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Trivial Pursuits: Speaking of English

#accent #accentmodification #accentreduction #americanaccent #english #pronunciation

JFK speaking English

We often take speaking English for granted, but the process is both complex and remarkable. It's no wonder we make mistakes and are sometimes left scratching our heads! Being slightly nerdy when it comes to accent reduction and English pronunciation, we at Change Your Accent would like to offer some communication trivia to put things in perspective.

  1. Intense coordination is required for speaking English. To produce a simple phrase, about 100 muscles of the chest, throat, jaw, tongue and lips must work together in a precisely timed way. While humans can say about 14 sounds per second, isolated parts of the speech mechanism like the tongue, lips, jaws can execute no more than 2 movements per second.
  2. Learning additional languages can make you smarter. Many scientists agree that speaking several languages can enhance brain functioning. Studies also suggest that we can slow down the aging process of the brain by speaking more than one language.
  3. The tongue is truly impressive. The tongue muscles — 8 in total — are the only muscles in the human body that work independently of the skeleton. The muscles intertwine to create a powerhouse, kind of like an elephant's trunk.
  4. The tongue is incredibly flexible and it never seems to get tired. Our tongue muscles have great stamina and are in constant motion during eating, talking, and swallowing. (But it is myth that the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body— it’s the jaw that produces the most pressure and the quads and glutes that have the most force.)
  5. Did we mention that the tongue is impressive? Our tongues can also gain weight and act as an identifier! The human tongue has a high percentage of fat, and tongue fat and obesity have been correlated. And, like a fingerprint, each tongue is unique. If researchers can find a way to use the tongue as a biometric authenticator, we could feasibly use the tongue to identify a person. 
  6. Exactly when we began to talk is still being debated, and there are many theories on how we developed this ability. Scientists think humans began talking in a complex way about 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Theories on how we developed language include evolution and mutation — and one theory even suggests that eating psychotropic mushrooms may have played a role.
  7. We talk a lot and our speech is often about ourselves. Human beings speak on average about 16,000 words per day and about 60% of our conversations are about ourselves. While there's great debate about gender differences, scientific studies don't support the stereotype that women speak more than men. 
  8. The rate of our speech in English varies and some languages are “faster” than others. We generally speak between 120-160 words per minute in English. John F Kennedy, however, was the fastest recorded public speaker in history, with bursts of over 300 words per minute. Rates of speech in different languages vary, and while Spanish is faster than English and Mandarin slower, most languages still convey the same amount of information in the same length of time. 
  9. Onomatopoeia, or words that represent a sound (like “honk” or “bang”) often differ across languages.  So, for example, a Thai owl says “hook, hook”, an Italian frog says “cra, cra” and a Russian dog says “gav, gav”. Although we think mimicry has to do with fitting sounds into distinct linguistic systems and cultural contexts, scientists don't completely understand why fluctuations exist among languages.
  10. More people fear public speaking than dying. Glossophobia, or fear of public speaking, beats out many other fears, including the fear of death. High income nations, like the US and Japan, have higher rates of glossophobia.

To discover other essential (and, yes, occasionally trivial) information about speech, English pronunciation and accent reduction, check out our website at

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