KT for Chinese Speakers

esl-studentsHere’s help for Chinese speakers to get a more American English sound.  When consonantsc” (k) and “t” are in the middle of a word (like “practice”), or between two words in a phrase. (like “take two”), hold out the vowel just before the “k” sound, then make a gentle, quiet “k” linked to the “t”.

DO NOT fully pronounce the ‘k’ sound or it will sound like pra  KA  tice (practice) or da KA tor (doctor).

Listen to the audio here.

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practice

pra——>  ktis

doctor

do——-> ktor

active

a——-> ktiv

factor

fa——>kter

Free printable list of KT words here.

 

 

A Day in the Life of an SLP – Accent Modification

 

Day in the Life of an SLP Accent ModificationI’m headed off to work this morning, where I’ll spend 2 hours in English pronunciation class with adults from 5 different countries and cultures.  It’s every Monday morning and my current clients are Iranian, Chinese (Mandarin), Taiwanese, Korean and Japanese.  Our class is part of an ESL (English as a Second Language) program in our community.  Stand-alone courses like this are often called accent modification, and can be taught to groups or individuals.  The success of the program relies on client participation and teacher feedback.  As a speech language pathologist, I am applying my knowledge of American English to help clients.  The goals are for clients to understand spoken English better, and to speak English in a way that they are understood better by Americans.

ESL Classes

We learn and practice the sounds of English.  But just as important as sounds, we learn linking patterns in phrases and sentences.  We learn reductions (like “going to” is often reduced to “gonna”), because it improves listening comprehension.  We learn about rhythm, stress and intonation, which is particularly hard for students whose first language is monotone.  This photo shows clients and I practicing strong and weak stress patterns in sentences, moving a ball high or low as we speak. Lastly American culture is often a topic in class, as well as techniques to improve communication styles.

It’s the start of a new class and I need to record each client with a brief test.  I will listen to each recording and identify the target goals for that client.  I’ll write it up in a one page summary.  I’ll also take a recording at the end of the year for all the clients, and do another summary page.  This prep takes time, but is worth it to have pre-and post- recordings.  Clients get a listening home practice assignment each week.  They write a short paragraph and read it in class, and I provide feedback.  After class I read their home practice sheets to get a better idea of how each is listening, understanding and writing in English.

ESL classroom

To prepare for class, I’m following a text, choosing the lessons that are most needed for this class (L vs. R, and stress & rhythm),  but I also developed my own materials to teach about things that seems overlooked in pronunciation, (things such as jaw height for vowel sounds, for example). Early on, I had to try a number of texts and materials.  I also did some formal training, but much of my skill was learned “on the job” with clients.  It’s important to take notes on what topics come up for your clients.  I developed a curriculum, but often the need for new skills shows up in a session.  I research or develop materials to add when this is of value to the clients.

I see individuals, in person and by videochat.  Sessions are often held in the evening or early morning, because they are needed to fit around the client’s work.  Each client gets pre- and post- testing for a course, which is generally 15 weeks.  Some clients choose to take a second, or third course.  Each client uses a text with CDs of the American English accent.   I spend time prepping materials specifically chosen for each client. Often I record audio and upload it to Dropbox for clients to hear and practice.

I live in a high tech area that draws a lot of internationals.  I think that is why I’ve been successful at booking accent modification clients.  My clients are often professional men and women, who desire to advance at work, and they find their accent or communication style may be holding them back.  I work with children of professionals who want their child or teen to sound more like an American.  This translates to better education and work prospects for them.  I work with housewives, who upon coming to the U.S. realize their English teacher back in Japan or Korea taught them a lot of wrong things!

Speech language pathologists are uniquely qualified to teach accent modification. Your training and experience with speech, language and communication has prepared you to begin today.  If this is an area that interests you, I would encourage you to explore the possibilities.  SLPs are a generous group of people who will share materials, and ideas, and cheer you on in this area!  Many thousands of people worldwide desire to communicate in English.  Therefore competency in speaking and understanding English is greatly sought after now, and it will be in the future.

Understanding Can and Can’t

Understanding Can & Can'tA student in English Pronunciation class asked how to make “can” and “can’t” different, because when she hears Americans use these words it’s hard to tell them apart! Sometimes you hear the T on “can’t”, but not always.  There is an easier way to know the difference:

When we use “can” (affirmative), the vowel often gets reduced, and sounds like “kin” or “kun”.

