Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tips from Succussful New Americans!


This past week I have had the privilege of being exposed to some highly motivated and inspirational people through my work at Accent Master. These people mostly immigrants, often here on HB-1 visas or students, have come to the playing field that was quite uneven for them. The field was full of people for whom English was their first language, who had connections and degrees from Universities much more familiar to Americans.

These ESL clients have prospered financially as well as personally. The lessons that have been imparted to me are undeniable as they have gone through my courses and here I will attempt to share them with you.

1. Nothing is impossible: This first step seems to be an attitude and a mindset that collectively they have been able to hold steadfastly through the good times and bad.

2. Don't just work hard, but word smart: It is the past or old way of thinking that tells us to have more money we must work more hours. However there are only so many hours in a day. So it is important to work on things that give you real return.

3. Don't just run around, use your time!: These same people come to my class and invest in themselves. When they have presentations they don't just wing it they develop it to perfection, same with interviews and leadership. For example one accent reduction  client that I work with is an MD, who is finishing his residency at a very well respected NY hospital. He has interviews coming up and he is not just resting on his impressive resume but spending no less than 6 hours with me practicing any question they may pose to him. How do you think he will do?

4. Clarity: Set goals and check up on them every 6 months. Keep yourself on track. Don't let your time slip away in front of a TV watching other people have a life! Do something. It's 9PM are you watching some crazy reality show or are you taking an engaging and fun class on your computer with Lynn at Accent Master? Which would be a better use of your most precious resource...time?

5.Visualize: Paint a clear and vivid picture of you in success. What does success mean to you? Financial freedom? Power? Better relationships? Create a good visual image of the life you want and work toward this.

6. Network. They say you are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with in your life. So go out and cultivate friendships with successful and happy people. Bring positiveness into your life and develop the habit of creating positive energy around you. Because that is what it is a habit to be negative and create negative energy or to be positive and create the positive energy.

7.Ready-fire-aim! Okay do you think it should be ready aim fire? So did I, but know a recent University study say not true. Get a good idea, execute the idea and then adjust (or aim better) once you have executed the idea. Think in this new way. Put another way: Be bold!

8. Create a positive mantra: When negative self-talk threatens to take over your thoughts have a positive saying or expression that speaks to you ready to fight back! Instead of "I can't wait until this is over" Say to yourself " I will be proud of myself when I get this done!" Our mind believes that our thoughts are reality so feed it a reality that empowers you not reduces you!

These are just a few gems that maybe we know already but always bears repeating! I hope you enjoyed reading these and enjoy even more putting them into action!

Lynn founder of
Accent Master

Monday, December 8, 2008

Set Your Voice Free!


As the new year approaches it is a time to reflect on what went well in the past year and what did not. January first is traditionally a time to consider changing habits that are not working and begin new ones that will help us meet our full human potential. Committing to our best selves.
It is usually not the one big thing that needs to get done. But smaller more chronic issues that undermine letting our best selves into the world. This is how I see English pronunciation. One the larger scale often people feel that their speech habits are not affecting them except in specific circumstances. However whenever someone gets into a conversation about how their speech impacts their lives, jobs and relationships it becomes clear that it is more then just a small issue.
Maybe their speech does impact whether they can achieve certain promotions or even to land the job in the first place. Even if the promotion or job is only delayed how much did it cost in real dollars. Are you missing opportunities to network with colleagues or people in your neighborhood because you are being misunderstood. Do you not get your point across, give up or not volunteer information because the effort was just too great? Or perhaps leave an impression that was not truly reflective of you?
How would it be different if you could truly communicate without this barrier? What freedom to be assured that who you are, and what you think was clearly getting across to your boss, to your kids teacher, to the group?
This is possible, and it is possible to achieve this even with a foreign accent. Sound substitutions are not necessarily what is barring you from being misunderstood.
So before you write off the idea of an American accent, feeling for whatever reason that you could not achieve this goal, it doesn't mean that you can't still much improve your communication in English!
Look, you have come this far, achieved so much, take the final step into fluent and clear English communication. Call today and get started. The free lessons you are picking up on the internet help. There is no doubt, but nothing will substitute for the 1:1 class. Make real progress by committing to this goal in 2009.
Call and set your voice free!

Lynn founder of
Accent Master

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How to Pronunce the Englsih Alphabet When Spelling out Words




American English Alphabet: Spoken


video


Watch this short video  from Accent Master to understand how to produce the letters of the American English alphabet.  Put this into practice and you will save time when spelling out your name, address and other essential information, especially over the phone! .

Lynn founder of
Accent Master

Link Your Articles!


So why do I keep talking about standard reductions, such as contractions and reduced vowels?   Because this is the way to make room for those pesky word endings and articles.

Let's look at the article 'a'. This article can be linked to the word that comes before it. Helpful in respect that now you can end the word with a vowel sound. For example. You may say " Call a doctor." Now instead of having a final 'l' sound you can add the article 'a' and say "calla doctor." It is correct, you don't drop the article and you can avoid a final consonant. This is good because many languages do not use final consonant, all of their words end in vowels.  Many ESL speakers find final consonants challenging because of this.

