What do driving a car and speaking have in common? I often use the driving analogy when talking to my clients about how to speak naturally. For kids bike riding also works. These are great comparisons because they have a lot in common.
Driving/riding a bike and speaking all require learning how to do them. Of course we can learn both correct and incorrect ways of doing them. The result, safe travels and flowing speech are dependent on our learning process.
Once we learn how to drive or speak, the way we do it becomes part of what is called procedural memory. This kind of memory carries out tasks without our knowing the details of how we are doing them. People drive and speak without thinking about how to do it.
Both driving and speaking are pretty complicated activities. In fact, so much is involved in doing them that our conscious mind could not possibly handle all of the intricacies. If we had to think about how to move our muscles or coordinate timing, we would have a hard time doing both.
We don’t use our conscious mind to think about how much to turn the steering wheel or handlebars, or how much pressure to put on the gas pedal or brakes. The same is true for speaking. Normally fluent speakers don’t think about making words, how to coordinate breathing with speaking, and how to change the tones of voice. The conscious mind has no access to the part of the brain that is meant to do this. Making speaking a conscious, controlled act interferes with using the procedural memory and that disrupts speech fluency.
Another thing that driving and speaking may have in common is that fear can interfere. Fear can distract us causing the fight or flight response or make us want to exert conscious control. The best way to avoid the consequences of fear is to have the most effective way of driving and speaking so etched into our procedural memory, that even under fearful circumstances the brain will work automatically.