But with “can’t” (negative), the vowel never gets reduced.  It always sounds like a short A sound.

“I can [kin] do it.” “Can [kin] you call me?” “We can [kin] go.”

“I can’t [kant] do it.” “Can’t [kant] you call me?” “We can’t [kant] go.”

 

 

 

 

Pronunciation Apps & Internet Resources

Pronunciation Apps Listening Resources imageBe sure to use your tablet or computer for additional help with Pronouncing English. The following resources (free or cheap) focus on the North American English pronunciation.

MacMillan The Pronunciation App (free) This features words using the sounds of English with IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).  It has practice and quizzes for reading, writing and listening.

K12Phonemes (free) Learn the sounds of English with sounds and words, plus a nice video of a real person speaking.

Sounds of Speech  ($3.00) This is from the Iowa Phonetics project.  You’ll see and hear sounds of English with a video illustration of the mouth saying the sounds/words.  The app is $2.99.  You can access the program for free with your laptop by going to the University of Iowa Phonetics home (available on a computer or laptop only, not a tablet.)

Dragon Dictation (free) Set it to American English. and the Dragon Dication computer program will try to recognize and turn your spoken sentence into printed text.  See how well you’re pronouncing English!

Here are free resources for listening.  Audio is in beginner, intermdiate and advanced levels, many with audio transcripts.

  1. Randall’s Listening Lab http://www.esl-lab.com/
  2. English Listening https://www.englishlistening.com/
  3. Many Things http://www.manythings.org/elllo/
  4. Talk English http://www.talkenglish.com/listening/listenbasic.aspx
  5. Agenda Web http://www.agendaweb.org/listening/intermediate_advanced.html
  6. Rong-Chang Listening http://www.rong-chang.com/listen.htm

Keep up the good work learning English!

Reducing “Your” and “Our”

Pronouncing your our Accent Reduction Classes San Jose CAHave you learned these common reductions of English?

  • “gonna” is a reduction of “going to”
  • “hafta” is a reduction of “have to”
  • “I wanna” is a reduction of “I want to…”
  • “I gotta…” is a reduction of “I’ve got to…”

Some think reduced English forms are lazy or sloppy, BUT THEY ARE NOT.  Reduced forms are EXPECTED in most conversations, in both casual and formal settings. Your American listener is expecting reductions of English grammar in order to communicate in a fast and efficient way.

English listeners are also expecting linking.  See my previous post on How Linking Improves your Pronunciation.

Reducing your and our is very common in conversation. Your (also you’re)  is reduced to yer, and our is reduced to ar.  Some examples might sound like this:

  • Is he coming to yer house?
  • I want to see yer boss.
  • Yer going to college? (you’re)
  • I want yer opinion.
  • Should we go away for ar anniversary?
  • Ar class is cancelled today.
  • An animal dug up ar yard.
  • Ar post office is closed now.

See my 2016 free printable on reductions here.

 

 

 

How to Pronounce Chocolate

How To Pronounce Chocolate ESL accent reductionI hear this mistake a lot.  My students fully pronounce the vowels in each syllable of chocolate.  But American English speakers will reduce the syllables and reduce the vowel sound in the weaker syllable.

However, it’s pronounced a lot like CHOK lit (2 syllables) with the stress on the first syllable.

—-Since we don’t usually pronounce all three syllables, this is similar to when we reduce syllables from family(3 syllables) to say famlee(2 syllables) and interesting(4 syllables) to say intresting(3 syllables). —-

To pronounce chocolate like an American:

Pronounce the o like “aw” (or “ah” if you note regional differences).

Drop out the middle syllable o.

Reduce the a in the last syllable “late” to /I/(short i)  or /ə/(the schwa sound).

CHOK lit

Keep up the good work speaking English

 

 

Why an Accent Reduction Course?

pronunciation courseClient – “Why do I need a course in accent reduction?  Can’t I just learn the ideas in a couple sessions?”

Me – I’m glad you asked.  We usually want our accent reduction clients to take a beginning course of 10 – 15 sessions.  Although some clients benefit from a few lessons, most should take a course of sessions to learn new techniques, have time to practice and receive feedback from their instructor.

You learned your first language when you were 5 – 7 years old.  During that time you practiced and played with the sounds, linking and intonation.  You probably sang songs, recited rhymes and poems, talked to and listened to many different folks, all speaking your first language.  You received feedback from others (adults and children alike) if you were making the sounds and melodies correctly. You had time to practice and perfect your first language, the sounds, linking and intonation.

