Pronunciation Practice: Reading Children’s Books

Pronunciation Practice - Children's books

When I was learning Danish I was excited to discover a treasure trove of dusty children’s books in the back corner of my in-laws’ closet. They were familiar stories that I remembered from childhood, and my husband and I quickly developed an evening ritual of reading the books together. He would read one page as I would focus on how he spoke the language. Then I would do my best to read the next page while he corrected my pronunciation. 9 years later, I now sit with my 3-year-old daughter reading her books in English while my husband reads to her in Danish. She has her favorite 3 books which get read over and over again to the point that she now has them memorized.   Read More


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Speaking rate – How fast is too fast?

Speaking Rate - How fast is too fast?

I’m often asked whether how quickly we speak influences how well others understand us. If you speak clearly, speed shouldn’t be the reason why people misunderstand. But the problem is, as you speed up, it gets harder for you to speak clearly. If you drop your word endings and everything mumbles together, people might have a hard time understanding you. But, if you’re able to maintain crisp enunciation despite your quick pace, your listeners shouldn’t have a problem. More important than your speed is how you choose to group (or ‘chunk’) your words. Make sure that your pauses, no matter how short, are in logical places. You should pause according to your punctuation, after phrases and clauses or in order to emphasize important points. So   Read More


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938LIVE’s A Slice of Life Interview

Heather & Eugene 938LIVE

Today I had the great pleasure of speaking with Eugene Loh on his radio program, A Slice of Life, on Singapore’s talk radio station, 938LIVE. We had a wonderful discussion about a lot of pronunciation issues, including the difference between accent and clarity, why modelling a native accent is illogical, if not impossible, what we should focus on when it comes to speaking English clearly, why your pronunciation matters, plus some real examples of pronunciation gone wrong. It seems like common sense that International English would be used and accepted in international circles, yet still, we strive to achieve a native-English norm. Why is this happening? Click on the link below to hear my thoughts (approx. 23 min). Slice of Life Interview What do you   Read More


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Accent versus Clarity – What’s Important?

accent or clarity?

Clients who come to me for speech and pronunciation training usually have two goals: get rid of their accents and speak clearly. There seems to be an underlying assumption that accent and clarity are always linked. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are plenty of native-English speakers that are hard to understand in international settings, and there are just as many, if not more, non-native speakers who speak clearly and are easy to understand regardless of their accents. Can you ever ‘get rid of’ an accent? There are a few problems with the goal of getting rid of an accent. First of all, if we get rid of your accent, which accent are we putting in its place? There is no ‘neutral’ accent.   Read More


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Linking Words: Consonant to Vowel

linking words together

In an earlier post, I covered the topic of vowel to vowel linking. Today I’d like to introduce another form of linking: consonant to vowel. When a word ends in a consonant sound and is followed by a word starting with a vowel sound, the final consonant links onto the front of the vowel sound. For example (with dashes indicating consonant-vowel links): The black-and white house-is-an-example-of colonial-architecture. In speech, this sentence sounds a bit more like: The bla-k-and white hou-s-i-s-a-n-examp-l-of colonia-l-architecture. where the dashes indicate the connection of sound between the two words. Wherever there is a dash, you want to run the words together, linking the sounds. You shouldn’t take a breath or stop between these words. In international environments, it has been argued   Read More


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The Top 5 Pronunciation Problems and How to Fix Them

pronunciation problems - how to fix them

Are people having trouble understanding you when you speak, but you’re not really sure why? The hardest part about improving your English pronunciation is figuring out what you might be doing wrong. Here are the top 5 reasons why people might be misunderstanding you, and some quick tips for how to fix each of these issues. 1. Stressing individual words incorrectly If you usually speak with native English speakers, this will be the number one reason why they misunderstand you. It’s very hard for native English speakers to ‘translate’ a word spoken as ‘caLENdar’ to the way they would pronounce it, ‘CALendar’. Non-native English speakers don’t have as much of a problem with this, and will probably still understand what you’re trying to say. Quick   Read More


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Reading List – Pronunciation (Phonetics & Phonology)

Site bibliography

If you are interested in reading any of the background material that shapes my approach to teaching pronunciation, here is a list of the books and articles on my bookshelf. Most of these references are more suitable for teachers than students. If the articles are available for free online, I’ve included links. My favorites for each category are marked with an asterisk (*). As I continue my own learning, I’ll be adding to this list. If you know of any other great resources that aren’t listed here, please mention them in the comments! International English / English as a Lingua Franca Crystal D. 2003. English as a Global Language (2nd edn.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Jenkins J. 1998. ‘Which Pronunciation Norms and Models for English as   Read More


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How to Pronounce English Words

how to pronounce english words

Knowing how to pronounce English words correctly every time is not easy! You’ll notice that I’ve started a series on this blog called ‘How to Pronounce…‘. The goal of this series is to help you with the pronunciation of words that I commonly hear mispronounced. Words like, ‘colleague‘, ‘purchase‘, ‘hippopotamus‘, ‘refrigerator’, and yes, even ‘pronunciation‘. Each of these short articles shows you how to pronounce words correctly. You can either read the article, listen to the 60-second Quick Fix recording, or do both! The articles and recordings focus on 4 important factors: 1. Syllables I break the words into syllables for you, so you can understand the foundation of the words. 2. Word Stress You’ll hear me pronounce the words with the appropriate word stress.   Read More


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How to Pronounce ‘Purchase’

How to pronounce 'purchase'

‘Purchase’ is a word that is often mispronounced, basically because people like to pronounce it exactly as it’s written. They look at the word, break it into its syllables, PUR and CHASE, and then read them out loud. The word ends up sounding like ‘purr’ (the sound a cat makes), and ‘chase’, as in, “My 2-year-old likes to chase cats” (they aren’t usually purring when she does that).  If you’re in a hurry, here’s the 60-second Quick Fix: // // What people forget when they say ‘purchase’ is the very important tendency for vowel sounds in unstressed syllables to ‘reduce’ (change their sound) to a schwa. Remember that the schwa sound is a bit like ‘uh’. In this case, the first syllable, PUR, is stressed and the   Read More


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American Accent – What Does the Future Hold?

american accent - what's the future?

Yes, I speak with an American accent. Is that the ‘best’ accent or the most common accent? Not necessarily. But I would argue that the American accent is making gains internationally and could be set to overtake British English when it comes to ’proper English pronunciation’. Many ESL teachers are now teaching the American accent in their classes, whether they personally are American or not. The general consensus in the English language learning and teaching communities is that American English (or at least the American accent) is the future norm. There are several signs pointing in this direction already. It’s important to note that I’m based in Singapore, and I normally work with adults. I took on my very first high school program just a few weeks ago. When   Read More


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