If you speak English as a second language and want to improve your American English pronunciation and speaking skills, you may be looking for an American accent training course. There are so many courses available on the market today that you may be wondering what kind of instructor to choose and which program is best. Since most of us turn to the internet for just about everything, beginning there for your American accent course is a good place to start.
The first thing you want to find out when searching for a good American accent training course is what the trainer's qualifications are: is he/she a certified speech and language pathologist, or trained as an ESL teacher? You will find both. You will want to look thoroughly for the instructor that you feel is best qualified to teach you, as well as the person with whom you feel a connection. In other words, you should really like working with your instructor, whoever it is.
Let's first begin by talking about what an ESL teacher is. ESL stands for "English as a second language", and this type of instructor is trained to teach the English language to anyone who is learning it as a second language. They should be certified to teach English by taking training courses, such as the TESOL, TEFL, or others. They do not require a college degree or master's degree to be an instructor. ESL instructors often teach individuals who have limited or no experience with English and work to develop vocabulary, oral grammar, and stressing and intonation patterns. They also instruct individuals who have a good foundation for English and focus on improving pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar skills.
A speech and language pathologist must have a master's degree and needs to be licensed and nationally certified to practice. They are trained to treat speech and language disorders of all types, although in the past ten years or so they have begun taking a much more active role in teaching accent reduction. They usually begin where ESL instruction ends and work to help individuals improve all aspects of communication, both oral and written. Please keep in mind that individuals who speak English as a second language do NOT have a speech or language disorder, but a language difference. This means that there is nothing physically wrong with them to cause the speech and language differences they have. These differences occur only as a result of not having the same sound system or grammar structure in their native language as we do in English. Because of the speech pathologist's extensive knowledge of the underlying aspects of communication, they have expertise in understanding just where the tongue is inside the mouth when forming sounds and can easily identify the changes a person needs to make to change an accented sound into the correct American English pronunciation. They also have extensive training in language development and are well-equipped to teach all aspects of grammar. There is no other professional who has this type of intensive training.
But what type of program is best when looking for an American accent training course? Look for an accent reduction program that addresses you as an individual, and your needs and choose an instructor you like! Even if you decide to choose the most well-known, established company to work with, if you don't relate well to your instructor, chances are you won't like your classes and won't learn much. Also, make sure your course is customized for you, based on your unique needs and goals. You should receive an in-depth speech assessment and have input as to what you would like to accomplish. For example, if you need to give presentations frequently at work, then delivering effective presentations should be on your list of goals, if you feel it is a weakness. Once the evaluation is completed, the instructor is ready to develop a program for you and classes can begin.
With the world at your fingertips on the internet, choosing the right accent reduction program can be tedious and time-consuming. Don't give up! Look at different websites to see what the different companies have to offer. You can tell a lot by the information they provide and you can get an idea about the methods they use to teach accent reduction. Once you have narrowed down your search, try contacting companies directly and speak to them in person. You should get a feel for which company and instructor best fits your needs and go from there.
When we speak, our listeners get an impression of how we feel from our tone of voice. We can sound pleasant and friendly, angry and upset, and irritated or frustrated.
It is not enough to just say the right words, we also need to be cautious about the tone we use, so that we convey our message effectively. How do you want to be perceived? Do you let your underlying emotions interfere in your daily conversations with others? If you do, then you may be sending the wrong messages!
When we express a firm or harsher voice, we usually display the following features:
1. Good morning, how are you doing today?
2. I like the idea you had in today’s meeting.
3. You did a really good job on that project.
4. I’d like to talk to you for a minute, if this is a good time.
5. Would you like to go out for lunch tomorrow at noon?
6. I think that we should go with Al’s idea for this project.
7. You make a good point, and I will keep that in mind.
8. Could we talk about that a little later?
9. It’s so good to see you!
10. Thank you for the compliment.
Idioms are expressions that mean something completely different from the literal translation of the words, and as we all know, American English is full of them. Many idioms can be categorized in terms of categories or specific words they include. Let’s take the word “up” for example. This simple, two-letter word can be an adjective, noun, verb, preposition, or adverb. It has more meaning than perhaps any other word in English! American English incorporates this word into many, many expressions. Let’s take a look at just a few of the ways the word “up” can be used in idioms.