Even if your first language does use final consonants it probably does not use final voiced consonants. So linking the article 'a' or the word 'to' to the end of your words will help you avoid needing to produce that final voiced sound. If you have read my previous post on final voiced consonants then you are savvy to the importance of voicing the final consonant. However linking one of these two articles releases you from this challenge.

You are probably aware that dropping articles causes incorrect grammar and additionally it can make you sound less fluent in English then you are. Not a good feature when trying to promote yourself at work. Try to link these articles to the previous word.

Write down a few sentences or pick some out of the newspaper. Draw a line linking the article to the word before it. Record yourself reading the sentence using the linking. I know the first few times you record yourself, it can be strange to listen to, but you need to get comfortable with it! Recording and self-monitoring are key to learning a new accent!

Lynn Founder of
Accent Master

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Standard Reductions


Standard Reductions in Spoken English


 At Accent Master I find many of my accent redcution clients to be hestiant to use standard reductions in spoken English.  They are afraind that they will sound unprofessional, but this is not the case.  Use these reductions to you don't accendently reduce in a non standard way such as dropping articles or word endings.

Now you may be quick to recognize contractions such as don't, can't, she's, but what about unwritten reductions. Such as gotta, haveta, gonna, useda, hasta, wanna. These reductions also fall under the umbrella of standard reductions. That is right, they are standard. Let alone can you use them, your listener is expecting you to use them.

When you don't reduce these phrases, you speech can sound overly formal. No matter the education level, these standard reductions are used. For example:

I've gotta go to the store.
I have got to go to the store.

I'm gonna talk to him.
I am going to talk to him.

She hasta finish her work.
She has to finish her work.

Try to create sentences for the following reductions

wanna
gonna
shoulda
coulda
woulda
musta
useda
supposta
oughta
shouldn't've
couldn't've
wouldn't've
whaddaya (what do you...)

Listen for other speakers using these phrases in their speech.
I hope you enjoyed the lesson. Let me know what else you would like to learn about in English pronunciation!

Lynn Founder of
Accent Master

Friday, November 14, 2008

Contractions: Use Them!


As far as sounds are concerned we have covered /th/, /v/ and /r/. These sounds are what I consider Universal. Meaning that almost all ESL learners will find them challenging. If fact I have created a 1 hour long video just to cover these sounds. If you are interested then contacted my at Lynn@AccentMaster.com. We don't sell it on our  Accent Master website yet, it is being released through a company called Video Professor in the future. The exact date of the release we don't know yet.

Today I would like to discuss contractions. The common contracts such as it's, we've, don't, couldn't. Often ELL will not use contractions. This can be for a number of reasons. It could be that they are anxious about keeping their verbal sentences grammatically correct or the combination of consonants is tricky or just habit.

Even when reading aloud when a contraction comes up, often it is substituted with the full words. For example what is written is don't, but what is said is do not. You may be thinking that it is no big deal as long as the meaning of the sentence remains unchanged.

And this is correct. The basic communication has been met. However what you may miss is that it can sound less fluent, more staccato in your speech. Read the following 2 sentences:

He doesn't know.
He does not know.

The second is too formal for American English.

The other reason to incorporate contractions is that it saves time. It is what is known as a standard reduction. There are in spoken English standard ways to reduce your speech and using contractions is one of many ways we do just that. When you use contractions then it leaves you more time to pick up articles such as "a" and "the".

Dropping those articles is called a non-standard reduction, while using contractions is a standard reduction.

So today. Choose 1 contraction and use it all day. Similar to a vocabulary building technique. Put a post-it on your computer with the word and find occasion to use it. Stick with one for a week and then move onto a new contraction.

Best of luck and let me know how it goes!

Lynn Founder of
Accent Master

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Next Sound Up: /v/


So let's continue with the trickiest sounds series!  In past posts we covered /r/ and /th/ up next is /v/. This sound is challenging for many including: Cantonese, Czech, Farsi, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Ilokano, Japanese, Korean, Malayalam, Malaysian, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese speakers amongst others. So it clearly is worth looking at.

The /v/ is commonly substituted with /w/or /b/. So lets look at the features of these three sounds and find what they hold in common and what makes them different.

The /v/ is a fricative, the air is released with friction. It is made with the top teeth resting lightly on the bottom lip. The teeth must rest lightly so the air can escape and not be stopped by the teeth.

Substituting /w/ for /v/ is far more common, so we will begin there. /w/ is made with the lips rounded and without any of the articulators touching. There is no obstruction to the air flow at all. If you look in the mirror you can see the difference clearly. Relax your facial muscles rest the teeth on the lip and let the air flow out with friction. The /v/ production in fact is the same as with /f/. The only difference between /f/ and /v/ is that you "voice" the /v/.

Go from /f/ to /w/ to feel the difference in the position and in the manner that the air is released. At first when you see /v/ in a sentence such as: The violin is very fine. You will find less distortion of the word if you substitute /f/ for /v/.

