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!

Early Songs for ESL

Songs and Hand Motions for ESL LearningSongs with hand motions are an easy, effective way to teach language and pronunciation. Sing the songs yourself or play a CD with pre-recorded music. Print out the words for the students using the blackboard/whiteboard or paper handouts.  Visuals like photos or pictures can help too. Find out more about how movement aids learning. Here are songs we’ve done at ESL and the target lessons I used with each:

Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes: Pronunciation -It’s easy to teach the /th/ in mouth by showing students to stick their tongues through their teeth.  I like to emphasize rhyming words also, like nose and toes. Language – show other body parts and name them such as hand, finger, thumb (if your show the word ‘thumb” teach that the B is silent)  foot, heel, chin, cheek, etc.

If You’re Happy, and You Know it Clap your Hands: Pronunciation – Reduce  the “you’re’ to ‘yer’, the “hands” /handz/ to “hanz”, and ‘face will” to “face’ll”.  Language – this song is a great kick-off to teaching about emotions such as sad, mad, and confused.Early Songs for ESL

A is for Alligator – Good for an introduction to beginning consonant letters and sounds.  It follows the alphabet, so be aware several consonant sounds are missing (TH, SH, CH, ZH and NG).  Use my free A is for Alligator worksheet with pictures to help the students understand with minimal language.

Itsy Bitsy Spider – Not just a song for kids!  Even adults enjoy singing this song and doing the hand motions. Language – talk about prepositions up, down and out.  Discuss other propositions of place such as in, on, under, over, between, in front of and in back of.  Most prepositions can be shown with the body.  Take a chair and stand in front, behind, etc.  Have the students demonstrate prepositions using their own chairs. Good for comprehension AND expression.

Don’t worry that these are kid songs!  Your adult ESL students will enjoy these activities and what’s more important is they will be learning!  Have fun teaching English!

When is TH Silent?

Did you know TH disappears in clothes and months?  These two very common English words may have been pronounced with the TH long ago, but we no longer pronounce them that way.  Keep the TH silent in these words.

  • clothes – just say “kloz” (long O vowel)
  • months – just say “mons” (short U vowel)

But be sure to pronounce the TH in these words-

  • baths
  • deaths
  • myths
  • Smiths
  • truths

Following these rules will help you improve your English pronunciation.

English Sounds App

K12 phoneme videosIf you want to review your English sounds, here is a great FREE app! K12 Phoneme Videos available for the iPad and IPhone.  You can see short videos of an American English speaker saying all the sounds of standard English.  I love this free app for practicing your English vowel and consonant sounds.

This app has a phonics foundation and the sounds are represented by common spellings.  It’s a little different from how I teach it in class but the sounds are the same.  (My approach is founded in IPA, International Phonetic Alphabet.) This app includes 2 extra R-controlled vowels [ar] and [or].  In class, I cover only [er]. Also the qu” sound is called ‘KW”  and the “x” sound is called “KS”.  Students, if you have questions, please let me know.

Note:  On this app be aware that they show the long /u/ sound with a /y/ as /yu/ in the word use, cute and music  – here they have added the /y/ but many words in American English with long/u/ do not have the /y/next to it.  Examples without /y/ are Luke, Sue, true, duty, nuclear, pollution. British new  has a /y/ – /nyu/.  American new does not – /nu/.



The TH Sound

It’s easy to see, and the TH sound in English is usually the easiest sound for ESL students to make using American English pronunciation.

To make TH stick the tip of your tongue right between your upper and lower teeth in the front of your mouth. TH SoundI tell students “bite your tongue and blow”.  The air comes down the center of your tongue and out your mouth. You don’t have to stick your tongue out very far.  Just a stick it out a little bit between your upper and lower teeth.

Words like thank you, and with have no vocal chord vibration (called “voiceless th”)

Words like there and the have vocal chord vibration (called “voiced th”)

If you don’t stick it out far enough your TH will sound like an S.  I often here Persian students say “Sank you very much!”

If you tap it on the bumpy spot behind the teeth, your TH will sound like a D or a T, and you will say “Mudder”, “Brudder” and “Udder” for “Mother” “Brother” and “Other”.

Try these voiceless TH words.   Listen to the voiceless TH words here.

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  • thank you
  • think
  • thing
  • thought
  • thirteen
  • author
  • method
  • nothing
  • toothache
  • without
  • bath
  • booth
  • faith
  • math
  • teeth

Try these voiced TH words.   Listen to the voiced TH words here.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • the
  • their
  • them
  • this
  • they
  • bother
  • either
  • father
  • mother
  • brother
  • bathe
  • breathe
  • clothe
  • smooth
  • teethe




Two THs!

“There are two THs?” a student exclaimed today!

I was teaching a lesson on sounds of English.   “What’s the difference?” my student wanted to know.  So we talked about “voiced TH” and “voiceless TH”.  The difference is some TH sounds do not vibrate your vocal chords, and some TH sounds vibrate your vocal chords.  Spelled exactly the same, but pronounced differently, she wanted to some practice words of the different TH sounds.

Voiceless TH:

  • thank  think thick thin thumb therapy
  • with bath tooth teeth
  • math myth youth warmth

Voiced TH:

  • mother brother father
  • the this these those them there
  • feather farther clothing
  • bathe breathe smooth
Keep these two sounds separate and different and you’ll improve your American English accent.