Most of us “wake up” early during the week so that we can “get up” and get ready for work each day. Women often “fix up” their faces and their hair and “get dressed up” for work, while others go to work in casual attire. Some of us have flexible work hours, while others with strict bosses may be “up the creek” if they are even one minute late. It really is “up to” the individual person in charge. We tend to “look up” to people we admire, and are encouraged to “speak up” at meetings. Sometimes at work, we need to “write up” reports, “call up” customers, we often get "tied up" in meetings, and “think up” new ideas and concepts.
Not everything goes well all the time in our daily lives. No one “signs up” for difficult situations, but they are inevitable. We sometimes “stir up” trouble when we don’t mean to, often have to “clean up” messes, "fix up" our cars when they break down, try to “think up” excuses for things when we get into trouble, "make up" with someone after an argument, "lawyer up" in a criminal case, and "tie up" loose ends. At least we can relax at lunchtime, can’t we? Well, after we “line up” to get our meals, we can sit and “chat up” our friends, and not get “hung up” with our problems.
Yes, “up” seems to be everywhere. If you “look it up” in the dictionary, you may be amazed at what you find. Go to www.dictionary.com for instance, and take a look at the lengthy page of definitions for this word. You may “wind up” needing reading glasses after you read it, because it will “take up” a lot of your time.
I could go on and on about the word “up”, but I’ll leave the rest “up to” you. See how many expressions using “up” you can think of, and don’t “give up!” Maybe you’ll “come up” with a hundred!
If you speak English as a second language, you naturally have difficulty pronouncing some sounds. This is because you do not have these sounds in your native language. Some sounds occur more frequently than others, and these are the sounds you should work on mastering first, as they will have the greatest impact on your spoken English.
The “r” sound is probably the most frequently used sound in English. It occurs as a consonant, as in the words “red” and “around”; it occurs as a vowel, as in the words “mother” and “bird”; it occurs in diphthongs, as in the words “fair”, “year” and “before”; and it occurs in consonant blends as in the words “three”, “scratch”, and “practice.” The “r” is everywhere!
If English is your second language, you most likely are pronouncing the “r” very differently than how it is pronounced in English. Most languages use the tip of the tongue to form the “r” and the lips remain flat and relaxed. The tongue tip quickly hits the roof of the mouth just behind the upper front teeth either once, which is called “rolling”, or several times, which is called “trilling.” Languages such as Spanish, Russian, Arabic, and Portuguese are just a few that form the “r” in this way. Other languages, such as German and French form the “r” with the back of the tongue against the back of the throat, with the lips again remaining flat and relaxed.
To form the American English “r”, follow these simple steps:
For more information on improving spoken English, go to www.speakingyourbest.com.
Many non-native English speakers fall into the same trap when speaking: they try to use long, complex sentences that they have not yet mastered in terms of grammar. What happens is that they make many grammar errors, and the sentences they are trying to say become jumbled or confusing to their listeners. They might hear, "Could you repeat that?"
Try to remember this one important rule when speaking: KEEP IT SIMPLE. Speak in sentences using grammar you have mastered. If shorter, more simple sentences are what you can form well, then these sentence structures are what you should use. If you try to speak in long, complex sentences that you still have difficulty forming, you will make mistakes and confuse your listener. Always stick to what you know.
Right about now you might be saying, "If I speak in shorter, more simple sentences, people will think I don't know English or that I'm stupid". This is simply not true! In general, when you are speaking, no one will notice that your sentences are shorter; they will only notice that your grammar is correct. They will think you speak very good English! They will notice, however, when you make mistakes in grammar, or when what you say confuses them.
