This week I attended a Talk Tools conference with speech-language pathologist Sara Rosenfeld-Johnson. Most of her therapy techniques would help children (and adults) with muscle weakness for speech. These are myofunctional exercises, and are used to treat tongue thrust. But she also addressed foreign accents and I wanted to share this with you.
Teachers of pronunciation tell ESL students where to put their tongues for certain sounds. For example, “For L, put your tongue in the front of your mouth behind your top teeth.” But the one important aspect teachers often forget, is how to hold open your mouth, or how much your jaw moves down. Speech-language pathologists call this “jaw grading”.
There are 3 levels of mouth openings Americans use to say vowels. If you imagine the mouth all the way closed, this is a “high jaw” position. Open your jaw just a little bit and you get to the first speech position “High”. This is where we say “ee” as in Pete and “i” as in pit.
We open our mouth further and this is the “Mid” or “Middle” position. This is where we say “e” as in pet and “uh” as in putt.
Then we open our mouth the farthest and this is the “Low” position. This is where we say “a” as in Pat and “ah” as in pot. If you want to practice the American vowel sound positions do them in this succession:
Your mouth will have a small opening at the beginning of the list, and very large opening at the end. In this direction, the vowel sounds will be High – Mid – Low. That is also the position of your jaw ~ high – mid – low. Be sure to open you mouth wide for the “low” sounds, “a” as in pat, and “ah” as in pot. This is especially important for Asian speakers, since you don’t use many “low jaw” positions in your first language.
Click here to see another post on jaw movement that includes a free printable for the above word list.
Best of luck and keep up the good work learning English!
(Originally posted on 1/13/14, under the title “Accent and Jaw Movement”)