Learn to Speak Distinctly

Ellen G. White

In reading or in recitation the pronunciation should be clear, and a nasal tone, or an ungainly attitude should at once be corrected. Every sentence should be clear and distinct, and any lack of distinctness should be marked as defective. Many have allowed themselves to form the habit of speaking in a thick, indistinct way, as though their tongue was too large for the mouth, and this habit has done great injury to usefulness; but if those who have defects in their manner of utterance will submit to criticism and correction, they may overcome these defects. They should perseveringly practice speaking in a low, distinct tone, exercising the abdominal muscles in deep breathing, and making the throat the channel of communication. Many speak in a rapid way and in a high, unnatural key, but if they continue such a practice, they will injure the throat and lungs, and as a result of continual abuse, the weak and inflamed organs will become diseased in a serious way, and they will fall into consumption.  {CE 125.1}

Ministers and teachers should give especial attention to the voice, and learn the art of speaking, not in a nervous, hurried manner, but in a slow, clear, distinct manner, preserving the music of the voice. The Saviour was the greatest teacher the world ever knew, and his voice was as music to the ears of those who had been accustomed to hear the monotonous, spiritless preaching of the Scribes and Pharisees. He spoke slowly and impressively, emphasizing those words to which he wished them to give special attention. {CE 126.1}

The old and young, the ignorant and the learned, could catch the full meaning of his words, but this would have been impossible had he spoken in a hurried way, and rushed sentence upon sentence without pause. The people were very attentive to him, and it was said of him that he spake not as the Scribes and Pharisees, for his word was as of one who had authority. The people were astonished at his doctrine, and after hearing him, the verdict was, “Never man spake like this man.” [John 7:46.] {CE 126.2}

Jesus’ manner of teaching was beautiful and attractive, and it was ever characterized by simplicity. He unfolded the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven through the use of figures and symbols with which his hearers were familiar, and the common people heard him gladly; for they could comprehend his words. There were no high-sounding words used, to understand which it was necessary to consult a dictionary. He illustrated the glories of the kingdom of God by the use of the experiences and occurrences of earth. In compassionate love and tenderness he cheered and comforted and instructed all who heard him; for grace was poured upon his lips that he might convey to men in the most attractive way the treasures of truth. {CE 126.3}

This is the manner in which he would have us present his truth to others. The power of speech is of great value, and the voice should be cultivated for the blessing of those with whom we come in contact. I am pained when I see how little this precious gift is appreciated. In reading the Bible, in engaging in prayer, in bearing testimony, how necessary is clear, distinct utterance. How much is lost in family worship when the one offering prayer bows the face down, and speaks in a low, feeble voice, as though just recovering from a long sickness. But as soon as family worship is over, those who could not speak loud enough to be heard in prayer, can speak in clear, distinct tones, and there is no difficulty in hearing what is said. Prayer that is thus uttered is appropriate for the closet, but not suitable for public worship; for unless those assembled with them can hear what is said, they cannot say Amen. {CE 127.1}

Nearly all persons can speak loud enough to be heard in ordinary conversation, and why should not the same voice and talent be used when they are called upon to bear testimony or offer prayer? When speaking of heavenly and divine things, why not speak in distinct tones, in a manner that will make it manifest that you know what you are talking about, and are not ashamed to show your colors? Why not pray as though you had a conscience void of offense, and could come to the throne of grace in humility and yet with holy boldness, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting? Do not bow down and cover up your face as if there were something that you desired to conceal; but lift up your eyes toward the heavenly sanctuary, where Christ your Mediator stands before the Father to present your prayers as fragrant incense, mingled with his own merit and spotless righteousness. You are invited to come, to ask, to seek, to knock, and you are assured that you will not come in vain. Jesus says “Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.” He illustrates the willingness of God to bless by presenting before us the willingness of a father to grant the request of his child. He asks, “If a son ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone, or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? [Luke 11:9-13.]  {CE 127.2}

God has given us the gift of speech that we may recite to others the dealing of God with us, that his love and compassion may touch their hearts, and that praise may also arise from their souls to him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light. The Lord has said, “Ye are my witnesses.” [Isaiah 43:10.] But all who are called to be witnesses for Christ must learn of him, that they may be efficient witnesses. As children of the heavenly King, you should educate yourselves to bear testimony in a clear, distinct voice, and in such a manner that no one may have the impression that you are reluctant to speak of the mercies of the Lord. In social meeting, prayer should be offered so that all may be edified, and those who take part in this exercise should follow the example given us in the Lord’s beautiful prayer for the world. The prayer of Jesus is simple, clear, comprehensive, and yet not long and spiritless as are the dry prayers that are often offered in public. These spiritless prayers better not be uttered; for they fail to bless or edify, and are a mere form without vital power. {CE 129.1}

