Saturday, December 9, 10:00 am PST
Join Christine for a Live Q & A on American English vowels. You'll get an overview of the American English vowel sound system, resources for listening and speaking practice for vowels, pronunciation training on a common vowel error pattern, and a chance to ask your questions about American English Vowel sounds.
Class will be broadcast live on YouTube, Saturday, December 9 at 10:00 am PST. To receive a direct link to join, subscribe to our YouTube channel.
Join Christine for a free American Accent Training class. We will learn what comprises an accent, have a pronunciation lesson, and learn some basics of American intonation. Come with your questions!
Saturday, November 25th, 11:00 am. Issaquah Library Meeting Room, 10 West Sunset Way, Issaquah, WA 98027 map
I spoke American English as my first language, but I have an accent. Being an American Accent coach and Speech-Language Pathologist, I have mostly eliminated elements of my accent that would identify me as coming from a particular region of the US so that I can speak and model a neutral American English style for my clients, but my accent is still a blend of Midwestern regional English and Pacific Northwest.
Everyone speaks with an accent, even in their native language. But when we talk about “having an accent,” we usually mean that we speak differently from those around us, and it may be interfering with how we are understood or how we are perceived by others.
What makes an accent? Here’s the basics of why we have an accent in our second and third languages. Unless we spoke a language from early childhood, we will have differences in pronunciation and intonation in the language. This is because our language and speech patterns in the brain are shaped by the first language we hear and speak. Babies as young as a few months old already begin to respond differently to the sounds and patterns of their native language, because the pathways forming in their brains are continually refining and strengthening to prepare them for the complex systems required for speech and language. When we first begin to speak as small children, we are inaccurate with some of the speech sounds, and we refine and correct with input from the speakers around us.
By the time we have developed our language skills for all communication functions, we have a complex sound map in our brains based on the phonemes of our native language. This sound system then acts as a filter on what we hear, allowing us to comprehend the speech of others despite variability in speech. But when we learn additional languages, this filter also negatively affects our ability to hear differences in the new language. Our brain tries to apply our sound map onto to the new language, and where the sounds don’t line up, we mis-hear and mis-pronounce the sounds.
For example, many language have the /i/ phoneme. In English, this is the vowel sound in the words we, eat and need. English has another phoneme that is very similar to /i/, which is the /ɪ/ sound in the words it, him and give. Many other languages do not have this /ɪ/ phoneme, and because it is close to the /i/ phoneme, it will be heard as /i/. This means that if when you speak English, you might say /i/ in words that should have /ɪ/. But you won’t hear a difference between what you are saying and what a native speaker is saying. When you say “I live in Seattle” it sounds correct to you, but to an American it sounds more like you said “I leave in Seattle.”
In addition to sound differences like the /i/ and /ɪ/ vowels, we can have accent error patterns on sounds that are the same in both languages. The reason this occurs is that if we have a sound in our native language, but we don’t use that sound in all word positions, we will only use it correctly in some places in words when we speak English. Let’s use the /g/ sound as an example. Most people say this sound correctly in words like go, give, and get. They have the /g/ sound in their native language, and they can say it in English with no problem. But in words like big, dog and bag, they make an error on this sound. To an American listener, it sounds like they are saying bick, dock and back. Their /g/ sounds more like /k/. Why does this happen? Because although they have a /g/ in their native language, in only occurs in the beginning and middle of words, not at the end. So they use a similar sound which does occur on the ends of words in their language, /k/. Again, you may not hear this in your own speech, but your American listeners will hear it and perceive it as accented speech.
Of course accents are more complex than just single sounds, but understanding the relationship between the sound system in your native language and the sound system in American English will go a long way to understanding your accent.
For more information about the accent patterns you can expect in your speech based on your native language, download one of our free Accent Overviews. Or, get a free trial to our online courses, which include accent patterns for all languages.
