What is Halting and Jarring Speech in American English?

After conducting a number of Spoken English assessments with Malayalees in Kerala, the client comes to me and says, "Jennifer, you have said I have jarring or halting speech. What is this? What does it mean?"

Jarring and halting speech has many of these qualities:
  • the speaker breaks the words up in a sentence in the wrong way, so the pacing is impacted 
  • the speaker speaks those "groups" of words very fast, then abruptly stops 
  • sometimes, the speaker catches their breath and then continues speaking, completing the sentence 
  • sometimes, the speaker sounds monotone the whole time, and has no voice modulation
To a native speaker (ie. your US client or colleague), this kind of speech sounds:
  • unnatural
  • robotic, or like a "computer voice" (aka earlier versions of Siri)
  • disjointed and possibly incomprehensible
Those who speak like this would find it hard to have a conversation, in person and especially over the phone, with a native speaker. Even if the grammar is correct, the way the sentence is broken up into groups, the pacing and the speed will effect the listener comprehending the message. Below are some examples of this kind of speech, and a video tutorial.

After listening to all of the incorrect and correct ones, assess which is closest to your speaking style. If your speaking style is closer to the first four examples, your pacing and thought groups are not coherent to a native speaker.

Examples of Incorrect Pacing and Thought Groups

Example 1: Jarring and Halting Speech

If we use a slash to denote the pauses, the pauses occurred in the following places:
When I was a girl, I skipped down paths, danced in my bedroom, spun in circles under the sky, jumped rope with my friends, and squatted to smell flowers in my mother's garden.

When I was/ a girl/ I skipped/ down paths/ danced/ in my/ bedroom/ spun in circles/ under the sky/ jumped rope/ with my friends/and squatted to smell flowers/ in my/ mother's/ garden.

Example 2: Catching One's Breath & Incorrect Pacing
Are you able to add the slashes in at the places where the speaker is pausing?

Add in the slashes where you hear the pauses:
When I was a girl, I skipped down paths, danced in my bedroom, spun in circles under the sky, jumped rope with my friends, and squatted to smell flowers in my mother's garden.

Third Example: Robotic & Computerized Voice Style

Add in the slashes where you hear the pauses:
When I was a girl, I skipped down paths, danced in my bedroom, spun in circles under the sky, jumped rope with my friends, and squatted to smell flowers in my mother's garden.

Last Example: Hurried and Rushed Pacing with Breathlessness
Here's the last example of incorrect pacing. In this example, we again hear pausing at the incorrect places in the sentences, a hurried and rushed voice while speaking, and breathlessness while the speaker catches up. This often happens with speakers who are thinking in their native language, and remember small groups of words, and try to find them in the breaths. Or, this happens with a person who is thinking faster than they speak.

Add in the slashes where you hear the pauses:
When I was a girl, I skipped down paths, danced in my bedroom, spun in circles under the sky, jumped rope with my friends, and squatted to smell flowers in my mother's garden.

Correct Examples of Pacing and Thought Groups

Example 1: More Natural Pace in a Slower Speed
This is spoken slower than most native speakers would speak it. Try to mimic this, then say it again and again. Each time you repeat it try to say it a little faster.

Add in the slashes where you hear the pauses:
When I was a girl, I skipped down paths, danced in my bedroom, spun in circles under the sky, jumped rope with my friends, and squatted to smell flowers in my mother's garden.

Example 2: Increased Speed with Correct Thought Groups

Add in the slashes where you hear the pauses:
When I was a girl, I skipped down paths, danced in my bedroom, spun in circles under the sky, jumped rope with my friends, and squatted to smell flowers in my mother's garden.

Correct Pacing with Feeling!

Add in the slashes where you hear the pauses:
When I was a girl, I skipped down paths, danced in my bedroom, spun in circles under the sky, jumped rope with my friends, and squatted to smell flowers in my mother's garden.

The sentence used in this post is borrowed from the video below (video not the property of Authentic Journeys). Please watch the video to get more information on thought groups, pacing and how to use grammar, punctuation, and clauses to form thought groups and speak more fluently in English.

Is the Halting and Jarring Aspect Part of Mother Tongue Influence (MTI)?
The more I learn about how Malayalam influences speaking English, the more I think the answer is yes. I have yet to find linguistic evidence to back this up. Recently, I have found a few articles on line hinting that Malayalees speaking in Malayalam typically speak in monotone and add additional sounds to the end of some words. This is a behavior I have seen in some Malayalees when speaking English. Any person facing this may either speak monotone, speak with additional sounds ("u" or "a") at the end of words that are not actually there in Spoken English or do both of these activities. In both cases, the pace of the Spoken English is affected, and when either of these behaviors are present in Spoken English, halting and jarring often accompany these behaviors.


Thank you for spending time on this blog. In part two of this blog, you will hear examples of this same exercise using sentences that are more familiar in the IT environment.

Blog owner and voice of the audio clips on this post, Jennifer Kumar is a coach and trainer helping Indians to communicate with their US counterparts with more confidence.

Related Posts:
Use Shadowing to Sound More Fluent
American English Listening Comprehension
Listen to the US Weather Report


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