comes up with another word for A to respond to.

As you get better at this, try to make the time-limit for each response shorter.

Version 2: as above, except this time the challenge is to respond with a word which has nothing at all to do with the previous word! This is much more difficult than Version 1! Challenges are more frequent, and they can also be ingenious and funny. If you want to hear comedians tackle this, try to listen to some broadcasts of the Radio 4 programme I’m Sorry, I Haven’t A Clue.

Version 3: this isn’t a game. It’s a way of finding out about your partner/friend. Played with great trust and honesty, it can reveal a great deal about a person and his/her past. It might be something to save for someone close to you, therefore. Simply, you ask the other person, “What comes to mind for you when you hear the word [and then you choose a word]?” Suggested words: friend; happiness; fear; hope; comfort; love; funny; childhood; home.

You can take turns asking each other about the connotations of a particular word, or you can just use the exercise as part of a normal getting-to-know-you-better conversation.

Why play (these) word-games? (Idea 29)

Children learn through play. We sometimes forget this as we grow older, and think that anything that’s going to do us good on the learning front has to be serious work. It doesn’t. Older people can learn through playing games, just as children do.

Playing word games is good for your vocabulary – that is, the number of words you know. In turn, a wide vocabulary is useful for writing and talking, so that you can make yourself more clearly understood (or so that you can confuse people, if that’s what you want to do !). Knowledge of a range of words (that is, a wide vocabulary) is also useful in reading and listening, because it increases the chances of understanding what you’re taking in.

By playing word games, you learn to listen more closely and also to express yourself more clearly. You become more creative or inventive in the way you use language.

Word exchanges can also be used, more seriously, to find out about people.

And sometimes, word games can be mischievously good fun!

The Questions Game

You may already know this one. You can start it with someone else at any time, even without their realising you’re doing so. The idea is that you should have a conversation in which you only ever respond in questions. The first person to respond with a statement (rather than a question) loses, and the other person gains a point.

So, you might be asked, “What do you want to do today?” You might reply, “Do I have a choice?” If the other person doesn’t realise you’ve begun the game, (s)e might reply, “Yes. You could …”: too late! You’ve scored a point.

Once the other person realises that the game is on, it becomes more and more difficult to produce a reasonable response in question form in a reasonable amount of time. You might want to put an official time limit on how long there is to reply, but generally people sense what’s a fair amount of time and what isn’t.

“So, do you want to play?”

“Why not?”

“Are you uncertain?”

“Are you?”

“About what?”

“What did you say?”


“Just now …. AAARGH!”

For interest: there is a very well played example of this game in the film (and stage play) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard.

Next time: Word Association (and Disassociation) Games.

Code-switching (Post 28)

It sounds like something a double agent in a spy story would do. In fact, it’s something we all do – or at least, I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t do it.

We speak in different ways when we are in different settings. I think the most influential aspect of the setting is the person or people we are with at the time. There are things that we would say to friends that we wouldn’t say to our parents; similarly, there are ways of speaking that we would use with friends which we wouldn’t use with our parents. For many people, swearing falls into this category.

HOW we speak, as well as what we say, changes when we are in different groups. In Post 3How do you sound? I asked you to record yourself speaking. You probably sounded rather different when consciously recording yourself, compared with when you speak naturally and in a relaxed way. That slightly more formal, more self-conscious way of speaking is one code; the relaxed, informal way of speaking with your friends is another code. Yet another code might be the way you would speak in an interview – more thoughtful and formal still, trying hard to create the impression you think the interviewer wants to hear (and see).

Gangs very often have their own codes – their own ways of speaking – which they use to identify one another. Rap often contains examples of gang code.

You might choose to speak in only one way all the time, and of course that is your prerogative [that is, it’s your choice to make]. You might think that that shows integrity, and it probably does. If you do only speak in one way all the time, however, you are losing what might be valuable opportunities to establish bonds with other people, and you may be displaying a lack of empathy [sharing other people’s feelings].

It is valuable to be able to code-switch. If people regard you as more like themselves, they are more likely to trust you. If they consider that you are not “one of us”, you must be “one of them” and so they might not accept you into their group. If their group happens to be the university you want to attend, or the business you want to work for, that’s going to place you at a disadvantage.