If you are substituting /b/ for /v/, look in the mirror. When you say the sentence "A very violent villain." Are you letting the lips press together and stop the air? Start with the teeth resting on the bottom lip and let the air escape with friction. The difference between /b/ and /v/ is that for /b/ the air is stopped by the lips being pressed together. With /v/ the air is never completely stopped just slightly obstructed causing friction.

Luckily both the /w/ and /b/ substitution is easily seen in a mirror. Making practice a bit easier than with the /r/.

Write down a few sentence that you say in the course of a day and highlight any /v/'s in the sentence. Practice saying it with your "new" pronunciation.

I hope you found this helpful. Please write with any questions or comments, I will be happy to answer!

Lynn founder of Accent Master

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

That Tricky Th!




I have been reflecting on what topics have been coming up with my accent reduction  clients at Accent Master as of late and it seems as though many are circling back to the sound level. In particular is the /th/,/r/ and s-clusters (such as st,sp,sk). Today I will focus on the /th/(this is not the phonetic symbol, but it is easier to use the letters with the limitations of my keyboard.).

I find the mind and its perception and interpretation of the sounds to be quite impressive and the /th/ sound really highlights the minds flexibility. Here is what happens for most ELL, they hear the sound "th" and the brain categorizes it to a fricative and usually accurately decides if it is the voiced /th/ or the unvoiced /th/ (yes there are two!). It observes this through listening as nothing in English spelling will indicate that it is fricative or whether it is the voiced or the unvoiced version of the sound.

Now since only English and Greek possess this sound your very smart brain says well then, lets use the closest thing in our inventory that we have. For the voiceless /th/ we will use /s/ for the voiced we will use /z/, this substitution is observed amongst Amharic, Arabic, French,Dutch, Czech, German, Korean and Mandarin speakers to name a few.

Others will substitute a /d/ for the voiced /th/ and a /t/ for the voiceless. This still copies the voicing pattern and is quite impressive.

In either case the voicing of /th/ is not the issue. If you are replacing /th/ with /s/ or /z/, then simply move your tongue down a 1/4 of an inch and let it protrude slightly form between the teeth. Do not stop the air, just like with /s/ and /z/ let the air come out with friction (why it is called a fricative) of the air pushing between the teeth and the tongue. So the teeth need to rest only lightly on the tongue. It is important that it touch lightly so you don't end up stopping the air flow.

If you feel that you are substituting /th/ with /d/ or /t/ then you need to change two features. The first is to lower the tongue 1/4 of an inch and let it protrude slightly from between the teeth. With the teeth only resting lightly on the tongue. The second feature is that the /d/ and the /t/ are sounds known as stops. They are called stops because the air is stopped and then released. With the /th/ you want to keep the air flowing out as, I said above with friction. The air needs to continuously flow out.

One reason the /th/ can be tricky is because it takes longer to produce. However /th/ is never reduced. It is always fully produced. Write down a practice sentence and say it in the mirror. Do you see your tongue protruding with each /th/ sound?

Keep up the practice. Remember to try to use the sound in your daily speech. Put a note on your computer or switch your watch to a different hand as a way to remember your goal.

Good luck! Please respond with questions or comments and I will get back to you!

Lynn founder of Accent Master

Monday, October 27, 2008

More on Word Stress and Vowels


The biggest difference between English and most other languages is the timing. In many languages stress is evenly place on each syllable of a word. Except for Chinese where each word is only 1 syllable, but this results in the same rhythm issues when speaking in English. It is hard to know where to stress a mufti-syllabic word when you have no experience with mulch-syllabic words.

English is called a stress timed language. An undescriptive term if there ever was one. It does nothing to help draw a clear picture of how the timing is different.

Other languages that stress specific syllables use accents or they use predictable patterns. For example French always stresses the final syllable.

American English uses what is known as alternating stress pattern. In a word we give primary stress to one syllable. Depending on the word we may have secondary stress, and always one syllable that is unstressed.

Look at the word banana. There are three "a"'s in this word. But only the second "a" gets a full pronunciation. The other two "a"s are reduced to a short quick schwa (uh) sound. The second "a" is longer and gets a full "a" production.

This is how we alternate stress in mulch-syllabic words. When this alternation is either placed on the wrong syllable or not made at all it has a tremendous effect on intelligibility.

Primary stress of a syllable is carried on the vowel. The vowel maybe lengthened, made longer or produced with a pitch change.

Lets look at another example "pajamas" again three "a"'s with 2 being produced as the short schwa or "uh" sound and the middle "a" getting the full pronunciation.

The verb/noun contrast can illustrate this well in this Accent Master video


Keep listening for good examples of spoken English, try to note how they are using alternating stress patterns in their speech. Can you mimic their rhythm? Try to mimic the beat in your first language and see if it feels different from your normal rhythm. This is the "feel" of spoken American English!

Lynn founder of Accent Master

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New and Fun quizes and Links!



Well if you haven't been to Accent Master's blog, now is the time to come back! I have added some really fun tests and informational links for ESL learners. I have also added some applications to my
 Facebook page:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Accent-Master/15962152526?ref=ts

Please let me know if you enjoy these "widgets" and what type of posts you would like to see more of.

