- I know I have an accent but I don’t know exactly what to do to be more understandable.
Different languages have different rhythms and sounds. You bring your native language habits with you when you speak English. Plus, many words in English do not sound like you might think when you look at them. But, there are also other important reasons you may not be understood.Many people speak too softly and, if people can’t hear you, it’s a sure thing that they won’t understand you. If you speak too quickly, that also increases the chances you will be misunderstood. It’s important to determine what your issues are before you start working on changing. Don’t waste time and energy working on the wrong things. Take time to learn what your problem areas are and then target the ones that can make the biggest difference.
- I want to sound like I was born here. Some programs offer “accent elimination.” Can I eliminate my accent?
Research shows that if you learn to speak a second language after age 11, you will probably always speak with an accent. But, can you make changes? Yes, almost always. And, when you make changes in your pronunciation, your confidence grows. It’s great when you get to the point that you feel your accent is an asset. You don’t sound like everyone else and, if you are understandable, there are advantages to sounding unique.
- How much change can I expect to make in my pronunciation?
Everyone is different. Some people will see greater change than others. Regardless, you will want to learn techniques that are most helpful for you. Remember: with regular practice, small steps add up.
- How long will it take to improve my accent?
Everyone progresses at their own pace. Some people are faster than others. Breaking it down into achievable steps will ensure you won’t get frustrated. Lots of practice followed by gradual transfers of what you have practiced into conversation will help you establish new habits.
- When I get nervous or stressed, it’s much harder to talk clearly.
We understand. That’s true for most people—whether you are a native speaker or not, but it is more difficult when you are not confident. It doesn’t help to just “calm down.” Try to analyze exactly what happens under pressure. Do you begin to speak more quickly? Too softly? Do you pause too often? If you understand your issues, then you can focus constructively on them and gain the confidence that results from knowing how to speak clearly.
- I have trouble pronouncing some English sounds. Where do I start?
Some sounds are more difficult than others. This is usually because of your native language but it also relates to you as an individual—everyone is unique. It’s important to spend time listening so you can differentiate what is ideal and learn what you are doing differently. It’s always a good idea to begin with those targets you have almost mastered but aren’t 100% correct yet. Don’t begin with the most difficult things—you will be likely to get frustrated.
- Casual conversation is really hard for me because I learned more formal English.
That’s understandable. Talking is usually more relaxed than writing and spoken American English is more relaxed than what many people have learned. Listening carefully to how others talk will help you understand the differences. Try listening to radio (such as National Public Radio and Voice of America) or others’ conversations carefully. Notice what words people choose, how they express their ideas.
- What about the words I have problems with?
Knowing which words you struggle with is a great first step. Identifying why those words are hard is the next step. Then you can practice “easier” versions and work up to the “hard” ones. If you buy a book, a video, or an audio CD, you will not get all of the words you want or need. The same is true with other pronunciation software programs. Because American Speechsounds software has an Authoring capability, you can add everything you need.
- The sounds at the ends of words are hard to pronounce. I forget plural and past tense endings when I talk.
Yes, this is a common challenge for many non-native speakers. And, because English uses endings to convey past tense, plurals, possessives and more, they are important. It may be because you don’t have this feature in your native language; it may be because the sound system is different. It really doesn’t matter why you have trouble. You’ll need to practice pronouncing these endings and gradually make them a habit.
- Some English words have “silent” letters. How do I know which ones?
Because English has roots in many different languages, there is no perfect correlation between the spelling and pronunciation. This adds to your challenge. After you hear words repeatedly you will learn that “doubt” is not pronounced with a B sound, for example. Interestingly, native speakers have just the opposite problem—they learn to pronounce words first and spell them later so they grow up hearing “dowt” and have to memorize an illogical spelling. We have exercises in our software to teach you the common words with silent letters.
- If someone doesn’t understand me I may try to spell a word but sometimes this doesn’t work.
It’s often helpful to spell aloud but you need to know how to pronounce the names of the letters. Z, for example, is not “zed,” it’s “zee.” You can also learn common code words that will insure it’s clear—such as “Z as in zebra.”
- I want to speak English more fluently and with the right melody. What should I practice?
Many experts believe this is the most crucial part of making yourself more understandable. You may want to begin with short words and gradually increase to phrases, longer words, and sentences, trying to match the model exactly. By practicing every target in phrases and sentences, you’ll be constantly working on the stress and rhythm that is uniquely American.
