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.

Jaw Stability/Jaw Grading in Tongue Thrust

TongueThrust Eng Vowel Ex Pix page jpgIf you have a student or client with tongue thrust (as known as oral myofunctional disorder)  you may need some information about the jaw.

Learn more about the jaw here and see my resources for therapy ideas on Teachers Pay

Vowel QuadrilateralThe vowels are often affected by the position of the jaw. If you are teaching English pronunciation to a foreign-born speaker, they may improve their low vowels /ae/ as in /cat/, and /ah/ as in /pot/, if they open their mouth wider (move their jaw to a low jaw position).

See my free printable English Vowel Quadrilateral here.

See my free printable Mouth Openings Pictures & Words Page here.

The entire Tongue Thrust/Jaw Stability handout packet is available on TeachersPayTeachers.

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 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 a North 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



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!

Words With -ity Sound Like -adee

English pronunciation -ity wordsMy Pronunciation students needed some help when pronouncing words with -ity, like ability, quality and hospitality.

None of them knew you are supposed to reduce the /i/ and/t/.  To fully pronounce these sounds will be unusual for the listener, who is expecting a sound more like -adee, instead of itee.  Make the /i/ sound like the “uh” or schwa.  Make the /t/ sound like a /d/.

Also in these multi-syllabic words, you’ll want to stress the syllable right before the -adee.

Practice list of words here.

Keep up the good work speaking English!

“Love” and the Schwa

Love and the Schwa English PronunciationLearn to use the English schwa sound and you will improve your English pronunciation!

Schwa sounds like “uh” and is the relaxed central vowel (made with the tongue relaxed in the middle of the mouth and the jaw held open to the middle position.)  It is spelled several different ways, so you’ll need to memorize it sometimes.  We hear it in the words nut, luck, tug and sudden.  Here it is spelled like expected with a “u” (schwa is also called short U). But it’s spelling varies as in the words love, mother, was and the. For more understandable English, learn these common words and pronounce mother, love, was and the with the “uh” sound.

  • mother = muh ther
  • love = luv
  • was = wuz
  • the = thuh

We also reduce weak syllable vowels in multisyllabic words like poLICEman  or PREsident.  We use the schwa sound:

  • policeman = puh LICE man
  • president = PRES uh dent

See my free printable on practicing words with the schwa sound.

English Pronunciation Resource – Vowels

English Pronunciation VowelsPlease stop by my TpT store and see the latest addition to my English pronunciation resources.  I’ve added a vowel pack that will be a great supplement to teaching/learning the American English accent.

When an ESL student has a hard time being understood in English, it is often the vowels that cause the biggest problems. Relying on English spelling will cause problems because of all the exceptions to our spelling rules.

For example:

  • mother has the sound UH like in mud, not O, and it sounds like muther
  • minute (60 seconds) has its second vowel reduced to an UH sound or short I sound, not a U sound, and it sounds like minut or minit
  • feel has a long e that in influenced by the final L; it is stretched out and a linking Y sound is added in between, and it sounds like fee yul

Follow this guide to learn the exceptions and the special rules for pronouncing American English vowels. Practice words and sentences are included for each lesson, including:

  • English Vowels Overview
  • Jaw Placement for Vowels
  • Ee vs. I
  • Short I Words & Sentences
  • Ah vs. uh
  • “too” vs. “took”
  • Different ways to pronounce O
  • Stretched-out Vowels (Diphthongs)
  • L- and R-Controlled Vowels
  • Long vowels + L
  • Long Vowels + R
  • Confusing ER & OR Words
  • Reductions of Vowels

Reducing Words With i

Reducing Words With iReducing the right sounds and words make English more understandable to your listeners.  Reducing a vowel is a little bit like losing weight.  We want our size to be smaller and less noticeable.  When reducing a vowel in a word, we don’t fully pronounce that sound, but instead pronounce a more relaxed, quieter central vowel like “uh”.

What happens when you fully pronounce every vowel in “Silicon”  –  Silleee cone?  Silly Kon?  See  Lee Kon?  Do you understand that word?  I wouldn’t.  Students of English pronunciation need to reduce the weak vowels in words.  English is a stress-timed language.  We stress (louder, longer, higher pitch) the important words or parts of words.  Most everything else is reduced to the schwa sound (uh).

Words spelled with I are the worst!  Often we don’t pronounce I in weak syllables.  Be sure to reduce the i to an “uh”.

accident  =  accədent

amplify = ampləfy

animal = anəməl

Get the free printable handout here and start practicing to improve your English pronunciation today!