In this post I will talk about over enunciation, which is a bad habit that some people have when speaking. I’ll also share some tips for how to speak clearly, without over enunciating.

What is Over Enunciation?

Over enunciation means putting far too much effort and energy into your pronunciation. It is a bad habit because it conveys an unnatural and fake impression when a person is speaking.

Over enunciated speech is louder than regular speech, which conveys the impression that the speaker desires to be heard. When speaking, over enunciators tend to put equal weight (loudness) on every sound that they articulate. Whereas some sounds are prominent (stand out) in natural speech, we barely notice other sounds. This is not the case for over enunciators, who tend to make all sounds equally loud.

Some over enunciators also speak unnaturally slowly. This happens because the extra effort they put in to articulation slows down the pace of their speech.

Reasons for Over Enunciation

There are two main reasons that a person develops this annoying speech habit. The first reason is because the over enunciator is insecure about his/her accent and because of this tries to overcompensate for it. The second reason is that over enunciation is associated with some types of work; therefore, over enunciation might develop at work and continue into the person’s everyday life.

Examples of jobs in which over enunciation is common:

Primary school and nursery teachers: Over enunciating helps to get the attention of children, but when directed at adults, it can seem patronising.

English as a foreign language teachers: Over enunciating makes it much easier for beginner and intermediate English learners to understand what the teacher is saying.

Accent trainers: Over enunciating is common among accent trainers. This is because most of them are trying too hard to speak clearly.

Amateur actors: Over enunciating often happens when people perform in front of others. The amateur actor knows that speaking clearly is important, but doesn’t have the technical skill or training to do this yet. Consequently, the amateur actor’s speech is unnaturally careful.

Watch an example of over enunciated speech in the below video:

In real life, it would be rare to encounter someone who over enunciates as much as in the above video. This is because speaking in an over enunciated manner requires a lot of extra effort and energy. Most people would not be able to consistently sustain that amount of effort when speaking.


How to Speak Clearly

People tend to think that speaking clearly is an ability that people are born with, which can’t be learnt. While some people are naturally gifted at speaking clearly, everyone can make improvements in this area. All it takes is technical knowledge combined with regular practice.

I will now give some tips and advice for speaking clearly, without over enunciating.

Stop Performing

Over enunciators behave and speak as if their whole life is a performance that other people must watch. In truth, the things we say vary in importance.

Amateur actors over enunciating
Amateur actors over enunciating

There is no point wasting extra effort and energy on most of the things we say in daily conversation or at work. Making an effort with our speech should instead be reserved for ‘special occasions’ in which speaking in front of others matters. When we need to get people’s attention or have our voice heard, then speaking with extra effort is required. The rest of the time, be natural!

Learn the Basics of Pronunciation

Learning about the technical aspects of pronunciation will help you to speak much more clearly. Look at it this way: your speaking voice is comparable to an instrument. Everybody can make sound (noise) come out of instruments, but it takes training and practice to get music flow from them.

Furthermore, learning about the technical aspects of pronunciation helps you to understand what your mouth and tongue are doing when you are speaking. Having this technical information allows you to improve your speech by making fine adjustments.

Stop Overthinking

Over enunciation happens when people overthink their speech and pronunciation. Instead of being in the flow of conversation, the over enunciator places too much of their attention on themselves. It’s like watching what you are saying a millisecond before you say it. Not only is this perfectionistic, but it can also have other undesirable effects, such as increasing the amount of mistakes that are made when speaking.

The problem of overthinking is not solved by me telling you to stop overthinking. This is because you can’t stop overthinking by using the brain! Instead, you need to gradually develop a better connection with your voice and your body in order to find balance. (Essentially, overthinking happens when your mind is far too dominant over your body). One way to develop a better connection to one’s body is by doing vocal training exercises.

I’m not a naturally talented speaker, but rather someone who has applied grit and worked hard to become the speaker that I am today. I have made many mistakes and wrong turns along my journey, and over enunciation was previously one of them!”

Jade Joddle; Read more about her personal speech story.

Extend Your Learning

▶︎ Learn about the opposite problem to over enunciation, which is mumbling when speaking.

▶︎ Join my Clear Accent course, which will teach you to speak clearly without over enunciating.

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Author

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

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