Today’s lesson is for students of English who speak English too slowly. This frustrating problem is caused by slow verbal processing speed, which means a person is noticeably slow to understand and respond to information. People with slow processing speed are particularly slow when thinking and responding in a foreign language, such as English. I will teach you how to think faster in English, so that you may overcome this frustrating problem.

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What Is Slow Processing Speed? 

Slow processing speed can be defined as having a ‘delayed response’ when speaking or answering questions. It happens to people who need a little bit of extra thinking time to form their words.

A simple example of slow processing speed in a conversation: 

Person 1: What’s your name? 

Person 2: [3+ second response time] My name is Jade.

If you have slow processing speed in English, the problem will also affect you in your native language. However, years of conversational experience in your native language mean that you do not notice the problem as much because your response times have got much faster. The faster response time that you have in your native language means that you are better at answering questions and thinking on the spot.

How Slow Processing Speed Affects Your Confidence

The ‘delayed response’ issue occurs when you’re having a conversation in a language that you’re inexperienced in. Although it may only be a few seconds, the silent pause can seem really, really long. This can make you feel awkward because it took you such a long time to answer. The long pauses can also make you lose confidence in social situations.

Slow thinking time in English places extra pressure on social situations, especially if the conversation involves more than one person. This is because the conversation may move along very quickly. If you’re struggling to keep up, joining in is almost impossible because there never seems to be the right moment. Joining a fast-moving conversation would require you to be very assertive; often it just doesn’t seem worth the effort.

“I prefer writing to speaking because I have enough time to think”

When writing an email, you have a lot more time to think about what you’re saying and you can answer any question sufficiently. Having a conversation is very different because you have to find your words quickly. Not being able to find your words promptly causes heightened anxiety and embarrassment. Once this negative feedback loop begins, the delayed response time gets worse, due to the extra pressure. 

Students Don’t Understand the Problem

Students who think and speak slowly in English tend to think the problem is caused by having a small/limited English vocabulary. They believe that they just need to learn more words. In my opinion, it’s not about the size of your vocabulary. People with much smaller vocabularies can often answer questions quickly and find the language in their heads much more easily. 

A key point to remember here is that having slow audio processing does not mean that you’re stupid or rubbish at English. It simply means that it takes you longer than most people to find the place where language is stored in your head. The filing system that you use in your memory is not as efficient. Maybe it’s a bit disorganised in there, or more likely than not, the filing system is in the wrong place in your brain. So, instead of being able to go straight there and find it, you have to go all around these alleyways. Eventually, you find the right words, but it may be too late by then. 

How to Improve Thinking Speed in English

It is possible to improve your thinking speed in English, but there is no quick fix. You will have to practise simple phrases many times to build up the pathways in your mind. The deeper the pathway that is created in your brain, the easier it is to find that phrase or word when you need it.

To think faster in English, you need to burn deeper pathways in your memory.

You have faced the problem of slow thinking speed in your native language, but you have largely learned how to overcome it. This is because most of the phrases that we use in our daily lives are according to a script, with very small variations. Without realising it, you developed faster audio processing speed because of all this repetition.

To improve your verbal processing speed when speaking English, you have to complete the same process – repeating the most useful language and phrases over and over again. Eventually, you’ll be able to find your words much more quickly. When this happens, you will feel as if you are thinking much faster in English!

During a conversation, the vast majority of people don’t have time to grammatically build sentences. I have met students who are able to do that, but it is likely those students don’t suffer from this particular problem. If your processing speed is slow, the mind is going to be blank for a few seconds before the language appears. This means that you’re not able to build sentences as you go. 

Importantly, the problem of slow processing speed is not solved by memorising even more words. Instead, you must repeat and reuse the words you already have stored in your brain. The point of doing this is to make it much easier for your brain to locate useful words and phrases. This is where doing lots of repeat-after-me practice comes in…

The ‘repeat after me’ method is highly effective at improving reaction times in a foreign language. This is because the method allows you to repeat the same phrases multiple times, without the pressure and stress of being in a real-life conversation. Furthermore, the ‘fill in the blank’ part of the audio pushes you to respond quickly. The more practice you have with this method, the faster your reaction times will become.

Do You Speak English too Slowly? Take the English Jade Course

The English Jade course I created will help to speed up your processing speed in English. All it requires is 10 minutes of practice, five days a week. It does not involve memorisation or forcing the words into your brain. More information can be found at englishjade.co.uk.


Extend Your Learning

▶︎ Does your mind go blank when speaking English? Learn more about mind blanks in English.

▶︎ Learn how perfectionism makes freezing in conversation and mind blanks worse.

▶︎ Watch my lesson on How to Expand Your Vocabulary.

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Author

Jade Joddle grows your confidence and skill to shine when speaking English.

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