Here is the writer and journalist Oliver Kamm explaining why knowing how to speak (and write) in an appropriate manner (“code”) is helpful to you. The explanations in square brackets are by me. The extracts which follow are from his book Accidence will happen: The NON-PEDANTIC GUIDE TO ENGLISH. The title makes use of both a pun (see Post 18) and a homophone (see Post 19): “accidents will happen” is a much-used expression in our language, while accidence is the part of grammar dealing with inflection – where we put the stress on words; see Post 17Rhythm.

“We all adapt our style … according to our audience. We use intimate terms (and perhaps a private vocabulary) with a loved one, casual language with friends, and varying degrees of more formal language … with strangers, experts or figures in authority. … code-switching … saves us time and gains us credibility with listeners or readers whose attention we want … .”

” … the conventions of language enable you to talk to any audience without being dismissed or patronised [treated as if you were a child] because of the way you write or speak … .”

“The reason for speaking and writing fluently in Standard form [conventional or “correct” English] isn’t to show refinement; it is to make us at home in the world. Slang makes us at home in a like-minded group. That isn’t wrong but it is limiting.”

“Teenagers may be highly intelligent and also habitual users of slang and non-Standard forms; but if all they use is slang or non-Standard English, then their intelligence will not be recognised and their abilities will be needlessly constrained … .”

“… Linguistic superstitions don’t matter. Tacit [unspoken] conventions that make up Standard English do, because they enable you to get listened to without prejudice.”

And here is another writer on English language use – Professor David Crystal – making the same point about punctuation [commas, full stops, inverted commas, etc] in written English:

“… non-standard punctuation used in settings where we expect standard forms to prevail … can affect the user’s social credibility or career prospects.” [From his book Making a Point: The Pernickety Story of English Punctuation.]

I’d argue very strongly, then, that knowing how to speak and write in Standard or formal English is a valuable tool for anyone to have in his or her language tool-box. It might be said to be a power-tool. And this blog is all about the power that language use gives you!

Another Word Game (Activity 20)

I hope you’re enjoying playing Just a Minute (Post Number 12). Today’s game requires a little more preparation but the preparation itself is easier. You need teams of two; if there are only two of you, you can play together, but it’s more competitive if two-person teams compete against one another.

This is a communication game: it tests how well the speaker can describe the word on the card, and how well the listener can pick up the clues that the speaker is giving to him or her.

The more people you have playing, or the longer you want to play, the more words you have to have prepared in advance.

Get some paper and cut it into strips (15cm by 6cm is a minimum size) or if you have access to card, use or make cards of about that size.

Take a marker pen (a pen with a very thick nib) and write clearly on only one side of each strip or card.

Write one word on each. The words can be as easy or as difficult as you choose – but as with subjects for Just a Minute, remember that you may well have to guess the difficult ones yourself!

If you can manage 100 different words as a minimum, that allows you a good stretch of playing time (see below for ideas to get you started). If you can manage 200 or 300, all the better! And if you want to return to playing this game, of course people will forget the words they saw the first time, and/or there will be new players, so your pack of cards or strips can be used many times over.

The rules are simple. The speaker sits with the cards in front of him, with a shield between the cards and the listener – perhaps a cereal box, or a pile of books. A timer is set for one minute (or two minutes, if you prefer). If you have a third person as a time-keeper, that can help.

The speaker has to help the listener to guess correctly the exact word on the card in front of her/him, without using the word, or part of it, directly him/herself.

For example, if the word is HAPPY, the speaker mustn’t use (or spell out) HAPPY, HAPPINESS, HAPPIER, UNHAPPY and so on.

The speaker starts with the word on the top card/strip on his/her pile and is not allowed to move on to the next one until the word has been correctly guessed by the listener.

When a word has been correctly guessed, its card is put on a separate pile. When the time is up, the number of correctly guessed words is noted as that person or team’s score. If there are only two of you, whether you count the score as the speaker’s or the listener’s is up to you! That’s the important thing about communication: it requires both a good speaker and a good listener to be successful!

In the next round, the listener and the speaker change roles.

Don’t just put the used word-cards back to the bottom of the pile. Keep them until the game is over and then shuffle them around for the next time.

