Entries Tagged as 'Accent Reduction Tips'

Accent Reduction Tips

If you’re thinking about altering your accent, try focusing on these aspects of language:

  • study the characteristics of your language’s sound system and how it differs from English.  Start with the differing consonants, which seem to create more misunderstandings.
  • practice in phrases (not individual words) and how one word blends with the words surrounding it
  • move your mouth more than you’re used to – open it wider like you’re yawning, spread the corners of your lips to meet your ears!  This sounds like an exaggeration, but moving your mouth in different ways is a major component of forming new sounds.
  • watch Americans’ lips when they speak – watching on TV is OK to avoid any awkwardness, but the Simpsons, Family Guy, or some other cartoon won’t help you.
  • listen to and imitate sentence stress and intonation and stress patterns within phrases (my favorite activity for this is listening to and singing along with music)
  • copy what you hear exactly and often (as exact and as often as you can)

This is all I can think of for now, but there are more.  I’ll post them as I start to remember them.  For now, I hope these help.

A Thought on Accents

When people say they want to work on their accent, they usually say that people can’t understand them.  A lot of times, what happens is that the characteristics of your native language might seep into your new language so much that it can be difficult for someone who is unfamiliar with those language patterns to understand your spoken words.

If fact, in Spain, the guy at the cafe refused to serve me coffee unless I said the word the way they said it.  (Not cor-TA-doh, it’s cor-TAO).  I think it was because even though I knew the word, my American English characteristics were so strong that what he heard wasn’t me ordering coffee in Spanish- it was a combination of nonsense American-sounding syllables.  If I were to go to England, or watch British soap operas on TV, I might encounter a similar situation.  Even though I speak English, the characteristics of the English I would hear in England would take some getting used to.  For English learners, compound that with new vocabulary and regional colloquialisms, and you have a perfect storm.

Accents can be created by maneuvering your tongue, lip, and jaw.  Accents, however, aren’t just how our mouths are positioned.  They represent, to a large degree, our familial and regional heritage.  People take pride in their accents because they represent where they’re from and who their parents are.  Culture is very important, and should not be overlooked in the discussion of accents.  Some places might be perceived as better than others, which is why some accents might be perceived as superior to others.  There are no superior accents; only perceptions of superior accents exist.

Rather than learning an accent for its perceived superiority, start with these questions:

When you want to speak English well enough to be understood, where will you be?  What are the sound characteristics of the consonants and vowels of that region?  These characteristics vary from place to place.  What about these sounds are difficult for you to say (based on your native language).  If you work on your mouth position for these sounds, will people understand you?

Ultimately, your goal is to communicate to get your needs met.  My tips for starting on accent improvement are in the beginning stages, (1) refrain from using too many regional expressions and (2) keep your word choice and sentence structure simple.

 

11 Reasons Your English Isn’t Great Yet

You…

  1. are not practicing every day
  2. hang out with people in your primary language group
  3. don’t have a specific purpose for learning English
  4. aren’t doing some recommended techniques
  5. rely too much on translation tools
  6. visit only your native language websites
  7. watch dubbed movies or movies with subtitles
  8. are not asking the right questions
  9. use the intonation patterns of your first language
  10. don’t make small talk
  11. need a conversation buddy

Imagine the possibilities if you could just change 2 of these habits.

Tip for Tuesday: Language Rhythm

Begin to understand English better by understanding the rhythm of languages.  While some languages rhythm patterns are similar, recognizing how languages have different rhythms can help your listening skills.

First, listen for  a rhythm to your native language.  The trick is that you are so used to your own language patterns and finding the rhythm might be difficult at first.  The good news is you know your own language’s rhythm already;  you learned it at a very, very early age.  You will have to rediscover it for this activity.

Second, listen for a rhythm in English.  How?  Listen to any news or radio talk show, native speakers, interviews, podcasts, etc, and start paying attention.  Don’t pay attention to the words yet.  Just listen for a rhythm.  The rhythm comes from the timing of the stressed syllables.  When you think you have found a rhythm, start tapping or clapping along.  Tap only on the beats.

This activity alone will not be enough to perfect your English, but combined with other speaking activities, it will certainly help.  Recognizing the rhythm helps you identify where strings of speech break down into individual phrases and words.  This activity will also eventually help you speak with the rhythm that native speakers are expecting…making your speech more understood by others.

One way or the other, the rhythm is going to get you…

Pronunciation: Words with -ough

Words that are spelled with -ought have some different pronunciation patterns.  Click below to hear the differences in how these words are pronounced:

Pronouncing -oy and -oi in an American Accent

For some students, the hardest part about pronouncing is they tend to pronounce with their tongues only.  However, the lips play an equally important role in pronouncing.  This activity will get your lips moving.

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to pronounce words with oy and oi.

  1. Start by pretending to sip from a straw, making your lips round.
  2. Quickly move your lips to a relaxed smile.

Tip:  The sound is only one syllable, so make sure you make the sound quickly.

Here’s an audio sampler of words with the /oi/ sound.

  • avoid
  • employed
  • royal
  • oil
  • boil
  • toilet
  • spoil
  • appointment
  • noise
  • join
  • coin
  • voice
  • choice
  • moisture

Incognito Spelling Lessons

Let’s say you’re teaching an intermediate or advanced level, and an English student spells a word with the letter e instead of a, i with the letter e, or b with the letter v, and so on.  These students often spell correctly in writing, but their pronunciation of certain letters could use some more practice.

If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone, and here’s an easy fix: If this recurs in your class, you can implement an incognito spelling lesson.

incognito1

When going over answers, have students tell you what their answer is, and then ask them to spell it. Write what you hear on the board. Once students see that what they say doesn’t always match what they see on the board, they might start paying more attention. 

At advanced levels, have students spell content vocabulary words out loud while blending the letters with the /y/ or /w/ phonemes like native speakers. For example, in the acronym F.B.I., there is a /y/ sound between the B and the I.

Accents

The accent of the country or region where you’re learning English will determine the way you pronounce words, particularly the vowels in words.  Take a look at this video to see how the same words are pronounced differently depending on the region the speaker is from.

Very interesting.  Do you have a favorite?

Watch American Idol

If you’re learning English in the US, and you haven’t started watching American Idol yet, there’s no better time like the present to start.  Why?  Well, imho

  • You get repetition.  Each week, the comments are generally the same, so you have opportunities to hear the same phrases over and over again.
  • You are exposed to both British and American English accents.
  • You can see the differences in communication styles (blunt, honest, beating around the bush).
  • You see how hand gestures, facial expressions, and body language affect the intended meaning behind the words.
  • You have something to talk about with your friends at the water cooler……and the best reason is…
  • You can improve your fluency by singing along!!! You know you want to. Admit it.

7 Past Pronunciation Activities

Click on these activities to practice your knowledge of the past tense pronunciation for regular verbs. The answer pages are audio/visual so you can practice saying them!  Teachers, these are perfect for quick warm-up activities!

Activity 1
Activity 2
Activity 3
Activity 4
Activity 5
Activity 6
Activity 7