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.

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!

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!



R and L Minimal Pairs Practice

R_l_minimal_pairs_ESL_Pronunciation_classes_SanJoseCALearning the difference between American R and L will help you improve your American English pronunciation.

American L is made by tapping the tip of your tongue to the alveolar ridge (this is the bumpy spot right behind your inside top front teeth.  In English we make 4 sounds here.  The sounds are T, D N, and L.  You can practice these sounds by singing a little song with these sounds, like this:

ta ta ta

da da da

na na na

la la la.

Or  by singing a familiar song, like Happy Birthday, using just one sound.  Imagine Happy Birthday with only the sounds, “La – la la, – la  – la  – la…”

American R is made with the tongue pulled back and high into the roof of the mouth.  Usually we push the sides of our tongue against the upper back teeth on the right and on the left.  Sometimes  the R can be made with a curled tongue tip, also.

If R is hard for you, as it is for most English learners, practice R words along with L words in sets of minimal pairs.  Those are words that are almost completely alike, except for one sound, such as “read/lead” or “right/light”.

Here’s a free printable of R/L minimal pair words for practice.  This word list is from


New Vocalic R Practice Pack on TPT

Vocalic R collectionPlease stop by my TpT store and see the latest addition to my articulation resources.  I’ve added a new Vocalic R Practice Collection that will be a great supplement to teaching/learning R articulation.

R is the most difficult sound in English and many kids and adults need help with learning the sound.  American R is also a popular target for ESL students, and teachers of American English pronunciation.

Worksheets are organized by sound and have space to add personalized words or sentences.  Use this collection in class or in therapy to practice words with the sounds:

  • AIR
  • EAR
  • IRE
  • AR
  • OR
  • ER

Pronouncing the “PUL” in “APPLE”

Pronouncing the PUL in APPLEWe have a common sound pattern in English – it’s the UL sound.

You can find pul in apple, shul in special and nul in final.  Even though we spell UL so many different ways – think oval, saddle, pencil… and we reduce the vowel sound to a schwa (that’s the most common sound in English) it will always sound like “ul”.

Learning the UL in English will help is so many words!

Try this free printable for practice – UL Words and Sentences.

Dark L & Light L in English

Dark L Light L English PronunciationL at the beginning of an English word is sometimes called “Light L”.

  • like
  • lake
  • low
  • love
  • lean
  • let

Here we touch the bumpy spot behind the top front teeth with our narrow pointed tongue.  A good way to learn this L sound is the sing any song and substitute the word “La” for each syllable.  Imagine Happy Birthday but with “La”s.

L is at the end of an Englsih word is sometimes called “Dark L”.

  • pull
  • bill
  • wool
  • feel
  • mail

Here we don’t point the tongue but we spread it out, so it touches on the bumpy spot and sides of the top front teeth. For Dark l some folks position their tongue just a little behind Light L

Hope  this helps, and keep up the good work speaking English!


The Most Important Vocalic R in English

Vocalic R English PronunciationVocalic R in very simple. It is the R sound that follows a vowel. Some examples of Vocalic R are found in words like air,  for, ear, car, her, fire, hour, and pure.  R is strongly pronounced in American English, but not so much in British English.

R is a difficult sound. Many American children have trouble learning to make R.  The trick is to pull the tongue into the back of the mouth, flattening it and pushing the sides up against the left and right teeth.

Here are some words for practicing the vocalic R:

are car star far jar

ear fear near dear steer here

or pour more door store

ire fire wire mire sire buyer

air care pair fair bear share

er her sir purr were first

our hour power tower

ure pure cure endure

But the most important one is “er“.  The spelling can vary so rely on your listening, to pronounce this sound.  It is the most frequent of the Vocalic Rs, so practice this one a lot!

Here are some challenging “er” words – earth, early, earn, sir, her, dirt, bird, word, work, purse, first, Thursday, serve, birth, church, merge, urgent.


Vocalic R Printable Resource

vocalic R word listI work with a lot of kids who can’t say their Rs.  With articulation therapy we use lists of words and sentences when practicing.  Many speech therapists have shared their lists and that’s cool. For a while I used this one by Home Speech Home but it has many complicated variations of the vocalic R words, and I needed a simple set of words.  Anyone teaching kids to pronounce Rs know that it’s a very slow process and words that contain too many sounds will be very hard.

(Vocalic R are words that have a vowel followed by R, such as ear, air, are, or, ire and er)

I worked with several kids to develop this list of simple vocalic R words.  Then I built phrases, sentences and paragraphs to feature these vocalic R words.  I was careful to exclude other R words and R blends so that the practice wouldn’t be too hard for the kids.  I think you’ll really appreciate this vocalic R printable resource.

(You could also use it for ESL adults to practice their pronunciation of American English R.)

Thanks for checking it out!