- English stresses certain syllables and I often stress the wrong ones.
You may pronounce all of the sounds correctly in a word but, if you stress the wrong syllable, it can be completely unrecognizable. Try saying “ca-tas-TRO-phe” instead of the correct “ca-TAS-tro-phe.” Pay attention to which syllables are stressed. In a stressed syllable the vowel is prolonged, pitch (how “high” or “low” your voice is) goes up and volume (how loudly or softly you speak) goes up. Another important area to notice is how short and relaxed many of our unstressed syllables are. There are many exercises in American Speechsounds for you to practice stress.
- Talking in person is easier than on the phone. Why?
When you talk face to face with someone you have more feedback and can see if you are being understood. You can also use facial expression and gestures to support your message.
- Talking on the phone is easier than in person. Why?
Some of our clients have reported this. If it feels more secure not seeing your listener, perhaps you relax more.
- I feel like I speak too slowly.
That is a common complaint. Stop and think of all the people you hear. How many of them talk too slowly? Not many, right? How many speak too quickly? Many. Most of us feel we speak more slowly than we actually do, but it is much more likely that we speak too quickly. However, some people can work on flow and, even at the same rate, will sound more fluent.
- People tell me that I speak too quickly.
That is very common. Many speak people too quickly, including native speakers and that makes it more difficult for people to understand. Just listen to how people answer the phone. Most of us feel we speak more slowly than we actually do. Trying to “slow down” has limited success. Focusing on vowel length or ending sounds is a great way to reduce your rate. Voice projection is a technique that has shown to be an effective way to speak more slowly, too.
- When someone asks me to repeat myself or tells me they don’t understand, I lose confidence and my speech falls apart.
Talking is a two-way street. It is you and your listener and your listener may get nervous, too. If he or she doesn’t understand, he may not know what to do. Your job when talking is not just to be clear but to engage and put your listener at ease. If you admit that English is difficult and show your listener that you are really trying, that is often enough. We have seen this work very effectively: “I have an accent. If you don’t understand something I say, please let me know and I will try again.” Humor can be a powerful ally. One of our earliest clients from Korea had a heavy accent and his job involved giving presentations to very important people. He began his talks by saying, “If you don’t understand my Texas accent, please let me know.” Everyone laughed and relaxed and communication was successful after that.
- I feel like I don’t know enough words.
It may be true but often it’s not how many words, it’s how they are used that’s important. Lots of vocabulary development techniques exist to expand your vocabulary. Choose a method that gives you a word a day that you practice in several different ways. Review these words every week and month until you master them. One caution: people who use really high level words often intimidate and distance themselves from others and that’s not the point of communication. All of us have a larger receptive vocabulary (words we understand) than expressive (words we use).
- Do I need to use idioms?
Honestly, no. You can, but be sure you are using them correctly if you do use them. If you use an idiom incorrectly, it’s much worse than not using it at all.
- Should I use contractions?
Without contractions, you may sound a little more formal than most native speakers. This shouldn’t cause you to be misunderstood, though. You’ll have to decide what feels right for you.
- How much to I need to practice to change my accent?
You are changing a habit. Regular, daily practice is critical. You should gradually begin to transfer what you have learned into conversation. That’s where it counts.
- Why should I consider American Speechsounds software?
Here are just some of the reasons: American Speechsounds offers a huge amount of content and Authoring allows you to add more so you won’t get bored. A language-based directory identifies the areas of English that are difficult based on your native language. You may choose between multiple phonetic options to see how a word is pronounced. Video clips show each sound being made. You learn critical listening skills first so you learn to monitor your own speech. Your scores and recommendations in the listening exercises tell you when to proceed to recording. American Speechsounds is well organized, starting at a level you are comfortable with and becoming progressively more challenging.
- Who developed American Speechsounds?
Speech pathologists with more than 20 years experience working with clients just like you created American Speechsounds. We understand the challenge of moving from one point to the next. Series of small steps really add up. And, certain techniques can be very powerful.
- How is American Speechsounds used?
By schools, businesses, and individuals. In labs, in libraries, on single computers. In conjunction with pronunciation training, ESL classes, and independently.
- What about software upgrades?
We are constantly upgrading and expanding our programs, bringing you new features to make speaking English easier, adding new exercises that will be helpful. Once you purchase our product, we try to provide free upgrades or make upgrades available for a nominal cost.