Remember, listeners expect to hear people speaking with correct grammar, regardless of the length or complexity of the sentences being used. Listeners do not focus necessarily on the complexity of what you say, but the accuracy of what you say.
It is important to speak in sentences using grammar you feel comfortable with and that you have mastered. Practice increasingly longer, more complex sentences as often as you can. Ask for corrections when you make mistakes, and you will learn more quickly. The more you use complex sentences, the easier it will become.
Practice makes perfect!
For more information regarding how you can receive accent reduction classes, visit www.speakingyourbest.com
Learn How to Make Public Speaking a “Piece of Cake”
Think of it this way: A public speaking event is any situation in which you are speaking in front of a group of people. Whether you are presenting information to two people or two hundred people, you have an audience. Public speaking can take many forms, including: formal presentations using PowerPoint, presenting a report on a project to your team, answering a question, making a comment at a meeting, presenting ideas to your manager, brainstorming, and participating in a conference call, just to name a few.
The words “public speaking” can make many people very nervous! This nervousness can often be traced all the way back to our middle and high school years. I’m sure we can all remember a time when we had to stand in front of our class and give a presentation on a particular topic, being totally scared out of our minds.
Some people just seem to be natural public speakers. They sound like they have confidence, are in control, and are very convincing, while others do not. What is their secret? How can you sound so convincing and sure of yourself?
If you fear public speaking, here are some guidelines that will help you overcome those fears and help make delivering your presentations a “piece of cake.”
1. Know your material
You should be knowledgeable about your topic and feel comfortable talking about it. Knowing your material inside and out is one key factor in giving a good presentation. If there are sections of your talk in which you do not feel quite as comfortable as others, make sure and review that information or ask for assistance from someone who does. Do this as soon as possible, so that you have enough time to become familiar with it.
2. Rehearse what you are going to say
When I say “rehearse”, I don’t mean going through your presentation a few times. What I mean is that you must practice your speech over and over and over again until you know it by heart. I can’t emphasize this enough! The more familiar you are with what you are going to say, the more confident and relaxed you will be. This means that you will need to practice more than three times. It might take 20 times or more of going through your presentation before you feel comfortable and know it well. In other words, go through it until you feel you’ve reached the point where you don’t feel nervous in practice.
To make your rehearsals feel more realistic, you can stand in front of a mirror while you give your presentation, or have your family members listen to you and provide you with feedback when you are done. Another great idea is to record what you say and then go back and listen to it to pick out your strengths and weaknesses.
3. Make eye contact with your audience
When giving presentations or talks in person, it is important that you take a few seconds at a time to look at each person in the room. This will let them know you are talking directly to them. As hard as this is, it is very important to do. Find someone in the audience that is smiling at you, and focus on them first. We always feel more comfortable and relaxed when we know the person we are speaking to is enjoying our talk. Similarly, don’t spend much time looking at someone who is not smiling, as you want to avoid thinking negatively,.
When you look at people in your audience, try to smile! Let them know that you are comfortable with your material, you are happy to be speaking to them and you are confident. If you don’t smile, you might send more of a negative message to your listeners.
5. Have fun!
Try not to be too serious. The best speakers always seem to have fun. They may tell a joke or funny story at the beginning and insert little anecdotes as they go along, making you feel relaxed and comfortable. Laughter is important because it helps us relax and establish a rapport with the speaker. Once that connection is made, your audience will happily pay closer attention to you.
6. Speak slowly
When speaking in front of a group, always remember that, “slower is better” when it comes to speaking rate. Speak clearly and take your time to pronounce all the sounds in words so that your audience understands your speech easily. If you speak too quickly, you may tend to slur over sounds or words or present too much information on one breath. This may make it difficult for your audience to follow you.
