You: Saying anything at all
Them: What was that?
Them: (Quizzical look)
Them: I didn’t catch what you said
Them: (pause, then) Oh, ok I got you
If these responses are familiar to you, you just might mumble!
Mumbling is basically speaking in a way that is so soft, fast, or indistinct that people have a hard time understanding your words.
Why do people mumble?
For now, I’m going to focus on the bottom line:
Mumbling typically results from skipping some of the sounds in words.
Why you might do that is complex, and we will cover some more of these issues in depth in future posts. There are physical, emotional, mental and behavioral reasons why someone might mumble.
Physically, there may be residual issues from orthodonture (braces) or other oral structural issues that caused the development of a mumbling habit. Or, some peoples mouth structure just makes it hard to produce some sounds clearly. You might not be moving your mouth enough to make all the sounds. You might not be using enough muscularity to produce the sounds of English clearly.
Some people mumble because they are shy, or don’t feel confident in what they are saying. Or they are nervous about the situation they are in. So mumbling feels like hedging, and not really putting one’s full self out there.
Sometimes people mumble because their parents did, and that’s just how they learned to talk!
These are just a few examples. Whatever the reason, it comes down to HABIT. Mumbling is the habit of not completing all the sounds in the word.
How do I stop mumbling?
- Set the intention that you are going to speak clearly. See how that feels!
- Move your mouth more when you talk. Open your jaw and move your lips.
- Project your voice (many of my blog posts address this so feel free to browse, but Three tips for a more powerful voice is a good place to start).
- Literally say all of the sounds in the word.
- Understand that speaking is a physical (motor) skill, and that means it only changes with deliberate practice.
Think about the word “downtown”. A person who mumbles might say that in a way that sounds like “da ta”. And many people might understand them! But if we think about the sounds in that word there are actually 8 different sounds:
D: the tip of the tongue pushes up firmly against the gum ridge (the roof of the mouth right behind the upper teeth). Air pressure builds up and is released.
OW: starts with an open mouth for an “a”, then the lips round to make an “oo”
N: the tongue tip again pressed against the gum ridge, and it stays there while the air comes through the nose (you can feeel the vibrations if you pay attention)
T: the tip of the tongue pushes up against the gum ridge (the roof of the mouth right behind the upper teeth). Air pressure builds up and is released like the D, but in this case there is no voicing
OW: same as above, two sounds merging, open mouth then closing and rounding the lips
N: same as the first N. Can you feel the vibration of your tongue tip against the gum ridge as you say this sound?
But won’t I sound funny talking like this?
If you go from mumbling to speaking more clearly, it will probably feel like you are over-articulating at first. That’s because it is different than what you are used to.
Any time we change the way we perform a habitual action (and speech is a habitual action that we typically don’t think about a lot), it feels wrong and weird.
So get comfortable feeing uncomfortable as you adapt to hearing yourself speak clearly!
Finally, remember that speech is a shared code – whatever way of taking works in a given situation is correct. So just because you might want to work on clearer speech for use in certain settings, that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to change the way you talk with your friends and family, for instance.
If you’d like some customized tips for kicking the mumbling habit, get in touch to schedule a session.