Thank you for reading the Accent Master blog!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Free Telephone Screening


Just yesterday I sent out an email offering a free telephone screening and the response was remarkable! Having the opportunity to speak one on one with so many people has been really eye opening.

It is touching and interesting to hear how individuals are affected by their spoken English skills. Their speech skills don't necessarily affect them in an obvious way, but more of a constant, nagging issue.

At first many report that others understand them without too much effort. But as the conversation goes on many reveal that they may not be in line for promotions or that their accent is distracting people from really listening to their message.
The reason it takes awhile for most callers to realize the extent of the affect of their foreign accent on their lives is because, colleagues and friends do not have an issue with it, so their everyday life is fine. However at closer inspection they know that it is holding them back. That their professional skills need to be combined with excellent communication skills if they want to make progress in their careers. Or they realize that when communication pressure is on, their accent get heavier and more difficult to understand. This undermines their confidence and performance.

These things are easy to ignore on a daily basis but cumulatively come with a high price tag.

This insight has made me even more sensitive and driven to meet the needs of my clients and my online community. If you have any suggestions for products or services that you feel the foreign born community may be looking for please let me know how I can help.

Please remember that it is not too late to get your free screening: 718 715-0706

Lynn founder of Accent Master

Friday, October 10, 2008

Survey on Accents!






As a speech therapist, and the owner of Accent Master, watching the VP debates last week I kept thinking where did the g in Palin’s –ing go? Palin dropped everyone of those garsh – darn g’s. I knew I was on to something when Tina Fey drew attention to it in her recent SNL spoof of Palin.

To find out if this was something others had noticed, I surveyed 3,145 people to find out just that. What did they think of Palin’s accent? And not to pick on Sara Palin alone, what did they think of all of the candidates accents, and while I am at it, what do they think of accents overall?

Of the 62% that feel that Governor Palin has an accent the comments include that she “sounds uneducated” and “she sounds harsh”. Barak Obama comes in second with 34% reporting hearing an accent. Comments on Obama’s speech include “east coast educated” “adopted Chicago accent” and “inner city Chicago”. McCain comes in third with 19% of the voters  reporting that he sounds “southern” and that his accent is “more distracting”

According to this survey over 80% feel that accents definitely affect image. The comments imply that this can be good or bad for one’s image. If you have an accent that is in vogue at the time, then you may benefit. Certain regional accent such as a Bronx accents was deemed as “low class” while the southerners could be classified with such diverse comments as “friendly”,” open”, “slow” and “lazy”.

Foreign accents forced you according to the comments, to carry the entire image of your country with you, or at least the listener’s best guess as to which country you are from.
Some felt that foreign accents were interesting and gave them clout for being better traveled. Some respondents felt that if you were clear and could communicate well a slight accent made no difference. One commenter felt that “uniformity in presentation will cross hurdles of being pre-judged.”

In the end we are constantly making judgments about others, though it now is considered in poor taste to pre-judge someone on their appearance or speech, the truth is judging people by outward signs has historically been a way to keep ourselves safe. Obviously you want to keep an open mind, but instinctively we judge.

Lynn founder of Accent Master

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What is the Most Common Vowel in English?

The Schwa. This tiny, reduced vowel is most commonly heard in English. And guess what, there is no written symbol for it in the English alphabet. It can be represented by any vowel.

Look at these three words
cabbage.......cotton........sentence

In these 2 syllable words the same vowel is used twice. However, the pronunciation of each vowel is quite different.

That is because one syllable is stressed and one is not. The vowel that is in the stressed syllable receives its "full" pronunciation. It is longer and louder then the vowel in the unstressed syllable. In fact the vowel from the unstressed syllable is reduced to the schwa sound.

So in those examples the schwa sound is represented by an a, o, and an e.

Listen to the podcast as I read the following list of words see if you can hear the schwa.

atlas
palace
illness
purpose
minute
canoe
machine
offend
contains
suggest
support.

This is one of the reasons why spelling in English is so tough. It is hard to know what letter the schwa sound is being represented by. Also as a note it is perfectly acceptable and in fact  standard to reduce the vowel in the unstressed syllable to the schwa. It is not considered sloppy and will make you more intelligible to the native English listener.

Accent Master's software has a great interactive section to help you learn this important aspect of accent reduction. 

Lynn founder of Accent Master

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Don't slow down, just pause!


How many times have you heard the advice "slow down". It is said in a helpful tone, or an impatient tone and sometimes in a condescending tone. No matter what the tone it is still relatively unhelpful. Slowing down by itself will do nothing for you. People do not want to hear Hi.....my.......name......is.......Jared. Speaking one word at a time drives the listener crazy, reduces your intonation, and completely rids your sentence of any emotion.

Better advice is to use pauses between thoughts. Pausing helps on two levels. It gives your listener a chance to "catch up" to what you are saying, and it gives you a chance to begin a new intonation curve.

Pause wherever there would be a period or a comma. The more complex your subject and the less familiar the listener is with you or with the content matter, the more pausing you want to do. You will pause more of less depending on the speaking situation, your personality, and audience.

