Friday, December 18, 2015

On developing excellent pronunciation and gesture--according to John Wesley,1770.

Have just rediscovered Wesley's delightful classic "Directions Concerning Pronunciation and Gesture", a short pamphlet published in 1770. The style  that Wesley was promoting was to become something of the hallmark of the Wesleyan movement: strong, persuasive public speaking. Although I highly recommend reading the entire piece, here are some of Wesley's  (slightly paraphrased) "rules" below well worth heeding, most of which are as relevant today as were they then.

  • Study the art of speaking betimes and practice it as often as possible.
  • Be governed in speaking by reason, rather than example, and take special care as to whom you imitate.
  • Develop a clear, strong voice that will fill the place wherein you speak.
  • To do that, read or speak something aloud every morning for at least 30 minutes.
  • Take care not to strain your voice at first; start low and raise it by degrees to a height.
  • If you falter in your speech, read something in private daily, and pronounce every word and syllable so distinctly that they may have all their full sound and proportion . . . (in that way) you may learn to pronounce them more fluently at your leisure.
  • Should you tend to mumble, do as Demosthenes, who cured himself of this defect by repeating orations everyday with pebbles in his mouth. 
  • To avoid all kinds of unnatural tones of voice, endeavor to speak in public just as you do in common conversation.
  • Labour to avoid the odious custom of spitting and coughing while speaking.
  • There should be nothing in the dispositions and motions of your body to offend the eyes of the spectators.
  • Use a large looking glass as Demosthenes (again) did; learn to avoid all disagreeable and "unhandsome" gestures.
  • Have a skillful and faithful friend to observe all your motions and to inform you which are proper and which are not.
  • Use the right hand most, and when you use the left let it only be to accompany the other.
  • Seldom stretch out your hand sideways, more than half a foot from the trunk of your body.
  •  . . . remember while you are actually speaking you are not be studying any other motions, but use those that naturally arise from the subject of your discourse.
  • And when you observe an eminent speaker, observe with utmost attention what conformity there is between his action and utterance and these rules. (You may afterwards imitate him at home 'till you have made his graces your own.)
 Most of the "gesture" guidelines and several of those for pronunciation are employed explicitly in public speaking training--and in haptic pronunciation teaching. Even some of the more colorful ones are still worth mentioning to students in encouraging effective speaking of all sorts. 


  1. The advice about pebbles in your mouth is one of the best.

  2. John Wesley is unique. He even had rules for singing properly. For more on John Wesley, please visit the website for the book, Black Country, the opening novel in the trilogy titled, The Asbury Triptych Series. Black Country brings to life the life of Charles Wesley as he interacts with the young Francis Asbury in England. The website for the book series is Enjoy the numerous articles on the site.