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!

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.


S Family of Sounds Pronunciation Lessons

S Family of Sounds_English Pronunciation_ LessonsThis post is a collection of resources for the S Family of English Sounds.  You’ll learn about the correct way to pronounce English

S  Z  SH  ZH  CH and J


My Korean students have a hard time with these sounds, often substituting one for another.  This makes it very hard to understand their English.  But other foreign-born speakers of English need to learn these 6 different English sounds also.  Many of the resources also have audio and free printable handouts to practice the words.    I hope you enjoy these resources!

S Family – Tricky Words

S Family – Advanced Practice

S Family – Simplified

S Family of Sounds

J Sound in “Orange Juice”

Z Sound in “Wizard of Oz”

English ZH Sound

ZH – The French Sound in English

Z and ZH



S Family of Sounds, Simplified

My Asian students continue to have trouble with the differences between English sounds S, Z, SH, ZH, CH and J. S Family of SoundsI call these the S Family of Sounds.

  • S makes a clear hissing sound, as in house and ice.  No vocal cord vibration here.
  • Z makes a clear buzzing sound, as in visitor and horizon.  Vocal cords vibrate.


  • SH makes a noisy hissing sound, as in push, commission, and addition. No vibration.
  • ZH makes a noisy buzzing sound as in Asia and measure. Be Careful!  Most English words  will not have the ZH sound.  It is the least-used sound in the English language! But there are a few common words with the ZH sound, like casual, usual and television. Vibration.


  • CH make a sharp dissonant sound, as in chin and rich. No vibration.
  • J makes a sharp dissonant sound, as in jump and page. Vibration.


Here’s a simple printable worksheet for practicing these sounds.

S Family of Sounds – Tricky Words

S Family of SoundsMy advanced intermediate class is quickly becoming my favorite class.  They are so eager to learn, and so appreciative of the pronunciation lessons (also called “accent reduction”).   Our lesson today was on the “S Family of Sounds” (This is my term.  I’ve never heard another speech language pathologist use it.)

I try to help my students understand the similarities and differences between S, Z, SH, ZH, CH and J.   Look here for a free printable on the S Family of Sounds. Listen to the audio here.

disease – both are Z sounds

churchboth are CH sounds

Jesus –  the first sound is J, the second sound is Z, and the last sound is S

usually  – that’s a ZH sound

vision – that’s a ZH sound

result – that’s a Z sound

design – that’s a Z sound

exaggerate – that first sound is Z, and the second sound is J (remember words with ex- are often pronounced “egz-“)

S Family of Sounds – Practice Advanced

S Family Of Sounds Practice AMy intermediate ESL class is struggling with so many points of English pronunciation that their teacher and I have decided to double the amount of pronunciation time they get in class.  This week we reviewed the S Family of Sounds again.  This is my term for the 6 sounds in English that sound like S.  They are S, Z, SH, ZH, CH and J.

  • S and Z are made by air flowing out over the middle part of the tongue with the tongue lifted pretty high in the front.  Vibrate your vocal cords for the Z only.  The S is like a snake sound and is in sip lacy and bus. The Z is like a buzzing bee sound and is in zebra, busy and quiz.
  • SH and ZH are made by air flowing out over the middle part of the tongue, but the tongue is pulled back some and not lifted up so high. Vibrate your vocal chords for the ZH only.  SH is the sound we say to tell other to be quiet, and is in shoe, mission and push.  ZH is pretty uncommon, and comes from the French language.  ZH is in vision, usual and measure.
  • CH and J are made by the tip of the tongue quickly touches the alveolar ridge (the bumpy spot behind your teeth) and then releases.  Then air flows out over the middle part of the tongue. CH is in cheek, nature and reach.  J is in jump, Egypt and cage.

Try this free printable worksheet S_Family_practice_words_set_A for more practice.  Keep up the good work learning English!