Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Accent Reduction and Pronunciation tips for ESL students.

A very important aspect of learning English is to work on reducing your accent and focus on clear pronunciation. Sometimes these areas can be overlooked, but I feel if you can spend some time on this area you will be amazed at the good results and improvement you can experience. Remember, the object of clear communication skills is to be understood. I have met people with excellent grammar abilities but their accents were so heavy that it was very difficult for them to be understood.
In my ESL classes , I make sure that we devote a good amount of time to this endeavor. I want to share with you some of the areas that you should be working on to ensure your success with spoken English.

  • English is a stress timed language and has an almost musical quality to it. Not all languages have this stress pattern, so pay attention to this and learn the stress patterns of everyday English. Remember that not all words in a sentence receive the same stress or emphasis. The same is true of individual words, we only stress one part of the word , and this is always the vowel sound. Generally in standard stress sentences only content words receive stress, for example nouns, principle verbs, adverbs and adjectives. Generally function words such as prepositions, conjunctions, auxiliary verbs , articles are unstressed. Note that I say generally, as this is not a hard and fast rule. As with many points in English the rules can and do change, but you can definitely use this as a helpful guideline. Look at the following sentence and try saying it aloud, putting more stress on the italicized words.
My new car is a Hybrid. It's great as it does 40 miles to the gallon. By putting the stress on those particular words, we are creating a rhythm and beat that is distinctive and gives the sound of English. You will notice that saying a stressed word takes longer than saying a non-stressed word and this also creates the distinct stress patterns of English.
  • The next point to consider is making sure that you properly pronounce the final end sounds of words. Pay particular attention to ed - endings and plural sounds. In English we pronounce all the letters unless they are silent, for example climb. The b is silent here.

  • You will begin to notice that not all words are said individually and this may be true in your own language too. We tend to string words together and this is sometimes called linking .This gives a more smooth and fluid quality to your sentences.

  • Another area to be aware of is isolating those individual sounds that may be difficult for you to produce. For example many nationalities have difficulty with the sound of th. If you are Asian you might struggle with l and r. Russian speakers might find v and w a challenge. Many people will need reminding of the different vowel sounds in ship and sheep.
A fun way to practice all the above is to watch movies or TV shows and study the way in which the actors speak their lines. Pay attention to the intonation of their voices, the way in which they pause, the words that they stress. After a while it will become more natural for you to do the same when you speak. Just being aware of the mechanics of the language will assist you greatly with developing the clearest accent possible.

I am a qualified ESL tutor , If you need accent reduction and pronunciation lessons please contact me.