7. Speak loudly enough
You must speak loudly enough so that your audience hears you comfortably. If you notice people are leaning forward, frowning, turning one ear toward you, or asking you to repeat, these are good clues that you may be speaking too softly. You may even want to ask your audience before you begin if everyone can hear you comfortably, just to make sure that the people furthest away from you can hear you.
8. Use lots of stressing
Stressing refers to the up and down melody we use when we emphasize an important word. The more you stress, the more enthusiastic you will sound to your audience. Hence, they will pay more attention to you if you are enthusiastic versus flat and uninteresting. Who wants to listen to someone who doesn’t show any emotions about what they are discussing?
9. Speak in sentences that are easy to understand and that are not too long
Keep your sentence length manageable. Avoid speaking in very long, complex sentences that continue and continue with “and”, “but”, so”, etc. Sentences that are too long and complex are difficult to understand. People may ask you to repeat if you use too many run-on sentences because they are just too hard to follow and process quickly. As a general guideline, construct sentences that contain only one conjunction that connects either two statements or a phrase and a statement. You can even add an additional phrase, when appropriate.
Let’s look at some examples
“I will not be able to attend the meeting this afternoon because I have to leave work early.”
This statement is made up of two thoughts. The first one is, “I will not be able to attend the meeting this afternoon” and the second is, “I have to leave work early.” The conjunction used to connect them is “because.”
Because I was late for work, I missed and important meeting, and my manager was very upset with me.
This statement is made up of two thoughts and a phrase. It consists of a phrase at the beginning of the sentence, which is “Because I was late for work. The two complete thoughts are “I missed an important meeting” and “My manager was very upset with me.” The conjunction used to connect the thoughts is “and.”
10. Pause after you make an important point
This is a very effective speaking technique! Pausing for a 2-3 seconds after you say something new or important gives your audience a chance to process what you said and ask relevant questions. Use pausing to your advantage!
11. Use what I call the “three-step process” when answering questions or making comments
If you speak in front of a group of people on a regular basis, you know that most of the time you will need to go into some detail to answer a question or make a comment effectively. In meetings, you may have to speak for a few minutes during a meeting to effectively convey your thoughts and ideas. This is where what I call the the three-step process comes in handy, It is a great speaking technique to help you organize your thoughts and express yourself concisely. You can use this process in almost every speaking situation, whether it is work-related or not.
Here is an example of how to use the three-step process at work:
First, Give the bottom line first. Answer the question directly.
Question: Who do you think we should target it in our Campaign X?
Bottom line: Our analysis shows that we should target customers in region D for this campaign.
Second, provide details to support the answer by listing them. This will make your response organized and clear.
We should target region D for the following three reasons. 1) Customers in region D buy 50% more of our products than in any other area 2) Customers in this region have more money to spend, and 3) customers in region D go shopping more often than customers in regions A, B, and C
Third, end with a conclusion or summary to let your audience know you are done.
This project is looking good and should be completed by May 1st.
12. Don’t repeat yourself over and over
Many of us like to hear ourselves talk and may tend to say more than we actually need to. In addition, when we are nervous we may tend to repeat ourselves. Try to say what you need to say once and as concisely as possible, rather than saying the same thing over and over in different ways.
Example: Very redundant!
I think that we should really think about discontinuing project ABC because it hasn’t shown the benefits we were hoping for. The results just haven’t been that much help to us, and I think it’s becoming a waste of time. We should think about doing something instead. So, I believe that it is time to end project ABC.
13. Be specific: Avoid overusing pronouns and other vague words/phrases
Words such as “it”, “this”, “that”, “those”, “they”, “he”, “others”, “other areas of interest”, “none of the above”. If you use too many pronouns or vague words, your audience will have a difficult time understanding you.
Let’s look at an example
Vague: Targeting this for our new campaign will be really good for it. Our analysis shows that they will spend more money on them, but so far we haven’t targeted them.