You will sometimes hear people referred to comedians as having "good timing", this means that they pause just the right amount of time to hook the audience into the joke. For your needs you want to consider how to use pausing in a way that is the most helpful to your audience's comprehension.

Pausing is not the same as hesitating and will in fact reflect confidence on your part. People who are rushed or mumbled tend to give a subtle undertone of insecurity. Those that make sure they are understood come across as confident and able.

For practice take a look at a written paragraph. Make a slash where there are commas or periods, then look at the paragraph again. Where else would be a natural place for a pause? Connecting words like, and, but, however or often used to connect two ideas and maybe a good place to pause.

So don't just slow down, think in word groups, chunking, or pausing to give your speech a natural flow while allowing your listening audience a chance to keep pace or ask for clarification if needed.

Lynn founder of Accent Master

Monday, June 9, 2008

5 Bad Habits to Shake, When You Want to Improve Your English Pronunciation

1. Mumbling: People will mumble when they are unsure either about the word they are using or how to pronounce the word. So they say it too quietly or quickly or without moving their mouth a lot. This contributes to your listener's challenge in hearing and understanding what you are saying. In the the end the strategy does not work because you will either be dismissed, misunderstood or forced to say it again.

2.Not Pausing: This is sometimes a nervous habit, like mumbling or a language flow difference. In either case, incorporating pauses into your verbal communication will increase others ability to understand you dramatically.

3.Not engaging native English speakers in conversation: Okay it is intimidating, however it is necessary. Ask for information, especially when you don't need it! This will take the nervousness out of your listening. For example you know where your bank is, but ask someone anyway. You know where the towels are located in the store but ask a sales assistant for additional practice

4. Not Reading!! Read anything you can in English. It is the best way to build vocabulary and strengthen you grammar skills. Reading aloud gets you the bonus of working on pronunciation.

5. Not Watching movies in English: Your tired and you want to relax. Try using the subtitles while listening to the movie in English. You will be exposed to the rhythm and flow of American English.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Stress in Special Situations

In this post we will look at stress in some special circumstances such as in compound nouns and in abbreviations. This post will go along with the podcast I posted on the right side bar. It is called Stress in Special Circumstances.

Compound Nouns; always stress the first word in the compound noun. Say the following words stressing the first word, and then create sentences for each one.


Workplace........boardroom.............mailroom

Workshop.........textbook..............downsize

Showroom.........business trip.........overtime

Team leader......outcome................chairman

Network..........paycheck...............timeline

Copy machine.... fiscal year............small talk

Wholesale........weekday................parking lot

Full-time........workday................carpool

Sick leave.......executive board........salesman

Time clock.......high-tech..............office supplies

Bar graph........timesheet..............sick days


Abbreviations: Stress generally falls on the last letter.
Acronyms: Pronounce as one word

LLC................ DBA
ATM................ MBO
IRA................ SEP (acronym)
CD................ PER
IRS................ FRB
FDIC................ NYAW
SEC................ TIN
EIN................ PIN (acronym)
EPS................ ROI
EBIT (acronym................) EVA
IT................ IPO


Sentences
:

2. Is the program on ABC or HBO?
3. He received his B.A and M.S from UCLA.
4. RSVP to the party and remember it’s BYOB
5. The conference was filled with RN’s and LPN’s.
6. The CEO and CFO are on the Executive Board of that organization.
7. Please reply to the memo from HR ASAP
8. The VIPs waited in the greenroom before their appearance on NBC.
9. Insert the CD in your PC or laptop.

Numbers: When counting stress the first syllable in ‘teen’ numbers and the second number above 20.
When stating numbers for time, money or amounts then you stress the last part of the teen numbers.
When referring to the ‘ten’ numbers like twenty or thirty stress the first syllable, when stressing numbers other than the ‘round’ numbers stress the last part like 1:54.

Sentences
1. The train going to Boston leaves at 10:22.
2. He will arrive at 2:30.
3. I scheduled your meeting for 11:15.
4. The reservations are for 7:30.
5. He lives at 25 217th street.
6. The zip code is 11361
7. Is there fourteen or fifteen people in the group?
8. He called 15 times this morning!
9. I always shop on 5th avenue.
10. I have twenty more minutes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Improve your American English Pronunciation Today!

What will you do today that will move you closer to speaking English like a native? Read this article? Listen to the podcast? These are great beginnings but you and I both know you need to "step it up a notch" (Try a little harder) to start pronouncing English like a native.

Even if all you have is the lessons from this blog, it is a good place to start. For starters you can go back over this post and read it aloud. Reading aloud gives you more practice in verbalizing English, and takes away the burden of needing to create sentences and recall vocabulary at the same time, as you need to do in conversations.

Another thing is to make a schematic. Write down or print out a paragraph, hopefully something related to what you may talk about in your regular day. Then you take a pen or a pencil and mark up the paragraph.

For example circle the /r/'s, place a stress marker over the stressed syllables and underline the voiced consonants. Mark anything else that is challenging for you. Use different colored pens if it helps.