Suggestions for words to get you started: cat; dog; house; sky; clouds; planet; universe; stars; food; water; clothes; vegetables; lemon; purple; uncomfortable; wet; newspaper; sadly; song; theatre; poem; bowl; tennis; partnership; business; will; crash; books; music; terminus; forcefully; weak; curtain; rushing; trip; velvet; muddy; deep; theoretical; triangle; substance; incredible; diver; oxygen; trumpet; shellfish; quilt; see-saw; carpet; shoes (50).

Stealthily; fog; needle; jumping; twinkle; loud; forgetful; waterfall; puddle; tiger; horrible; dizzy; opera; baseball; over; virus; thermometer; electricity; waist; slippers; category; final; opening; across; island; remarkably; volunteer; pencil; yellow; flipper; magazine; tentacle; hypothetical; professor; writing; kick; dry; fold; pathway; mist; laptop; sunshine; dirty; propose; upset; quotation; keypad; remote; chair; shadow; porcupine (another 50).

“Just a Minute” (Post 12)

This game, which has been popular for more than 50 years, will test your ability to talk fluently and imaginatively. The more you play it, the better you’ll get.

Although you can practise it on your own, Just a Minute is best when played with at least three people – two competitors and a judge/timekeeper.

The aim of each round is for the competitor to talk about the subject (s)he is given, for 60 seconds, without hesitation, deviation or repetition. (More on each of these, below.) The other competitor(s) should challenge the speaker when they think they detect hesitation, or deviation, or repetition.

When a challenge is made, the timer is stopped. If the judge allows the challenge (thinks it is correct), the timer is started again and the person who made the challenge gets to speak on the same subject for the rest of the minute. Of course (s)he is open to the same procedure if the others think they have heard repetition, deviation or hesitation.

Points. Anyone who makes a correct challenge is awarded one point. If a speaker is wrongly challenged (in the opinion of the judge), (s)he gets to keep talking on the subject and is awarded a point. Whoever is speaking when the 60 seconds is up (and the timekeeper should blow a whistle, or say “Stop”, at that point) also gets a point.

Whenever you decide to stop playing, the person with the most points is the winner! You might want to ask the judge/timekeeper to keep a note of each player’s points, too. Speakers need to focus all their attention on speaking about their subject without repetition, hesitation or deviation.

Repetition: basically, this means using the exact same word more than once in your 60 seconds. Little, often-used words such as “and”, “a”, “the”, “I” and so on are usually allowed; but if someone wanted to use up time by listing lots of things with “and” in between each one, that would probably be ruled as unacceptable repetition. Using a word once in the singular – e.g. “house” – and then once in the plural – “houses” – is not repetition, and often catches challengers out. (Remember you get an extra point if you are the speaker and are challenged incorrectly!)

Hesitation: this one is quite straightforward. You aren’t allowed to pause for any significant length of time during your 60 seconds, nor are you allowed to use “fillers” such as “um”, “err”, “hmm” or to garble your words (that is, getting tongue-tied and coming out with nonsense word such as “sarple” for “sample” or “prossibly”, a cross between “possibly” and “probably”). This rule doesn’t mean that you have to run all your sentences together and speak until you run out of breath; it just means that you have to speak at a reasonably normal pace and not allow anyone to detect pauses or hesitations.

Deviation: this means straying from the subject you’ve been given. You must stick to the subject on the card (see below for subjects on cards), but what you say about it is entirely up to you. You can be as widely imaginative as you like; you can make things up if they are believable (If they’re not believable you might be challenged for “deviation from the truth”!).

Subjects: although these can be absolutely anything, it is best to start with straightforward subjects, especially when you are practising. To get into the way of the game, choose a subject that you know quite a lot about; that’ll give you confidence as you work up towards talking on a subject given to you by someone else. (You could record yourself, for practice, and then spot your own hesitations, deviations and repetitions when you listen back to the recording.)

Write each subject on a separated piece of card or paper, then give them to the judge/timekeeper who will read out one subject for each speaker at the beginning of his or her round. The judge can make up the subjects him/herself, or you can all write down subjects and hand them to him/her. Subjects can be simple, such as “What I did yesterday” or “My favourite meal” or “Music”; more complicated, such as “How to win an argument” or “What not to do on holiday” or “Money”; or rather abstract, such as popular sayings: “A stitch in time saves nine” or “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” or “Well I never”.


If you have enough people to have a judge, try to choose someone whose judgment you all respect!

