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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Pronouncing the Double ‘C’

pronouncing the double 'c'

How do you pronounce ‘access’, ‘success’, ‘accept’, ‘accident’ and ’accent’? What about ‘accuse’, ‘account’, ‘raccoon’, ‘acclaim’, ‘piccolo’ and ‘moccasin’? The double ‘c’ can cause some problems because there are two different ways it can be pronounced: ‘ks’ or ‘k’. So which pronunciation should we use, and when? Luckily there is a simple answer to this question. I’m no poet, so this is the closest I can come to a catchy little rhyme to help you remember the rule: Double ‘c’ before ‘i’ or ‘e’ should be pronounced as ‘ks’. But double ‘c’ should be a ‘k’ when it comes before anything else. Not bad, huh? Here are some examples before ‘i’ or ‘e’: success = suk-SESS, access = AK-sess, accident = AK-si-dent And some examples before other letters: piccolo =   Read More


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Linking Words: Vowel to Vowel

linking words together

One way that you can immediately improve the fluency and overall flow of your English is by paying attention to how you link your words together. Although it’s important to finish your words, not drop word endings, and speak clearly, in everyday speech we normally do tie our words together. When you fail to link your words, you end up sounding (at best) staccato, and (at worst) jarring. In this short post I’d like to talk about just one type of linking: vowel to vowel. This refers to words that end in a vowel sound followed by words that begin with a vowel sound. When this happens, we tie the two words together by inserting a ‘w’ or ‘y’ sound. Let’s look at a few   Read More


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How to Pronounce ‘Hippopotamus’

how to say hippopotamus

This is probably one of my favorite mispronunciations ever. I was sitting with one of my Singaporean clients and we were talking about tough English words. She mentioned some words that she recently found out she was mispronouncing and we had a laugh about them. You have to be able to laugh at yourself when it comes to these things! Then she said, “Oh, but the hardest one for me is ‘hippo-puh-TAY-mus.” I let out a giggle thinking she was purposely mispronouncing the word, but then it became clear that she was taught to say the word that way. I couldn’t believe it! “Your teachers pronounced it that way?!” “Yep.” Her whole life she had been saying hippo-puh-TAY-mus, never knowing it was incorrect. Thank goodness   Read More


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