Now read the paragraph aloud. This is dedicated practice and will help you as you incorporate new pronunciation skills into your speech. It is best to record yourself reading aloud if you have that capability on your computer. If you `can record I suggest that you first record yourself reading the paragraph without the marks and then again after. You will be surprised to see the marked difference in the flow and intelligibility of your speech.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Don't stress over word stress!


Word stress in English can be challenging. This is because American English incorporates words from many language backgrounds including, Indian both American Indian and from India, french, Latin, German, polish and every other language. As immigrants continue to influence our language we and they as new American create there own twist to these words, most frequently changing the stress pattern.

It is also true that we don't stick to one pattern, as in French where stress nearly always falls on the final syllable. And we don't mark the stress in our writing like in Spanish.

We do however have clues in our writing to the stress pattern. Specific word endings denote a specific stress pattern. Of course because we are talking about American English there is always to be exceptions to the rule.

One easy rule to remember is that when a word ends in -tion or -sion as in description and confusion, the stress will fall on the syllable right before the ending: description, confusion.

We stress the syllable by making it longer, louder and with a change in the tone.
I have created a podcast and posted it on the right, of the following words. Listen for the stressed syllable.

pediatrician, discussion, obligation, explanation, creation, application, section, relation, fusion, conversation, musician, observation, ration, attention, presentation, obsession, realization.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Use your American accent!

Okay, so you have gathered some information about how to tackle the American English pronunciation of words. You have mastered a few sounds in private, and are beginning to recognize which syllable needs to be stressed. Yet you still feel awkward or embarrassed to attempt to "talk like an American". Maybe you even worry that native Americans will think you are making fun of them when you attempt to put on the American accent.

What I will suggest to you, is that you try incorporating one of the features you have learned into something you say everyday. Something that you don't need to think about such as "have a nice day", or if your answer phones " Hi this is....how can I help you?".

If you feel that you just forget to do this in your busy day, use a reminder. Switch you watch to your other hand, put a post-it on your computer, move your water bottle to the other side of your desk.

Try not to feel self-conscious, keep in mind that it is human nature for people to be so wrapped up in their own lives that your pronunciation is not on their mind, unless of course your pronunciation makes the conversation difficult to understand and therefore more work for them. What may sound like an exaggeration to you will merely sound like good pronunciation to most of your listeners!

Intellectual knowledge is a good thing, applying what you know to your life is even better. For example knowing to eat healthy does not help, actually eating healthy does. It is the action you take with the information you have that will make the difference.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Trying to master the American r!


Many people find the American r to be one of the trickiest of sounds to master. The two most common issues are trilling or substituting a /w/ for the r. A trill is when you tap the tip of the tongue onto the bumpy ridge behind the teeth (called the alveolar ridge). The /w/ sound is created when the lips are slightly rounded and the tongue remains on the bottom of the mouth.

In either case there needs to be a change in the use of the muscle of the tongue. To facilitate this change we need to begin with some oral-motor exercises. This will help your tongue, which is a muscle, train for a whole new position. The new position is with the tongue retro flexed (or curled back) so the tongue tip is up off the bottom of the mouth and slightly curled toward the back of the mouth. So if you looked in a mirror you would see the bottom of your tongue.

Now the /r/ is what we call a semi-vowel, it is called this because the /r/ is used in writing as a consonant, but it is produced as a vowel. Vowels are produced by shaping only. Meaning that there is no obstruction or stopping of the air flow. The tongue will make no contact with any of the other parts of the mouth.

The /r/ is influenced and influences the vowels that are near it. So what will happen is that when /r/ is followed by an /I/ sound for example, then you will begin to produce the /I/ sound while the tongue is still retro flexed or curled back. Causing what is known as r-coloring of the vowel. This happens because the /r/ is a difficult position to get in and out of, so the two sounds end up interacting.

This is a tricky sound because in a mirror all you will really be able to see is the bottom of your tongue, and because for most ELL's it means re-training the tongue muscles.

Listen to the podcast for some quick exercises and practice. Just click on listen to this episode on the right of this post

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

One thing to do today to improve your English Pronunciation

The first thing we need to remember is to stay focused on the moment. Instead of thinking of how hard it will be to change our speech pattern forever just focus on the immediate change and how to incorporate it into your speech. There is a saying, by the yard it is hard, but inch by inch it's a cinch. The one thing you can do today is to think about your final voiced consonants. What is this? Many words are made of consonants-vowels-consonants or CVC such as hat, big, hit, cab. All of those words follow a C-V-C pattern. In English unlike many other languages we use voiced consonants at the end of words. Look at these sounds. The first column is voiceless sounds, the second column are sounds that are produced in the same place and manner but are voiced.

Voiceless ---------- Voiced
/p/ ------------------------- /b/
/t/ -------------------------- /d/
/s/ --------------------------- /z/
/k/--------------------------- /g/
/f/-------------------------- /v/
/θ/------------------------- /ð/

Devoicing of final consonants is a common feature of non-native speakers of English. On way to help them correct for this is to have them hold the vowel before the voiced consonant for 2 beats. Minimal pair contrasts.