There's never been a better time to take action on improving your American Accent! For a limited time, get access to our full professional courses for less than $2. You'll get clear, step-by-step instructions on improving your personal and professional communication to make your accent a positive part of how you present yourself. Get started today! All courses have a free trial and no obligation.
Did you see the solar eclipse today? Here's help pronouncing the word "eclipse."
Do people often ask you to repeat yourself? Do you sometimes notice a look of confusion on your listener's face, but they don't tell you that they haven't understood you? These can be frustrating situations as a speaker. One of the biggest advantages of the S.M.A.R.T. method of American Accent training is giving you the knowledge you need to understand why the communication breakdown happened. Not only does the training help reduced these embarrassing and frustrating encounters, but also when they do happen, you'll know what went wrong and how to clarify what you've said.
Our new video series is all about the words that are frequently misunderstood or mispronounced, and how to correct them. You can check it out here.
Like this video? Why not get a free trial of our online courses? Sign up today.
Check out our "Real Talk" series: compare spoken and written English to improve your natural, fluent American Accent. Check out the full playlist here: Real Talk Series
What do you call your mother? Here's what you might hear in the US:
Are you a native Spanish speaker? Because your first language is Spanish, you are likely to have certain accent patterns when speaking English. Our new online course, SMART American Accent Training for Spanish Speakers, will walk you through all of the accent patterns in your speech to help you understand and improve your American Accent. Get your free trial today!
If you speak with an accent in English, you may notice that some people tend to understand you better than others. It's intuitive that those with more experience with accents would be better at understanding them, but researchers Janet van Hell (Penn State) and Sarah Grey (Fordham University) looked into how the brain responds differently to errors in speech when the speaker has a foreign accent versus native speakers. Their results showed that inexperienced listeners actually performed similarly in their ability to identify errors overall in American accented vs Chinese-English accented speech, but that there was a measurable difference in comprehension of grammatical errors depending on whether the listener was able to identify the type of accent they heard or not. Those who correctly identified the speaker as having a Chinese-English accent were better able to identify grammatical errors than those who were unable to specify the accent they heard.
What does this mean for non-native speakers of English? One could interpret this information as further motivation to work towards improving their American accent to deal with these difficulties. In addition, it might be advisable to try to remain patient with inexperienced listeners and recognize that with time and exposure to accented speech, they will improve in their ability to overcome these limitations on their comprehension.
Penn State. (2017, April 20). Recognizing foreign accents helps brains process accented speech. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 27, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170420141739.htm
Americans use indirect language in some social and business situations. We will be expanding on this topic as part of our soft skills video series, to help you understand what Americans mean when they use indirect language. This video is part of a talk by Harvard Linguist Stephen Pinker, animated by RSA.org.
It's commonly advised "don't mix business with pleasure," which generally means it's not a good idea to date a co-worker. But there are a few words we use for business that also go along with the theme of love. For example, a proposal can be an offer of marriage or a business proposition presented for others to consider. Engagement can mean customers connecting and interacting with a product or website, or the period of time before a marriage takes place where the couple has agreed to marry.
Here's some help pronouncing these two business and love words.
Do you have a goal you are currently working on? My current personal goal is to sing a solo with my choir. Working as an American Accent coach, I've learned a lot about setting goals and what makes people achieve them or abandon them. It often comes down to a few simple things.
1) Set a small, achievable goal. Maybe you want to be the CEO of a major corporation. Maybe you want to be indistinguishable from a native English speaker. Maybe you want to be as thin as a model. These are fine goals, but they require a great deal of time and and effort. Focus first on the steps you need to reach this end goal - getting a promotion to team leader, changing one accent pattern in your speech, or losing 2 pounds.
By setting a small goal, you greatly increase your chances of achieving it, and staying on the path to your bigger goal.
My first step to singing a solo is to audition for one. I may not get it this time, but I will be happy if I have the courage to try out.