The principle presented by Paul concerning the gift of tongues, is equally applicable to the use of the voice in prayer and social meeting. We would not have any one of you who is defective in this respect, cease from offering public prayer, or from bearing witness to the power and love of Christ. I do not write these words to silence you; for there has been already too much silence in our meetings; but I write that you may consecrate your voice to Him who gave you this gift, and realize the necessity of cultivating it so that you may edify the church by what you say. If you have acquired the habit of speaking in a low, indistinct way, you should regard it as a defect, and put forth earnest effort to overcome, that you may honor God and edify his children. {CE 130.1}

“How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” [1 Corinthians 14:26.] In our devotional social meetings, our voices should express by prayer and praise our adoration of our heavenly Father, that all may know that we worship God in simplicity and truth, and in the beauty of holiness. Precious indeed in this world of sin and ignorance is the gift of speech, is the melody of the human voice, when devoted to the praises of Him who hath loved us, and hath given himself for us. The gift of speech has been greatly abused, and widely perverted from its intended purpose; but let those who claim to be children of the heavenly King awaken to their responsibility, and make more of this precious talent than ever they have done before. Let no one say, “There is no use for me to try to pray, for others do not hear me.” Rather say, “I will make earnest efforts to overcome this God-dishonoring habit of speaking in a low, indistinct tone, and I will put myself under discipline until my voice shall be audible, even to those who are hard of hearing.” Will it not be worth disciplining yourself to be able to add interest to the service of God, and to edify the children of God? Let the voices of the followers of Christ be trained so that instead of crowding words together in a thick, indistinct way, their words will be clear, forcible, and edifying. Do not let the voice fall after each word, but keep it up so that every sentence will be full and complete. The voice of thanksgiving, praise, and rejoicing is heard in heaven. The voices of the children of God unite with the voices of the angels of heaven, as they ascribe honor and glory and praise unto God and to the Lamb for the great salvation he has provided. {CE 131.1}

Let every one seek to do his best. Let those who have enlisted under the banner of Prince Emmanuel grow daily in grace and efficiency. Let the teachers in our institutions endeavor to train the students in all lines of education, that they may come forth properly disciplined to bless mankind and glorify God. It is essential that they be educated to read in a clear, distinct tone. We have been pained as we have attended conference meetings, tract society meetings, and meetings of various kinds, where reports were read in an almost inaudible tone, or in a hesitating, muffled manner. One half the interest in a meeting is killed when the participants take their parts in this indifferent, spiritless fashion. They should train and discipline themselves in such a way that they may edify those who listen. Let every one connected with the missionary work qualify himself to speak in a clear, attractive way, enunciating his words in a perfect manner. The proper use of the vocal organs will bring benefit to the physical health, and increase your usefulness and influence. It is through falling into bad habits that persons become tedious readers and speakers; but those who are looked upon as intelligent enough to become missionary workers, or to transact business, ought to have intelligence enough to reform in the manner of speaking. They can give attention to the cultivation of the voice, and by judicious exercise, may expand the chest, and strengthen the muscles. Let the abdominal muscles have full play. Do not bind the waist with bands and corsets, but taking in full breath, let the burden of your words come from this foundation, supported by abdominal breathing, and let the throat be the channel for the tone. By giving heed to proper instruction, by following health principles in regard to the expansion of the lungs and the culture of the voice, our young men and women may become speakers that can be heard, and the exercise necessary to this accomplishment will prolong life.  {CE 131.2}

If you gain correct ideas on this subject, you will see the necessity of educating and training yourselves so that you may do justice to yourselves, may honor God, and bless others. Put yourselves under patient, efficient teachers, and learn to read in a way that will preserve the melody of the voice. Having an eye single to the glory of God, make the most of the natural capabilities that God has given you, and your intellectual efficiency will increase, and commanding your own powers, you will not become embarrassed by your defects of speech, and your usefulness in the cause of God will be increased. There is need that among our ministers careful attention should be given to the culture of the voice, or many will lie down in untimely graves. The Lord is not glorified by the reflections that are cast upon him, when men attribute to him their sufferings; for the Lord has no pleasure in the suffering and death of his people. He would have them pursue a right course of action, carefully looking after their bodies that they may be in health, and know how to keep the habitation in order. If we neglect to heed the simple laws by which we may preserve health, and fail to cultivate right habits, the Lord will not work a miracle to heal our disorders, while we continue to transgress his laws. Men are sleeping in their graves that the Lord would have had live. They destroyed themselves through lack of knowledge. On many points they were instructed, and yet failed to carry out the instruction given them; but let us become enlightened Christians, walking in the light, and overcoming every defect that we may reap reward in this life, and gain the life eternal hereafter.—Manuscript. {CE 133.1}