Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The English sounds of L and R

English shares many sounds that are also evident in many other languages. However some languages do not share all the same sounds. Some of the English sounds can seem exotic and hard to pronounce to some. Those whose original language is Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, or one of the other Asian languages often have difficulty with the consonants l and r. Lola runs the railroad to Lollapalooza can be a muddled mess when said by those who struggle with their l's and r's.

The r sound can appear in three places in a word; beginning, middle and end. In British English the r is silent when said at the end or the middle of a word but is pronounced when at the beginning. When an r is at the beginning of a word it is always rhotic (the r sound) as in ruby. In American English the r has a strong rhotic sound in the beginning, middle, and end of a word.

The r sound should not use the tongue. Use the jaw to open your mouth to make the sound. It should begin in the front of the mouth then move to the back while slowly opening. Think of how a dog barks "ruff, ruff, ruff", the r is a gnarling sound that slowly opens. Try imitating the bark of a dog to perfect the r sound. You may feel silly doing this but it can really help you to get your r to sound more natural.

For the L sound try singing using the sound la. Practice it so it comes out naturally. L is a sound that should utilize the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth.

The word gnarl (the g is silent) is a great way to practice using both sounds together. The front of the mouth should open to allow a wide ah sound, which then is slightly closed to make the r, then the tongue rises right at the end to produce the l sound. Try it for yourself out loud.

Once you think you have both sounds down pat, try some sentences that contain both sounds so you can feel the difference between the two and learn to blend them together smoothly and clearly.

Let me have a lick of your lollipop.
The red rover leaped over the hill.
Lola ran the railroad to Lollapalooza.
Rainy days require umbrellas.
Rudolf the red nosed reindeer
Looking through the looking glass.
Rodents lie under rusty roofs.
I like to eat lemon and rhubarb pies.

I hope these help you to pronounce your l's and r's more naturally, don't feel silly when doing them just know that you are making your English better. Go ahead and invent your own examples full of l and r sounds!

Try these tips friends:

Use a mirror when practicing the sounds - it will help ensure your tongue is in the right position and that your mouth is in the right shape.

Record the above sentences when you speak them and then listen back to see where you can improve. 

The American sound of R

The r sound is a distinctive one in the English 
language and has the most variation among the native speakers of English. In all English dialects the r is pronounced at the beginning of a word or the start of a new syllable. In the UK, Australia, South Africa and others the r is usually silent at the end of the word unless the next word begins with a vowel. In America, Canada, and some parts of the UK the r is almost always pronounced (these are called rhotic accents). The goal of this article is to give you a firrrmerrr grasp of the American r so you can speak more clearly and with confidence.

Speakers of other languages often think of American English sounds as if the speaker has a wad of gum in their mouth. It is true, English, and especially American English uses the jaw to form words more than other languages. Do not be afraid to open your mouth wide to allow the full vowels to come out. Notice how the speakers open their mouth when speaking and try to emulate it when speaking yourself.

The r is a gnarling sound where the sound is focused at the front of the mouth. The tongue must point to just behind the ridge that lies just behind your teeth when producing the r sound, however do not allow the tongue to touch the ridge. It must gently point upward. Try modulating from the open ah sound to the arrr sound by gently closing your jaw and raising your tongue to produce the sound until it becomes easy and second nature. This sound is pronounced even at the end of sentences. Do not over do it, remember, the r is natural and shouldn't cause any strain in your jaw.

Watching American media is a great way to get a grasp on the sounds, as well as getting as much conversation practice as possible with native speakers.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

New words in the English language

English is constantly changing, whether it is evolving or degenerating is up for debate. Here are some new words that have come about by grace of the internet and the modern age as well as fusing with other languages. Maybe you have come across some of these words yourself in every day English. Remember the following vocabulary is used in casual spoken English mainly.

Noob (n)- Slang for newbie: someone who is inexperienced and new to doing something; ex: Quit being such a noob.

Hang out (v) or (n)- 1)To get together with a group to socialize usually in a carefree way. 2) A place in which to spend free time i.e. a cafĂ© or bar. ex:1 Do you and Billy want to hang out later? ex: 2 The Hive is a pretty cool hang out.

Do-over (n) 1) A chance to try doing something again having failed the first time: I think is apple pie could use a do-over.

Rendezvous (n) (v) 1) To escape from somewhere. 2) To meet somewhere (Original French meaning) ex: I can't stand this movie, let's make a rendezvous.

