This is a guest post by Cheryl Posey. She is a licensed and nationally certified speech pathologist that focuses on Accent Reduction and Communication Skills Training. You can find and follow her on her Speaking Your Best website.
Open your mouth and move your lips!
When speaking American English, it is important to remember to open your mouth. This may sound funny to you, but if you think about it, many languages do not require much movement in the mouth to form sounds like American English does. This is especially true when forming vowel sounds. For example, the “ay” sound, as in the word “say” is formed by opening your mouth so that the teeth are more than an inch apart and spreading your lips in a smile. If you keep your teeth too close together and your lips relaxed and flat, the result will be a distorted sound.
If you tend to speak too softly, your listeners may not hear everything that you say. Let’s add not opening your mouth wide enough and not moving your lips enough when you speak, which creates mumbling. They may need to ask you to repeat yourself several times, or even worse, they may not ask you to repeat and go away not understanding what you said. This is the worst case scenario, as your listeners may misinterpret your words.
Take the Time to Pronounce all the Sounds in Words
Many people tend to omit sounds in words, especially the final sound. For example, when saying the words “right now,” make sure not to omit the final “t” on “right.” While Americans do not pronounce the final “t’” in “right” completely, they hold their breath and place the tongue in position to say this sound, in effect “marking” where the sound should go. This creates a slight pause in between the two words. To eliminate the “t” would make this phrase sound like “rye now.”
In addition, when saying words with three or more syllables, avoid omitting an unstressed syllable. For example, the word “generally” has four syllables. The first syllable is stressed, and the last three are not, so it should sound like “GEN-er-uh-lee.” It is common for some individuals to omit the “er”, or second syllable, making the word sound like “GEN-uh-lee.” Don’t let this happen to you!
English is not a fast language, as compared with other languages. The average speaking rate is about 150 words per minute. Whether you are a native American English speaker or speak English as a second language, speak slowly enough so that you have time to form sounds correctly and completely; however slowly that is. There is no benefit to speaking quickly. Let me repeat that: there is no benefit to speaking quickly. It does not mean that you are more fluent in the language, and it does mean that others will understand you better. The faster you speak, the more difficult it will be for others to understand your speech and to process what you say.
Listen to Americans speak
The best way to improve your comprehension of English and to learn how to express yourself is to listen to American television and radio shows. Sitcoms, which stand for “situation comedy” shows, are funny weekly television shows that are most representative of everyday vocabulary, common expressions, and situations.
If you want to listen to a neutral or standard American accent, watch any news channel, local or national. News broadcasters and anchors are trained to speak in the standard accent, which is considered to be the professional accent. This accent does not exist naturally, but the closest to it is said to be in the Midwestern part of the United States.
Question: What did you do when you were first learning American English?