Today is the Chinese Lunar New, so I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the Top 3 most important Accent Reduction ProTips for native Chinese speakers of North American English.
There are more international students from China than any other country. Last year 275,000 Chinese students studied at U.S. Universities, up 17% from 2013. This growth in the number of international students reflects the growth of China’s international economy and the growing desire of its society to further its education and career opportunities abroad. As a result, there is an influx of native Chinese speakers entering the U.S. job market. Typically my Chinese clients have studied English for several years and understand grammar, writing and have a strong vocabulary. However, despite their strengths and desire to advance professionally, nearly all of my clients learned English from a native Chinese speaker. When this is the circumstance, communicating clearly and being understood the first time can still be a challenge because at the onset of their English studies they learn habits of speech that are more like speaking Chinese than speaking English.
The #1 ProTip I work on with my Chinese clients is to first help them hear music of English and contrast it with the music of their native Chinese dialect. If being understood is the goal, then the rhythm, flow and intonation of spoken English is just as important as the structure and vocabulary. The musical patterns of English are much different than the musical pattern of Chinese. In Chinese there are no dramatic fluctuations syllable and word stress. The musical pattern is more consistently one note of equal vocal strength. Spoken English is more like a melody in a song with some notes held longer or shorter, sung louder or quieter and with a wide variety of pitches and notes. Many of my clients are thrilled to discover that I fully support using karaoke as method for improving pronunciation. When you work with a speech coach to reduce your accent, you move far beyond typical grammar and vocabulary exercises. We learn the music of spoken English.
The #2 ProTip is to stretch and move your mouth. The ears and the mouth create speaking habits, not the eyes. So once my clients’ ears can hear the music it is time to move the mouth. Without even generating sound, Chinese English language students can start by stretching their mouths open and moving their lips into positions that will feel uncomfortable. This is where doing a Mick Jagger impersonation comes into play. Move your lips and shake your hips. Now all of a sudden this exercise feels cool especially when combined with strutting around. Learning to pronounce English takes the whole body. Once the mouth is moving, the typical pronunciation issues we address are related to three sounds:
- Articulating the difference between the e in wed and the a in add by opening the mouth more.
- Hearing the difference between eat and it pulling the lips back like when you’re smiling.
- Saying the “TH” sounds differently between think and this or bath and bathe by putting the tip of the tongue between the front teeth while activating and deactivating the voice.
The third sound, the voiceless and voiced “TH”, is the sound that we spend the most time on. The “TH” sound is a common pronunciation challenge for speakers from many countries but it is especially noticeable for Chinese who without corrective guidance say a sound more like sink instead of think. With this kind of mouth movement practice native Chinese speakers can make a lot of progress improving their English pronunciation.
The #3 ProTip is the pace of speech. When we start many of my Chinese clients speak way too fast so we work on not only slowing down but also pausing between groups of words. A breath and a pause of only a half a second can make all the difference in being understood the first time. And until speaking with the melody of English becomes the new habit, speaking with a rapid staccato uniform intonation will undermine communications with native English speakers.
Graduating from a U.S. University is not enough to be competitive in the U.S. job market. You have to be easily understood. Clear pronunciation is critical. Whether you are a recent graduate or a professional looking to advance your career I can help you make these changes to profoundly improve the clarity of your pronunciation. Clients who complete our work together see a 50-70% improvement in the clarity of their pronunciation after only 10 weeks. This transformational success is achieved by incorporating proven techniques that modify habitual speech patterns in a short period of time. Let’s work together to improve your pronunciation and improve your prospects for a prosperous New Year.
Here is to a Happy Lunar New Year and for continued prosperity in all of your endeavors.
Director of Atlas Speech Coaching