Years later you learned English. You learned the vocabulary and grammar so you could speak in sentences.  But your kept your sounds, linking and intonation patterns from your first language, and simply laid those on top of English.  So that is why you are speaking with an accent! The more similar your first language is to English, the less noticeable your accent will be.  The less similar your first language is to English, the more noticeable your accent will be and this will make it harder for others to understand you.

It may help you to know EVERYONE speaks with an accent. No matter what language you use….

no matter where you live on the planet….

you speak in the accent of your first, and home, language.

If you want to speak English well, you need to imitate English sounds, linking and intonation, and this takes time, practice and feedback! Here are some activities to support learning the new accent:

  1. Take a course for 10 – 15 lessons from a specially-trained teacher, like a speech-language pathologist.
  2. Record your lessons and play back for further practice.
  3. Befriend an American who is willing to talk with you and let you know about your mistakes.
  4. Watch TV, and listen to radio in English.
  5. Mimic the accent you want to learn.  Mimicry helps your brain to be comfortable in the new accent.

So why can’t this you learn a new accent in a couple lessons?  Because you need time, practice and feedback.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linking Final T in Sentences

linking final TT is tricky in English.  Students are often taught to fully pronounce the T in words. But then in sentences, a fully pronounced T sounds unusual.

“Get a book at the store” sounds like:

GeT (pause) a book aT (pause) the store.”

or:

GeTA a book aTA the store.”

When words with FINAL T are in a sentence, link the T sound to the next word whenever possible. If you have a coming vowel sound, ALWAYS link the T (in a thought group)!  Also reduce the T to a D sound for more American English apronunciation.

Here’s a free printable practice sheetof sentences.

Pronouncing “Woman” and “Women”

This is a tricky one! The words are pronounced COMPLETELY UNLIKE they are spelled!

Both words end with “min” (or “mən” if you’re using the unstressed schwa sound). But the beginning of each is different.  You cannot rely on the spelling.  Sorry – English spelling in crazy sometimes. You’ll just need to memorise these:

Single – One woman is pronounced “woo min” (oo like in book)

Plural – Two or more women is pronounced “wi min” (i like in it)

Try a few sentences:

  • A woman [woo min] came into the shop.
  • Two women [wi min] went to a concert.

Keep up the good work learning English!

Can I Get Rid of My Accent Completely?

how do I get rid of my accent?First things first – everyone has an accent!  I bet you didn’t realize that.  But it’s true.  You may find when you are learning a new language that your accent gets in the way.  When this happens you begin to think “How can I get rid of my accent?”

The simple answer is “You can’t.”   You can’t get rid of it completely, but you can make your errors seem less noticeable.  That’s where accent modification lessons can help.  With accent modification lessons (also called accent reduction or English pronunciation training) you often work with a speech-language pathologist (SLP) specially trained to teach you how to speak American English like a native speaker.

Your teacher will emphasise correct pronunciation of American English sounds, words stress and sentence stress, linking sounds together in running speech, common reductions, and the melody and intonation patterns that will help you to sound more American.

What’s your part?  You need to spend focused time listening and imitating American English.  One quick way to get a handle on an American English accent is to mimic an American speaking your language.  This is called reverse accent mimicry. Just speak your language the way you may have heard an American speak it – by mimicking an American accent while speaking your language, you will trigger areas of your brain that control speech learning and accent.  Then make these same sounds when speaking American English.  You should see an improvement.

Work one-on-one with an SLP who has been specially trained in accent modification.  The most well-known national certification is Compton’s PESL course (pronouncing English as a Second Language).  An SLP, with a PESL certification, is the best teacher to provide direction and feedback as you learn the expected American English accent.

Try accent reduction books with CDs.  If you are an auditory learner the recordings will be helpful, and if you are a visual learner, read along in the book while you listen. One of my favorite self-study books is Lisa Mojsin’s Mastering the American Accent.

Set a goal for yourself.  You could select one sound.  Many speakers from Asian countries can improve R (made in the back of the mouth) and L (made near the front of the mouth).  Spanish and Persian speakers can improve TH sounds by placing the tongue between the teeth.  Find out your challenging sounds and try to improve them on purpose.

Let friends or co-workers know that you are working on improving your accent.  Many Americans are too polite to correct words someone is pronouncing wrong, but if you let them know you want their feedback, I’m sure they will be happy to provide that.

Good luck with your accent learning,  and keep up the good work!