If you write down difficult subjects, be prepared to be asked to speak on them yourself!

Challenging someone just before the 60 seconds is up (if you can sense when that is) can be particularly effective, as you’ll get a point if your challenge is correct, and only have to speak for a few seconds on the subject before getting another point for speaking as the whistle blows for “time’s up!”

Don’t speak too quickly – that is, gabble – although if you’re nervous that’s likely to happen. The faster you speak, the more you’ll have to think of to say! Just speak in a reasonable, even rather thoughtful, way; it will take longer and also give you more time to think of what to say next.

If this really takes off in your home, perhaps you could start a family league, with a prize for the overall winner at the end of each week!

Remind me again: why are we doing this? (Idea No. 10)

Friday 24th April 2020 – Here in the UK, as in many countries across the world, we are in “lockdown” as we try to stop the coronavirus known as Covid19 spreading at an uncontrollable rate.

Never before has communication been so highly valued.

We can’t touch people outside our own homes – and many people are living on their own – but we CAN talk, listen, read and write to one another.

This morning on the radio I heard about a woman who used to visit her 91-year-old aunt regularly. Now, of course, she can’t do that; but they speak by phone every day, and when they realised that there’s a limit to what you can talk about if you’re staying in the house all day, they started playing word games over the phone. The one they chose is called “Just a Minute” and has been played for many, many years on a popular radio programme of the same name. I’ll tell you about it in a future blog, in case you haven’t heard of it.

When they tired of “Just a Minute”, the woman I heard about started to read stories to her aunt – whose eye-sight is very poor – over the phone. They are both enjoying this activity greatly, and find that the stories prompt them to have conversations about times and events that the 91-year-old aunt remembers.

Yesterday I phoned a friend who is having a tough time, because I couldn’t think what to put in an email reply to her. When at the end of our chat I apologised for not being able to think of anything to write to cheer her up, she said, “Not to worry: just hearing your voice has been great.”

So: talking and listening are life-lines at this testing time. The better you are at suiting your talking and listening to the different people in your life, the more you’ll be able to help them.

Post is still being delivered, too, by Royal Mail, and although there isn’t very much of it – in fact, probably BECAUSE there isn’t very much of it – people love getting cards and letters. Reading and writing are therefore very important, too.

Reading to ourselves (as well as to others) can also be a great escape from the real world. And when the everyday world is depressing, or frightening, or boring, escaping into a happier, more hopeful, more interesting one through reading a book can be both enjoyable and good for our mental health.

Fantasy stories are popular, as they can be a complete change from our own world. Stories about the past can also work as escapism, however, or make us think about how different times were also difficult, but possibly in different ways. Even books about other real people in the 21st or 20th century can help us to take time out from our own lives and think about what others have been through – for better or for worse.

Writing, even if you don’t think anyone else will read it – even if you don’t WANT anyone else to read it – is a very good way to let out some of your feelings. Once you’ve written down what it is that’s worrying or scaring you, it can seem easier to cope with. Just trying to describe how you feel – and why – is a helpful writing task, as it makes you slow down and gives you time to reflect on your situation. Then you might go and talk to someone about it – or you might not, and just feel better for having “got it out of your head”.

Talking, listening, reading and writing – our tools for survival as sane and compassionate human beings.

Look after yourself, and look after others.

Look how you speak! (Suggestion No. 9)

Today’s suggestion comes from Jordan Pfotenhauer, Programmes Director of the English-Speaking Union in Scotland. Its “Speak up Scotland” programme encourages debating activities in schools.

This suggestion is a development of my Post No. 3 – How do you sound? If you have carried out that task, you should be well on the way to getting rid of any verbal “tics” or fillers that you picked up when you listened to the recording you made of yourself. Now it’s time to see whether you like – or are impressed by – how you look when you speak.

How we look when we speak – how we “deliver a speech” – can have a very strong impression on our listeners. It can make them more likely to agree with us, or drive them to reject what we have to say.

Not all listeners respond to the same speaker in the same way. Some listeners like serious speakers. Some like entertaining speakers. Some are moved by passionate, emotional deliveries; others are more convinced by a sombre, measured approach.

What you’re talking about – your topic – will also influence the style you choose when you are talking about it. Some subjects – topics – suggest that a sad delivery would be most suitable. Some are light-hearted and lend themselves to a more joking approach.