Better: Targeting area A for our new campaign will result in more sales for us. Our analysis shows that customers in this area spend more money on products ABC, but so far our team has not targeted this population.
14. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know
We are all human, therefore, we are not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes and no one knows everything. What we can do, however, is to let your audience know that you can find the answer and get back to them.
Consider these examples:
Example 1: I don’t have that information for you right now, but I will get back to you later today.
Example 2: That’s a great question. I can’t answer your question at this time, but I will find the answer for you and email you.
15. How will you know if you are communicating effectively?
Measure how clear your conversations and presentations are by using the following guidelines:
Someone said that if you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world.
After trying the following verses, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months of hard labour to reading six lines aloud.
Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then say singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!
English Pronunciation by G. Nolst Trenité
My, how the world of communication has changed in recent years! Remember when we used to use a real telephone to call our friends, we actually wrote letters to people, we went to our friend’s house and knocked on their door to speak with them, and we actually had real conversations? All that is now changing, especially with young adults. With the development of smart phones, iPads, Facebook, My Space, Twitter, mini iPads, and tablets, the “old” way of communicating is experiencing some big changes. Texting, emails and messaging are replacing phone calls and are turning into acronyms, new slang, and single words and phrases with no punctuation or capital letters.
Acronyms are not only appearing in texts and messages, some are actually being adopted into the Oxford English Dictionary as acceptable words. LOL (laugh out loud), OMG (Oh, my God), BFF (best friends forever), and IMHO (in my humble opinion), are among 900 new words and slang recently added to this dictionary. If we are to keep up with the times, we have to quickly learn and understand the latest acronyms, just we can understand what others are saying. One almost needs decryption software just to decipher some of the new and popular acronyms used today!
Have you noticed that many people don’t have house phones anymore? They just have cell phones (which they hardly answer). More often than not, rather than calling someone on the phone, they text the person they want to talk to. This is quicker and they don’t have to deal with actually having to talk to them in person. The result is an impersonal message filled with acronyms, short phrases and abbreviations for words that sometimes need some translation efforts before the message is understood correctly. Today’s youth and adults are beginning to lose their social communication skills.
Let's take a look at a sample text that two people might have and what it might look like.
Speaker 1: sup?
Speaker 2: brb
Speaker 1: o rly? Np
Speaker 2: back
Speaker 1: k movie?
Speaker 1: w/e
Speaker 2: otoh, dinner?
Speaker 1: ROFL
Speaker 2: ROFL
Speaker 1: Call u L8R
Speaker 2: xoxo <3
Ok, now what does the above text actually mean in real language?
Speaker 1: What's up?
Speaker 2: Hold on a minute, I'll be right back.
Speaker 1: Oh, really? No problem.
Speaker 2: I'm back.
Speaker 1: Ok, do you want to go to a movie?
Speaker 2: It doesn't matter, whatever you want. On the other hand, it might be nice to go out for dinner.
Speaker 1: That is so funny, I'm laughing!
Speaker 2: Me, too!
Speaker 1: I'll call you later.
Speaker 2: hugs and kisses
While we all need to change with the times, it becomes worrisome to see that many people’s social language and written language skills are declining. We are too often in a hurry to get things done and do not or will not to take the time to engage in real conversations. Texting is shorter, more convenient, and takes much less effort than a live conversation. Our language skills are deteriorating, and many people do not even realize it. Texting terms and acronyms are spilling into emails we write and some students and adults are experiencing difficulty constructing cohesive written documents with correct grammar and punctuation. Modern technology is a wonderful thing, and I am all for it. I can text with the best of them. However, we must remember that effective communication is the key to success and avoid the pitfalls the convenience of modern technology provides.
Cheryl Posey is a licensed and nationally certified speech/language pathologist. She specializes in accent reduction and communication skills training and provides useful tips and suggestions to help you improve your spoken English and reduce your accent with articles from Speaking Your Best's blog. Subscribe today so that you don't miss any articles!