How do I know if I need English Pronunciation Lessons?

Pronunciation lessons promote clearer English speech

Pronunciation lessons promote clearer English speech

How do I know if I need lessons?

  • Your listeners look confused, and often ask you to repeat.
  • You make errors that offend others because they misunderstand your meaning (such as “dog” for “Doug”).
  • You say single words clearly, but pronouncing sentences is not understandable.
  • You miss career advancement because of your foreign accent.
  • You struggle to communicate with new people, or on the telephone.
  • You avoid using English because you are afraid of making mistakes.

Learn more about English pronunciation lessons here.

Pronouncing “Jesus”

Wedding Jacob Brittany

Wedding Jacob Brittany

My Korean student came to Bible study today. And I noticed the way she said “Jesus” was hard to understand. Now this is not the “Jesus” that my Hispanic friends say –“Hay-soos”. That is very easy to understand. This Korean “Jesus” sounded like “Jeezhus”. I noticed that instead of using a Z sound there in the middle, she was using a ZH sound, like in the middle of “measure” or “vision”.

So we chatted about how to say “Jesus” using an American English pronunciation.

Jesus = “Jee  ZuS”

To get that correct Z sound, practice Z words like zip, zipper, zoo, zebra, buzz, fizz, ways (z), and goes (z).

If it’s still hard to get the Z sound in there, try backwards chaining. That’s when you say the last syllable first, and add the next syllable, building the word outward from there. So try “Zus”, “Zus”, “Zus”, “Jee  Zus”, “Jee  Zus”, “Jee  Zus”.

Best of luck, and keep up the good work speaking English!


Close & Clothes (Misunderstood Words)

Close_Clothes_pronunciationMy ESL and pronunciation students say these words are often confused – “close” and “clothes”.

Below are some helpful hints for pronouncing

close – near

close – shut

clothes – apparel

1.      close kl oh s near My house is close to school.

Almost always “close to”


2.      close kl oh z to shut, or to end He will close the door.

The service will close with a hymn.


3.      cloze kl oh z a test where the reader supplies the missing word Cloze worksheets are often used in ESL classes.



4.      clothes kl oh z (more common pronunciation) garments for the body She wore her favorite clothes.



5.        kl oh thz  – th/vibration (less common pronunciation)    




6.      clothe kl oh th – th/vibration (uncommon word) to put clothes on, or to dress Clothe yourself with compassion” Colossians 3:12



7.      closed kl oh zd past tense of close, shut The door was closed.



8.      clothed kl oh thd – th/vibration past tense of clothe, or dressed She was clothed all in white.



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.

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
  2. English Listening
  3. Many Things
  4. Talk English
  5. Agenda Web
  6. Rong-Chang Listening

Keep up the good work learning English!

Online Pronouncing Dictionary

Cambridge Dictionary OnlineYou have a lot of choices with online dictionaries these days! I really like the Cambridge Dictionary Online which has an audio clip, often with both the British and the American pronunciation of words.

Access it on your computer or laptop here:

Cambridge Dictionary Online

See the free app in the app store (iPad and iPhone products) here:

Cambridge Dictionary App

There’s an app for that!

Check it out today.



Short A & Short O Minimal Pairs

Short A English Pronunciation Accent ReductionWhen working with myofunctional or accent reduction clients, it’s important to look at tongue placement and jaw height.

I’m working with a young man who substitutes short O for short A. His Dad sounds like dodd, his sack sounds like sock, and his laugh sound like loff.

It means he uses the right jaw height for short A (as is cat) , with a low jaw, but holds his tongue too far back in his mouth and says short O (as in cot).  He needs to put his tongue forward in his mouth for a correct short A sound.

The best success we’ve had is when he does minimal pairs, like

  • sad vs. sod
  • happy vs. hoppy
  • shack vs. shock
  • gnat vs. not

By practicing minimal pairs you’ll train the brian to hear the difference between sounds, and get better at producing the correct sound when needed.  See my free printable minimal pairs worksheet for short A/short O/ short U.

See my free printable practice list of short A here.


How to Pronounce “used to”

english pronunciation used toIt came up in pronunciation class this week. “How do I pronounce “used to“?  There seem to be 2 ways. ”  – and yes, there ARE 2 ways!

In both cases the D and T are linked together, making it sound like one word. But we’ll pronounce S or Z depending on the meaning.

In the sentence “I used to write in this notebook.” we say [yusto] with the S pronounced like an S. This means it is something we did, or took care of in the past.

  • I used to [yusto] live in Santa Barbara.
  • They used to [yusto] go to college in New York.
  • I used to  [yusto] work in a hospital.
  • He used to  [yusto] work at the grocery store.
  • She used to [yusto] own a dog.

In the sentence “It is used to teach pronunciation.” we say [yuzto] with the S pronounced like a Z. This means we are talking about the function, or use, of the object.  Essentially we are describing how something is “used” [yuzd].  When pronouncing this “used”, with a Z sound, be sure to hold it out longer, or make the duration longer, than with an S sound.

  • Sometimes games are used to [yuzto] teach English.
  • These markers are used to  [yuzto] color pictures.
  • The boombox is used to  [yuzto] play CDs.
  • Her tea kettle was used to  [yuzto] heat up water.


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!

Tools for Pronouncing American R

At ESL class this week, I surveyed some of my Asian students and asked them to say an American R and to say an American L. What happened was fascinating…

Here’s how it went, as I worked with 1 student in the class. Sunny (not her real name) said L and it sounded like her tongue was touching in the middle of her mouth. Then Sunny said R and it sounded exactly the same, like her tongue was touching in the middle of her mouth. I asked her to make a Chinese (Mandarin) L and once again she made exactly the same sound, like her tongue was touching in the middle of her mouth! With all these sounds being so alike, it’s no wonder people are having a hard time understanding Sunny’s English!

How to fix this problem:

Placement for American R1. I taught the students how American L is made by putting the tongue tip on the bumpy ridge behind the upper front teeth (the alveolar ridge). This is the front of the mouth. Then I taught how American R is made by putting the tongue back and sides against the skin above the back upper teeth. This is the back of the mouth. Here’s a drawing to show the place the tongue should go for R. No, I’m not a very good artist, so just humor me about how I draw a mouth and teeth! Thanks.

2.  Calling it “American R” or “English R” is very helpful for students to make a different  sound than R or L in their native language.

Pronouncing American R3. Also I had students rub a toothette on the skin above their back inside upper teeth. This added proprioceptive input, and helped them to feel where they should put their tongue for American R. Five students rubbed, then lifted their tongues back to those spots, and pronounced a perfect American R sound! Some of them were saying a correct American R for the first time ever!

4. Last we did minimal pair drills with R and L using read/lead, rock/lock, right/light, and final R’s using ear, or, ire, air, are. Minimal pairs should be practiced with similar sounds together first (all the R words together) and then practiced with contracting sounds.

Hope this helped.  Keep up the good work, teaching and learning English!