Voiced endings ---------------------- Voiceless endings

Bead ------------------------ beat
robe ------------------------ rope
bathe ----------------------- bath
bag ------------------------- back
have ----------------------- half
Heed ------------------------ heat
tub ------------------------- taupe
breathe---------------------- breath
tag-------------------------- tack
save ------------------------ safe
Bid ------------------------- bit
nab ------------------------- nap
clothe ---------------------- cloth

So when you see a word that ends in a voiced consonant make the word longer.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Can I really lose my accent?


The phrases that we use to describe learning an American English accent are misleading. We don't really need to "lose" our accents. What the goal is, is to learn an new way of pronouncing words, so that when we want to we can sound American.

Building on the sound system from your first language you can build up an American sound system. This may seem similar, lose you accent or gain an accent. Many will tell you that it is just a matter of semantics (a new way of saying the same old thing). But that is inaccurate. When we say we will lose our accents it reinforces cultural and psychological blocks to learning pronunciation. Our speech either subconsciously or consciously is deeply a part of who we are. To say that we will "lose" our accent is incorrect and slightly insulting.

In the end you would still like the answer, whether or not you are losing or gaining. If the question really is "can I sound American?", then the answer is yes. Of course you can.

It does take practice because it is not just an intellectual feat, but a physical one as well. You need to first grasp the information, what it takes to execute the sounds and features of spoken American English, then you must get comfortable with the changes physically.

Lets compare it to learning golf or tennis. The instructor must help you conceptualize how to execute the stroke, then you have to practice what you learned. Teach your muscles the new movement. When you first try the new stroke, it may feel awkward, you need to think about each movement necessary to execute the new stroke, the results might not be as good as with your old stroke. However with practice the new stroke becomes more natural and you find the new way is easier, and more effective.

This is similar to speech because speech takes the coordination of thought and muscles to execute. Luckily though practice comes easily because we all talk everyday! And I promise no sore muscles as with learning a sport!

Friday, April 25, 2008

5 ways to improve your intelligability in English

This short list of ways to improve your spoken English intelligibility can be implemented right now. Every time you speak English is a new opportunity to practice speaking with your American accent!

1. Don't speak slowly. No I don't mean rush through all you need to say, what I mean is don't......say.......one.......word.......at ......a.....time. you will drive the listener to distraction. What you want to do.....is to chunk your words......into thought groups.....pausing between each......group of words. This will give your speech more flow and allows your listeners to keep up with you. Pause longer if you feel that your pronunciation is very difficult to understand.

2. Do not leave off word endings. Even if this slows down your rate or interrupts your flow. Americans are very into time lines. We need to know when things happened and those word ending tell us exactly that. Inflectional endings are packed with linguistic information!

3. Move your mouth more. There is a tendency when you feel unsure of your pronunciation to mumble or "swallow" your words. Move your mouth, notice how Americans open their mouths wide when they say certain vowel sounds, and stick their tongues out of their mouth for th. Don't be afraid to try to be clear. If what your doing doesn't feel any different then you are not doing anything any differently!

4. Make fun of American speech patterns. What I mean here, is speak in your native language as if you were imitating an American. The intonation and stress pattern is most likely pretty close to that of an American. So go ahead put on your best American accent, you are probably correct.

5. Use what you know. No matter how much or how little information you have on English pronunciation it is time to put it into use. The trick is that you cannot think about every word you are going to say while trying to focus on a conversation. At first try incorporating it in rote sentences such as "how are you?" or "one coffee, milk and sugar please".

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What is an accent?


An accent is carrying over of the first phonemic system and discourse rhythm into English. Now the goal is to understand the American English phonetic system and discourse features.

However it is more then just a mental exercises it is a physical one as well. Once you have been able to identify the differences you need to be able to incorporate the new system into your English speech. On the sound level you should be able to feel and hear the difference between the American pronunciation and your execution of the sound.

English has 52 sounds, luckily only about half of this number is going to accent any first language. Now how the sounds will affect the persons production and the sounds that will be affected is determined by their first phonemic system. To even an untrained ear, there are distinct differences between a person with a Russian accent and that of a Spanish accent. That difference reflects the phonemic system the speaker is carrying over into their spoken English.

Stay focused on only the sounds of English that are troublesome, don't learn the production of all 52 sounds if only 20 are impacting your speech. Get the information on what changes need to be made in order to approximate the English production of the sound. For instance the Russian speaker will produce /v/ as /w/, while Spanish speaker will produce /v/ a /b/, while many Asian speakers do not find the /v/ to be challenging at all. In the case of Russian speaker and Spanish speaker they will need differing ideas for the American production of /v/, and the Asian speaker should not be wasting time with this sound at all.

Of course on the conversational level, or the discourse features the same will apply. One quick tip is to imitate an American speaking in your native language. The rhythm you use will most likely be quite close to what American English speakers are actually doing. This is why when you walk past two people speaking, even if you can't make out the words, you may be able to guess what language they are using. It is their intonation, rhythm and word stress that gives them away!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Learning styles


Teaching others how to be accent trainers provides me with a great opportunity to reflect on each client I have worked with. The experience that I have gained is of great value. Each client has displayed their own unique characteristics making each class interesting. There are different learning styles and each approach needs to be tweaked in order to best reach the client.

