Learning to speak another language is a valuable accomplishment. When you are an adult learning to speak American English as a second language (ESL), the resulting accent you have when you speak is affected by the sounds and intonation of your native language. This is amplified when you learn English from a non-native English speaker. For many people, speaking with an accent is not important and their focus remains on learning English vocabulary and all of our confusion grammar rules. For others both professionally and socially, you need to improve your accent to be more easily understood and to more fully benefit from all of your hard work to learn English in the first place.
Improving pronunciation of individual sounds and change of intonation in a sentence are two of the most important aspects of I focus on to help my clients on their path to better communication. Our goal is to minimize distracting sounds and make small changes in speech patterns to improve the overall understanding of your message. My work with non-native English speakers is personalized and unique to each person.
A starting point for anyone who would like to improve their American English accent is to identify both vowel and consonants sounds they make that are different from native American English accents. For example, many of Spanish speaking clients have difficulty pronouncing a voiced “TH” because it is not natural for them to put their tongue between their teeth. I work extensively with my Chinese clients to learn the rhythm, cadence and flow of the English language, which is much different from Mandarin and Cantonese languages. For my Korean students, we work hard to improve their pronunciation of vowels by making new shapes with their lips pulled back into a smile position to make a clear and accurate sounds.
A second way to improve your pronunciation and accent is to compare your speaking to a native speaker. For example listen to a recorded American podcast or newscast and record yourself speaking what you hear. Try to mimic what you hear as best you can. The goal of this kind of exercise is not to sound perfect or to make yourself feel bad about the way you speak, rather it is simply to become aware of what sounds you can improve by using your ears first to identify sounds that differ from the native English speaker. Regular listening and speaking will help you identify areas of your speech where your accent is very different from native English speakers. Frequent conversation will allow you to put what you learn into practice. You can work on these areas on your own, but you will have the best results faster by working with a trained Accent Reduction Specialist.
Getting target sounds correct is very important. But to a native English speaker, the biggest indicator of a non-native speaker is in the intonation of their speech. Pay attention to where your voice rises and falls. You’re more likely to cause misunderstanding when you speak English if you get the word stress wrong than if you get an individual vowel or consonant sound wrong. When you learn new words, remember to look up the stress marks too, so that you know which syllables are stressed or unstressed.
There is no secret to improving your pronunciation. What you need to do after becoming aware of your mistakes and learn the rules of pronunciation is practice American English pronunciation sounds. Once you become aware of your pronunciation errors that lead to miscommunication, you must repeat the correct sounds over and over, preferably with a trained speech coach or with the help of a native English speaker who can guide your pronunciation, intonation and correct your errors. Keep practicing until you can hear and correct your own mispronunciations. You need to break old speech habits and re-train your brain, ears, muscles, lips and tongue so that making the sounds of English becomes more natural. Commit yourself to practice and repetition and you will achieve your communication goals.
Don’t believe others if they tell you that improving your pronunciation and reducing your accent is impossible. It is absolutely possible. All of my clients have dramatically improved their pronunciation, achieve a 50-70% improvement in the clarity of their pronunciation. With time and effort, your American English pronunciation can absolutely improve!