Here is Jordan’s suggestion: Choose something that is currently irritating or angering you. This can be as serious (people losing jobs because of coronavirus shut-downs?) or as playful (having to share a bathroom with your brother or sister?) as you like. Write a one-minute speech and deliver it to yourself in the mirror (Try to find a full-length mirror, and also to look at all of yourself as you speak. You can do this several times, perhaps until you don’t need to read your speech but can deliver it without notes). Try to deliver your speech in such a way that you would convince a listening audience that you are RIGHT to be angry.

How did you feel about doing that exercise? Was it awkward? Did you enjoy it?

If you don’t want to pay attention to what you’ve got to say, why should anyone else want to do so?

Watching yourself, as well as listening to yourself, can be quite embarrassing to do at first. Carrying out these activities will help you to present yourself in a way that suits you.

Visit https://www.esuscotland.org.uk/speakupscotland for more of Jordan’s suggestions. You can influence people with both what you say AND how you say it.

Communication: It Takes Two (Suggestion 7)

Probably the most important thing we do in life, communication takes place in many different ways. Music, painting, sculpture, mime, facial expressions and our behaviour are all ways of communicating. For most of us, however, WORDS are the way in which we’ll communicate most often.

Talking/Speaking and Writing are ways of giving out information. Listening and Reading are ways of taking in information.

For communication to be successful, what is taken in by the listener or reader should be the same as what was sent out by the talker/speaker or writer. Often, however, this is not the case. For communication to be effective, both the transmitter (the talker, speaker or writer) and the receiver (the listener or reader) need to be working properly.

Sometimes you might be criticised for not expressing yourself clearly. This happens to people at all stages in their lives, from early days right through to when they are leaders of their organisations, or even of their countries. It might be justified criticism; I’ve mentioned before the importance of speaking English so that it can be understood as widely as possible. But sometimes the criticism is undeserved, and it is actually the listener or reader who needs to work harder to understand the message that’s being sent.

If you want your message to be clearly understood, try to put yourself in the position of the person who’s going to hear or read it. Then put it in words that they will understand. Try to make references to things that they are familiar with. It’s no good trying to explain what a piebald horse is like, for example, to someone who has never seen a horse, unless you make some reference to things that they HAVE seen – a cow, perhaps, or a dog or a fox.

Here’s a game to try with your communications partner. (Hint: It’s easier if you use squared paper. If you have a printer you can search online for “squared paper to print” and create your own; alternatively, most large supermarkets sell exercise books with squared paper.)

Each person takes a sheet of paper and a pencil.

The transmitter – the person who is going to send the message – starts by drawing something on his/her piece of paper, without letting the receiver – the person who is going to try to understand the message – see him/her doing it.

They sit where they cannot see each other’s piece of paper, and allow the receiver to rest his/her paper on a surface which makes drawing easy.

The aim of the task is that the receiver should end up with the same drawing on his/her sheet of paper as the transmitter has drawn originally. The only way to get that done is for the transmitter to tell the receiver what to do. Only words are allowed, and no gestures or – of course – looking at the other person’s piece of paper.

It is a better test of your communication skills as a speaker if you don’t allow the person listening to ask you questions.

Hint 2: start with a really easy shape, such as a square or rectangle. Think about where on the page it is drawn, and how large or small it is, and how you are going to convey those details to your partner.

Hint 3: it can be helpful if each of you has a ruler, to help you measure distances and to draw straight lines. The person receiving the instructions might also find an eraser useful, as (s)he sometimes realises from a later instruction that something (s)he drew earlier must be wrong. That’s why you’re doing this in pencil, not in ink.

As you get better and better at this – with practice, you’ll learn how to express yourself more clearly – you can try more complicated shapes, such as curves, and have more than one shape on a page. Explaining where they are in relation to one another is a useful challenge to face!

The evidence of how successful you have been will emerge when you compare the original drawing with the listener’s result. Swap places after one round and try again; it’s important to appreciate just how difficult the task is for both people, not just one of them.

This is mainly an exercise to improve the transmitter’s skills – the speaker’s skills. It makes you think what it is like to be in the receiver’s – the listener’s – situation; and that is always key to successful communication.