I think most can fit into three major categories.

1. Passive learners

These clients generally feel that the instructors job is to pass on the information and their job is absorb the information. This is fantastic for instructional times, as when I am teaching a new concept and the features of that concept. They absorb the lesson and really hear what I am saying.

The downside of course is in application of the concept taught. It is the goal of each of my classes to make sure that the client understands the concept AND can apply it to their speech. This is application step is of great importance, as I will want them to practice during the week between classes and I want to be sure they are practicing correctly.

It is important to help this client feel comfortable speaking up in the session. I give highly structured practice so they will feel "safe" answering each question. I use mock-up schedules, situational paragraphs followed by questions. They are asked to answer the questions using the new concept they have learned. I save any critical feedback until the end of their speaking turn, making sure to give enough positive feedback to let them know that I do hear their improvements as well as their errors.

2. Free-wheeling

These clients are enthusiastic. They like to talk and know exactly what they would like to work on. The advantage to this client is that you never have to worry about material or providing motivation. The challenge is to get them to sit through a full lesson or helping them create a good foundation of discourse skills.

I use mainly their materials that are related to their everyday conversational situation. I also explain why they need to complete each step that leads up to the conversational level. Knowing why they are working on different areas other then the one they have identified as their challenge can be very helpful. For example if they are concerned about leaving of word endings, I will work on word and sentence stress to help them adjust their timing, reducing the need to drop word endings to save time in a sentence. When they are able to make this connection between the two goals their focus increases.

3. I don't want to be here!

Some clients don't want to be in class. They have a lot going on in their lives, or their company simply forced them into a class. For these clients motivation is the name of the game. Helping them add value to speaking standard American speech is the first order of business. Plenty of non-critical feedback and opportunities for them to recognize their own improvement can keep these clients on track.

I schedule much time in for them to practice during class time, because chances are they will not have the time outside of class. It does mean that less concepts or sounds will be covered in one course but it reduces both their frustration and mine when I don't assign work that they can't or won't get to before the next class.

There are many things that need to be assessed before a course can begin, but learning style needs to be taken into consideration if you want to see success. That is why there is no set curriculum for a course load. You must assess the individual their goal (to be more intelligible or to be linguistically invisible) what their objectives are ( linking, word stress, phonemes?) and how best to approach the instruction to be delivered.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The importance of rhythm

What is the most important aspect to speaking clear English? The individual sounds? or the rhythm? I think the answer depends on how intelligible you are when you begin. Some people have a natural talent for languages, similar to that of music. In fact people who are musical do tend to have an easier time with second language acquisition. It may be that they are tuned into rhythm and aural nuances.

Though I wold have to say, that in my experience it is really the features of English that affect rhythm that has the greater impact. What features are these?

It is intonation, alternation between stressed and unstressed syllables, pausing, word stress and vowel reduction.

These features of spoken English affect the listeners ability to understand your message both the implied meaning and the spoken meaning. The other advantage is that when you use a standard rhythm, with standard reduction there is less chance of dropping information loaded word endings.

In my future posts we will take a closer look at each feature I mentioned and how to incorporate them into your speech.

If you would like to see some videos related to these topics visit my site

Thanks for reading!
Lynn

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Accent reduction?


To begin, I would like to address the whole controversy about accent reduction. I believe that everyone does indeed have an accent. That the term accent reduction is incorrect. I only use the term accent reduction because it is now a cultural reference to the more accurate term of American English pronunciation, or learning an American accent.

Recent studies have found that 97% of those surveyed would prefer to speak English like a native. I am sure that if I were to move to a foreign country, and was looking to compete in their marketplace, I too would want to speak the language of the country to the best of my ability.

I began Accent Master hoping to help those who are looking to do just this. We grew from marketing our line of software programs that are customized to specific language's to that plus offering a whole array of services. We offer classes to individuals, that are 1:1, meaning that the student has private class. We are able to serve the global community thanks to the internet. The clients take their class from their home or office and work live with an instructor. This always works out so well. You end up with the same dynamics as an in-person class, without the hassle of going back out in the evening or right after work. It is also ideal for those that travel a lot. I have a client who takes his weekly class from a different city nearly every week!
For those that don't want to shell out the money for the intensive time with an instructor their are several choices. The most intensive is to take the class with a couple of friends. This holds down costs, and again thanks to technology you don't even need to have all the friends in the same room, city or even country! You just have to pick a time that works with everyone.
Next we offer guided self study. This option is affordable and effective. You get a full evaluation and report outlining your strengths and weaknesses, a study guide, pre-recorded video lessons and audio recordings.
Another option is our presentation program. This is a minimum of 3 meetings, where you provide the material that you will be presenting and the instructor goes through pronunciation and delivery.
These options don't even include our customized programs or our corporate programs. Accent Master has really grown and now offer options for everyone. We even have free video lessons on our site! So come and see what we are about. www.AccentMaster.com