Selfie (n) 1) A self taken picture of oneself.

La-la land (n) 1) Fanciful or unrealistic dreamland. ex: He's always in la-la land so he never listens to what the teacher is saying in class.

Popo (n) 1) Humorous slang for the police.

Bling (n) 1) Accessories such as rings or chains that are usually gaudy or shiny. Also any jewelry.

'Sup (slang phrase) 1) Shortening of "what's up" (how are you or what's going on?)

DIY (abbreviation) 1) Abbreviation of do-it-yourself. Pronounce the letters individually.

Ginormous (US adjective) 1) A combination of gigantic and enormous; meaning very large.

Dive (n) 1) A rundown diner or restaurant especially on the road.

Downer (n) 1) A situation or a person that is ruining the mood.

Uber (adj) 1) Truly amazing or super

Loudmouth (n) 1) Someone who talks an excessive amount.

Old school (adj) 1) Something regarded as classic or definitive.

Bestie (n) 1) Best friend

Jazzy (adj) 1) Interesting and unusual.

Frenemy (n) 1) A person with whom you share a mutual animosity but pretend to like each other.

Digs (n) 1) The place where you live

Wannabe (n) 1) Some that claims and tries to be something that they are not.

Bromance (n) 1) A platonic, very close and amiable relationship between two male friends.

Bucket list (n) 1) A list of things you want to accomplish or experience before you die.

Hipster (n) (adj) 1) A subculture of modern society who appreciate obscure and unusual things often for superficial reasons.

Broke (adj) 1) Being out of money.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

TOEFL Preparation- The Speaking Test

Speaking is an area where many students have fear or lack of confidence especially when being tested. Fear not! The speaking section of the TOEFL test is only 20 minutes long and consists of just 6 questions. The purpose of the test is to determine the taker's ability to communicate in the English language. Clarity is the foremost thing to keep in mind when taking the test. Of the 6 questions two will be from familiar topics, two will be in response to written passages, and two will be responding to a conversation and a lecture.

Questions 1 and 2

In the first question you will be asked about a topic familiar to you. You will be given 15 seconds to prepare your answer and 45 seconds to respond. During the preparation make sure to jot down the key elements to your response. The question will be fairly simple and give you plenty of room to add details with supported reasoning.
The second question will offer you a choice, it doesn’t matter which scenario you pick ,it is your response that counts. Again you will be given 15 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to respond. Make sure to give supporting reasons for your choice and explain why you made that choice.

Questions 3 and 4

These questions are drawn from a written passage and an accompanying short listening piece related to the passage. Question 3 will have you read a passage relating to an issue pertaining to university life. You are allowed 45 seconds to read the passage which will introduce you to the subject and then typically you will hear two viewpoints which you are then given 60 seconds to respond. The examiners aren't looking for your personal opinions on the passage but the details and opinions of others in the passage, so make sure you take some notes of the details while listening.

Questions 5 and 6

These questions will be based solely on listening material. In each question you are given 20 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to speak. Question 5 will be a conversation between two people. Remember to take notes on each persons opinions on the subject and the issues they are talking about.

The last question in the speaking section of TOEFL is drawn from a lecture. Make sure to be listening out for specific facts that will most likely be the source of your response.

How to Prepare for the Speaking Exam:

What you want to be doing to prepare yourself for the speaking exam is having conversations in English as much as you can. Make sure you have someone with whom you can practice speaking. Preferably a native English speaker. You need to be able to speak clearly and naturally with a high degree of grammatical accuracy. Talk about specific subjects with a friend: watch a movie and talk about noteworthy situations and scenes that happened. Make sure if you are practicing with a speaker of your own native language that you do not resort to conversing in your mother tongue.

Above all don't let your nerves get the better of you. For many, speaking in a foreign language can be the most difficult part of learning a new language. This is because languages are different when they are spoken from when they are written. Just relax and focus on expressing yourself clearly. Have fun if you can!


Each question is graded on a scale of 0-4. 3 is usually considered a decent score. Things they factor into grading are delivery (pronunciation and clarity of speech), language use (grammar and vocabulary), and topic development (whether your responses related to the topic). You want to  ensure that you automatically form sentences correctly and don't step back to rearrange sentences. Minor errors won't hurt your score too badly as long as the meaning of your response is not obscured. Stay on topic and don't veer into unrelated territory.