2) Make it a habit. We humans are creatures of habit, and sometimes we have a hard time changing. Instead of fighting this about yourself, use it to your advantage. Take your small goal and develop a new habit that will help you progress towards the goal. Find a way to fold it into your routine and you will be much more likely to do it. For working on your accent, this could be something as simple as listening to your practice words for the first five minutes of your daily commute, or reading aloud for the first page of your usual reading in bed routine.
To reach my goal of auditioning for a solo with my choir, I am listening to recordings of my rehearsals when I go out for a walk. If I don't have time to practice, I can listen and work on the music as part of my already-established routine.
3) Take advantage of low-tech and high-tech tools. Keeping your goal fresh in your mind is essential to achieving it. It's easy to let time go by without working towards our goal. Use a variety of reminders to stay on track. Put your practice time in your calendar. Even if you don't do it at that exact time, you'll be reminded that you want to work on it. Set an alert or an alarm on your phone. Put a sticky note on your computer, or phone, or tv that has your goal on it. Be creative, the important thing is to use what works for you.
I put my choir folder near the entrance to my office so I see it as I walk into work. This reminds me to look at my schedule and find a time to practice. I also set a reminder on my phone and I leave it on my pop-up screen until I have completed it.
4) Tell people your goal. If you know that other people know what you hope to achieve, you may feel more pressure to actually do it. Post your goal and your progress on your social media. Tell your friends or colleagues what you are trying to do, and enlist them for reminders and feedback. A little bit of social pressure can be motivating, and having support for your successes can inspire you to continue to work hard.
I will tell my friends in my choir about my goal so when it comes time to audition, I will know that they are expecting me to take part. I will tell me daughter that I have this goal and she will encourage me, and ask me if I have done it yet.
These are all small things, but put together they will be effective in helping you to make real progress towards achieving your goal.
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You're talking to your colleague, boss, or team member at work, and you notice that they don't seem to get what you're saying. It might be your accent, but more times than not it is the way you are communicating. Navigating the maze of professional and social communication interactions can be confusing for the non-native English speaker, and even just for those whose strengths lie more in their technical expertise than their people skills. Here are five common mistakes you can fix to improve your success in communication.
NUMBER ONE: EASE IN
For most interactions, it's not best practice to start the interaction with the main purpose. Rather than telling someone to do something directly, for example, make sure you start with a greeting, compliment, or social question. Your colleague or team member will be more willing and ready to complete the task you are asking them to do if you've had a social exchange first. Even a short hello will smooth the way for your listener to engage with you.
Example: You need your team member to give you some completed work.
The Error: "Get me the numbers for last quarter."
The Fix: "Hi Jim, do you have last quarter's numbers ready for me?"
NUMBER TWO: GET TO THE POINT
While it’s good to ease in, you also need to be cautious to not take up too much time. If your communication partner wants to have a longer conversation, great, but if you are the only one talking and you could share the same information in one sentence rather than 5, keep it simple. People are busy and don’t want to feel trapped having to politely listen while you lecture. Watch for body language cues (lack of eye contact, crossing arms or turning away) that show your listener would rather move on.
Example: You want to tell someone about something you learned.
The Error: "Susan, I found a great website. I was looking for an analysis tool for our analytics team to use in conjunction with the current tools and so first I . . . " (ten minutes later, still talking about details of this topic)
The Fix: "Hi Susan, how are you? Can I tell you about a website I found that I think you'll find useful? It's an analysis tool - I can send you the link and if you'd like to talk about it more, we could meet for coffee and look at it together."
NUMBER THREE: WATCH YOUR RATE
In some cultures (including some American subcultures), a fast speaking rate is associated with intelligence. People will speak very quickly and with very few pauses in order to seem knowledgeable or show their expertise on a topic. While a fast rate is not necessarily a problem, if you have speech that is more difficult to understand due to your accent, your word choice or another reason, speaking too quickly can compound the issue. In addition, a lack of pauses can make it difficult for your listener to process all of the information, ask questions or comment and participate in the conversation.
