If you are currently reading this article, I assume that you are having the same trouble as the title mentions, aren’t you?
Fluency in grammar. Check!
Great listening skills. Check!
Spot on pronunciation. Check!
Native-like accent. Check!
Smooth and fluent speech? Pending…
To this point, I guess my assumption was correct. Feeling lucky for yourself, you’re not alone! Every English learner has been trying, not to mention struggling, to improve their fluency and smoothness in speaking English in many ways. However, people (both long-term English learners and beginners) always forget about the most important factor to help them speak English fluently, which is thought groups.
So, what exactly is thought groups?
Thought groups are units of speech that are made up of one or more words that are put together to create a full idea or thought. They help speakers arrange and organize the information they want to share. Thought groups are marked by pauses or changes in intonation, signaling breaks between phrases or clauses. Learning to use them correctly is as important as learning correct pronunciation. It is part of the way we understand what is important in a sentence and what the speaker really means. A person may have great pronunciation, but if he does not know how to use thought groups, people will still say to him, “What? Could you repeat that?”
Why are they the most important factor?
1. Clarity and Coherence
Proper thought grouping makes sure that ideas are stated clearly, so listeners can easily follow and understand what the speaker is saying. By breaking sentences up into meaningful pieces, speakers can avoid misunderstanding and make the conversation go more smoothly.
2. Rhythm and Flow
Thought groups contribute to the natural rhythm and flow when we speak English. When people understand how to use thought groups appropriately, their speech becomes more rhythmic, interesting, and appealing to the listener.
3. Listening Comprehension
Thought groups assist listeners in understanding the message that the speakers want to convey. By identifying and processing these groups, listeners can extract meaning more efficiently and accurately, even in complex or lengthy sentences.
Yeah…kind of. While there aren't rigid or standardized rules for thought groups, there is some general advice that can help you use thought groups correctly.
1. Pause appropriately
Use pauses between thought groups to indicate breaks and allow listeners to process the information. In general, we pause at:
Punctuation marks (commas, periods, semicolons, question marks, etc.)
- A noun phrase (a beautiful girl, a group of people,...)
- A prepositional phrase (in the morning, at home,...)
- A verb phrase (to go ahead, to lead the way,...)
- A short clause (isn’t very nice, is bigger than,...)
However, you shouldn’t pause between articles, prepositions, and possessive pronouns and the nouns they precede. Phrases usually begin with conjunctions, rather than end with conjunctions.
She goes to school in the morning
- RIGHT: She / goes to school / in the morning
- WRONG: She goes to / school in / the morning
Mary said that the students are sleeping
- RIGHT: Mary said that / the students / are sleeping
- WRONG: Mary said that the / students are / sleeping
There is no rule on how long a “thought group” should be. Beginners who are just learning to speak English should use short "thought groups"; while more advanced people can use longer, “thought groups” to ensure the “flow of the speech”.
I need you / to set aside / the blue paper / on the desk.
I need you to set aside / the blue paper on the desk.
The only thing / I’m interested in / is completing this project / on time.
The only thing I’m interested in / is completing this project on time.
2. Clarity and organization
Thought groups should help convey your message clearly and effectively. Organize your thoughts into logical units of meaning to ensure that your speech flows smoothly and is easy for listeners to understand. Therefore, make sure that your thought groups convey a certain meaning.
Last / night, / I went / to the / grocery store to / buy milk and bread, / but / I / left / my / wallet / at / my / apartment. (Sounds weird, right?)
Last night, / I went / to the grocery store / to buy milk and bread, / but I left my wallet / at my apartment. (Much better)
3. Consider your breathing
Keep in mind the need for breath while speaking. Structure your thought groups in a way that aligns with natural breathing patterns, allowing you to speak comfortably and without running out of breath.
Let’s practice, shall we?
Let’s practice using thought groups in these sentence:
The film is not suitable for children.
You need a lot of patience to speak English fluently.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument built of massive stone pillars.
As I get older, I try to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Before the training she had been a people pleaser who wasn't assertive enough.