How do you sound? (Post 3)

Have you listened to a recording of yourself speaking? Many people – especially but not only younger people – either avoid doing this, or hate the sound of their own recorded voice.

Nowadays, however, it is very likely that we will be heard in a recorded or electronic form by many people – especially during this COVID 19 period of restricted movement and a ban on meeting people in person. So it is time to take control of how you sound when you speak.

There are two main areas of your speech which you might want to consider. One is your accent – how you pronounce words. The other is your interpretation of what you say: do you raise and lower your voice to make some parts of what you say more interesting? Do you speed up or slow down at times? Do you use “fillers” such as “eh?”, “emm”, “like”, “you know”, “sort of thing”, “hmm”, “right” – ?

Generally, variety makes people – our listeners, in this case – more interested. Young people often speak in a monotone (one pitch, one speed, no interpretation) when answering questions asked by adults, but (a) this is a phase which you might leave behind when you leave school [I do hope so!]; and (b) it doesn’t have to be this way! You choose how you speak.

Accent. Each one of us has an accent. Accents are neither “good” nor “bad” but they can have a remarkably strong effect on those who hear them. Especially in the United Kingdom, your accent may lead someone to think better or worse of you. It’s not a rational thing, but it does still occur. Thank goodness, it happens less than it used to do – say, in the first half of the 20th century – but be aware that how you pronounce words can alter the way people think of you.

So: first of all, make a recording of yourself. Using your phone might be the easiest way of doing this, or perhaps you can use a computer’s built-in microphone. I suggest you make at least TWO recordings – one of yourself reading something, and the other of yourself talking as if to a friend about something that really interests you. Try to make your recordings at least one minute long in each case.

Now listen to them.

Accent: do you like the way you pronounce the words when you’re reading aloud? If you do, that’s fine; if you don’t, try to identify what you don’t like about it, and practise changing that. Listen carefully and try to pinpoint exactly what it is that you don’t like. It will usually be a vowel sound – a, e, i, o, u – or a combination of these. Consonants – the rest of the letters in the alphabet – are generally either sounded or not sounded; they are not open to as much variation in accents as the vowel sounds are. One consonant-related point that can arouse really strong feelings in listeners however is the sound of “t” or “tt”. Do you pronounce the “t” in “party”, or the “tt” in “letter”? Some speakers replace those with a slight pause (known as the glottal stop) – saying “par’y” and “le’er”. This drives some listeners mad! Others consider that it shows the speaker is part of a particular group. In fact your accent can often be used to show your loyalty to a particular group: if people have similar ways of pronouncing words, it can be a strong bond between them.

If you don’t like the way you pronounce words but are struggling to change it, think of someone who speaks in a way you admire. Listen carefully to recordings of that person, and try to imitate the way they pronounce their vowel sounds.

Remember, however: the MOST IMPORTANT THING about how you speak is not your accent – it is that you speak CLEARLY. Especially now that English is the language most commonly spoken as a second language, and now that it is so widely used in contexts such as business, academic study, entertainment and social media, we owe it to one another to speak English in a way that as many people as possible can understand – that is, CLEARLY.

Interpretation: I said earlier that young people can go through a phase of replying to adults’ questions in a monotone – that is, with no variety. Giving some interpretation to how you speak means that other people are more likely to listen to you, and more likely to consider what you say.

Firstly, speak as though you’re interested in what you’re saying. After all, if you don’t find it interesting, why should you expect anyone else to find it interesting?

Give your listener clues to the important parts of what you’re saying by – for example – slowing down. You might show excitement by speeding up, or by getting louder – or both! If you want someone to listen really closely, and perhaps to suggest that something is a secret between you, speak more quietly. (You might have to slow down, too.)

Don’t run all your words together when you speak. Use pauses every now and again to allow what you’ve just said to “sink in”. These don’t have to be long pauses, but they will make a difference.

And listen – in your second recording (and also listen to yourself when you’re actually speaking to someone) – for those fillers. What’s the matter with “aye?” or “right?” or “ok?” or “mm-hm?” or “like” or “you know?” – ? Well, nothing, in themselves – but once a listener realises that that is your go-to filler, there is every chance that he or she will miss the meaning of what you’re trying to say, because (s)he’ll be too busy waiting for the next “aye?” or “right?” or “ok?” or … . You get the message!

Now make sure your listeners get your message, too!