Example: You want to teach your team member a better way to do something.
The Error: "You need to use a different browser because the one you're using doesn't load as quickly and tends to crash for websites that use Flash, which is a headache by the way because it always needs to update and most people don't keep their updates current for their PC's . . . (continues without pausing)"
The Fix: "Hey Amir, I see you're using Safari. Is that your default browser?" pause and wait for response, continue. "Can I show you a better option?"
NUMBER FOUR: WHAT IS YOUR BODY LANGUAGE SAYING?
Different cultures use different body language to show interest, respect, or give feedback cues. You may be sending a different message than you intend to depending on your body language, or you may be revealing your true attitude when you'd rather keep it to yourself. Understanding body language is key to appropriate interactions, both as the speaker and the listener.
Read More About Body Language Here
NUMBER FIVE: USE REPAIR STRATEGIES
Even the best communicators can have misunderstandings occur. Sometimes, your listener simply wasn't paying attention and missed what you said. Maybe you used a word or expression they didn't know, or maybe they didn't know what topic you were on and the missed some key information. Whatever the reason, knowing how to identify and repair communication breakdowns is an important skill for any good communicator. Watch for cues that your listener didn't get it (facial expression, body language, off-topic or incorrect response). Don't simply repeat yourself, try re-phrasing, asking a clarifying question, or asking your listener to tell you paraphrase what you've said to make sure the message was clear.
Example: You want someone to call you back on your mobile phone.
The Error: "Call me back on my mobile, you have that number right?" (no response, or confused response)
The Fix: "Oh, I think I wasn't clear. Can I give you my cell phone number to call me back? Can you tell me the number to make sure we have the correct information?"
Being proactive as a communicator and looking for ways to be culturally and socially appropriate in your business and social interactions will make you more successful in getting what you need with your colleagues, team member and employers. Good communication opens doors in your career and improves your professional social life. Rather than feeling frustrated by your interactions, take a look at what you can do on your end to improve your communication skills.
Happy New Year! Here's a quick practice idea to work on present and past tense verbs. Notice the ng sound at the ends of the present tense verbs (be sure to use ng, not n or ngk). Noticed the final t and final d consonant clusters on the past tense verbs. Try these phrases, using the recording to listen for the patterns:
This year, I plan on walking a lot. Last year, I walked a lot.
This year, I plan on cooking at home. Last year, I cooked at home.
This year, I plan on working more efficiently. Last year, I worked too much.
This year, I plan on traveling. Last year, I traveled a little bit.
This year, I plan on exercising regularly. Last year, I exercised a lot.
This year, I plan on talking to my family. Last year, I talked to them often.
Now make up your own phrases with present and past tense.
Like this exercise? Get more generalization practice tips with our S.M.A.R.T. Video Course.
In addition to working on improving your American Accent, you may want to work on other English language skills such as grammar, vocabulary building, listening skills and fluency. Here are some resources we recommend for English-Language learners:
Grammar topics (types of speech, verb tenses, free weekly lessons) http://www.englishpage.com/
English grammar lessons sorted by ability level: http://www.learn-english-online.org/
(This website is based in the UK, so some of the content will be different because they focus on British English.)
VOA: Leveled news articles with additional information for English learners: http://learningenglish.voanews.com/
Also from VOW: Let's Learn English is a new course for English learners. Certified American English teachers designed the course for beginners. The course continues for 52 weeks.
Each week, there will be a new lesson with video showing the lives of young Americans. The lesson includes instruction in speaking, vocabulary and writing.
There are also printable worksheets, assessments and lesson plans for individual learners and English teachers.
Podcast with a variety of topics for advanced level English learners (idioms, grammar, word choice, etc,):
Vocabulary Building: http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/vocabmania.htm
Fluency: Read more about ways to build fluency in this post.
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