ELSA is an app that uses the power of AI to help English learners improve on everyday speaking skills. Speech Analyzer is ELSA’s latest product; a one-of-a-kind AI-powered communication coach that provides actionable and real-time feedback during online meetings, presentations, interviews, or customer calls.
In this article, ELSA’s lead instructor uses a baking analogy to explain his step-by-step recipe to English proficiency. His analysis is based on Speech Analyzer’s five main assessment metrics.
The holiday season is upon us and whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving in the US, Christmas in Germany, or Tết’s lunar year festival in Vietnam, chances are you’ll be baking some kind of cake to celebrate with family and friends.
Cakes have a way of bringing people together. Kids will agree to anything if the prospect of cake is on the table. Your most reclusive colleague will emerge from behind their desk, and quietly appear in the staff kitchen as soon as someone even whispers the magical word : “Cake”!
It’s because of its broad appeal and cross-cultural potential that I’ve chosen the process of cake-making as an analogy for learning English.
Yep! Learning English is just like baking a cake. If you have the right ingredients and are willing to stick to a tried-and-tested recipe, the level of your English will rise, just like a cake would in the oven.
Spatulas and mixing bowls are on the counter and the oven is preheating. Ready? On your marks, get set, BAKE!
What’s the first ingredient you’ll always see in a cake recipe? Flour, of course!
No flour, no cake! It’s the chief ingredient in most baking projects. Flour is what gives structure to baked desserts, pastries, soufflés, brownies, sponge cakes, loaf cakes, and wedding cakes (Ouh, I’m getting hungry just writing this!)
Flour is also what carries the flavor of a cake. Whether you’re using dried spices, fruit, custards, jams, nuts, or honey, flour will bring all your ingredients together into something we recognise as a cake.
In language, it’s Grammar that occupies this function. Grammar is the structure of English. No wonder English teachers spend so much time on grammar with their students. Without grammar, making yourself understood in any language would be pretty difficult. Your thoughts and ideas would remain a sludgy mess, never to transform into a beautiful cake!
Can you imagine a world without grammar? Without grammar, there would be no telling if an action takes place in the past, the present or the future. It would make it impossible to organize all the elements of language in a way that makes sense. Grammar will tell you where to place key components of a sentence (Subject, verbs, objects, etc.) and give you the amazing ability to articulate complex ideas clearly.
Grammar helps you learn and communicate in English more effectively! It’s the “flour of language” that gives shape, structure and cohesion to your speech.
Now that we have a good foundation for our cake, time to add some flavor!
Okay! Flour is in the mixing bowl… Now what?
Generally, your next step will be to open the fridge and locate one of the most versatile ingredients in any baker’s pantry: eggs!
I love eggs! You can eat them fried, sunny-side-up, over-easy, scrambled, hard-boiled, soft-boiled with bread soldiers (my favorite Sunday breakfast, by the way), or baked into a quiche. You can add eggs to sauces, emulsify them, and even brush them on pastry to give a deep golden color to croissants, pies, and tarts.
Sure, eggs will add color and texture to a dish. But more importantly, thanks to the fat and proteins they contain, eggs will add flavor and richness to your cake.
Interestingly, flavor and richness are two words often used to describe someone’s vocabulary in English. Using the right adjectives will automatically add character and flavor to your delivery. Adverbs will give richness and meaning to the verbs you use in everyday speech. Great vocabulary will naturally elevate your speech, help you convey emotions and feelings, and contribute to the clarity of your ideas.
So, if you want your “English cake” to be rich and flavorful, keep discovering new words. Work to understand their meaning, and make it a point to use them in conversation as quickly as possible…
Kids love candy. Moms love dark chocolate. Dads tiptoe to the freezer in the middle of the night to eat ice cream straight from the tub. Grandmas call their grandkids sweetie, sugar, or honey… I think you see where I’m going here!
Everyone loves sugar. Interestingly, sugar is also what we use to tell someone we love them!
Why is that? Well, sugar in all its forms gives a sweet, comforting taste to foods, especially to cakes.
To me, the equivalent of sugar in language is intonation. By exaggerating certain words and layering them with emotions, we deepen the meaning of what we’re trying to convey. It’s how we add familiarity and comfort to our speech.
A skilled presenter will have people hanging on to their every word. You can hear a pin drop in a large theater when a talented actor speaks. The audience always wants more after an engaging presentation, never having enough.
Now that I think of it…just like the addictive qualities of sugar, great intonation is something you can never get enough of.
To improve your sweet-talking skills (forgive the pun), work on improving your intonation. Always emphasize key words when you speak (generally adverbs, adjectives, nouns, and main verbs). This gentle rising and falling of the voice will help you sound more natural, engaged, and relatable as a communicator.
Something’s missing… Of course, how could I forget! Butter!
Butter has many functions in baking: tenderness, richness, lightness, softness, moisture. It also adds flavor and binds all the ingredients of a cake together. You even use butter to grease the mold the cake will be baked in for crying out loud! You name it, butter does it.
When it comes to baking, butter is necessary to your success; same goes for fluency in English.
In this context, fluency refers to the speed of your speech, the pauses you make (good and bad pauses) and the hesitations that might creep into your delivery as you communicate in English.
Fluency is all about balance. About finding a rhythm of speech that allows you to favor continuity while still keeping an eye on the accuracy of your grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.
Speak too fast or make too few pauses, and your audience won’t register your ideas. Speak in a slow and monotone voice, people will switch off, yawn, or turn to something more interesting on their phones.
It’s a sweet spot that can be hard to find. A simple way to improve is to listen intently to different types of English speakers. Whether you’re using your favorite TV show or real-life conversations to inform your fluency, you’ll still need to find an approach to pacing and pausing works for you! And for that, nothing better than investing time in your listening skills.
One teaspoon! It only takes one teaspoon of this stuff, to make a whole cake rise. Incredible! Baking soda (or Baking powder) is like the ‘Incredible Hulk’ of the baking world.
When this strange alkali powder comes into contact with water, a chemical reaction takes place. It produces carbon dioxide which will cause your cookies, cakes and pancakes to “hulk-up” and inflate in the oven.
To lift up your speech just like baking powder gives lift to cakes, you’ll have to work on your pronunciation.
Great pronunciation elevates your delivery, and gives more impact to your ideas. Emphasizing words will soon become a piece of cake (other pun, sorry! ) if you practice biting on important consonant sounds and leaning on expressive vowels. You can even color your pronunciation in a way that will convey ideas with feeling, emotions, and subtext.
With pronunciation, it’s always “go big or go home”. You’ll be surprised at how, when exaggerating the sounds of English, you can almost immediately gain greater confidence and clarity as a communicator.
Great! All your ingredients are mixed in together. You’ve greased your favorite mold and poured the cake batter into it. Now, to turn this mixture into a lightly-textured cake, you have only one step left. To bake it!
In the oven, all the ingredients of the recipe start interacting in fascinating ways. The baking soda activates and provides lift to the floury mixture. The eggs and the butter creamed together with sugar will help the cake expand into a fluffy, golden cake, the smell of which is sure to reach everyone inside the house.
Is the cake ready? No, not yet! But patience will pay off in the end. From a bunch of random ingredients, we now have a cake. This entire transformation happened because of two other ingredients: heat and time.
This last step also has a parallel to language learning. To me, it reflects the amount of time and practice you need to dedicate to these five very different skills (grammar, vocabulary, intonation, fluency, and pronunciation) so that they can eventually come together and turn you into a clear and confident user of English.
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