Pronouncing English: Accent Reduction

Being new to a country can be a culture shock. Not understanding the language can make it even more difficult. Being an individual where English is my second language, I am all too familiar with the challenges of learning a new language where often times pronunciation seems like an insurmountable obstacle. However, a speech therapist can often help with learning the sounds of a new language to help improve pronunciation of words and eliminate any accents or influences from the native language. This results not only in better pronunciation but also an increase in confidence when speaking. Problems with pronunciation for individuals where English is a second language can stem from two issues- a new alphabet where all letter combinations seem unfamiliar and where certain sounds do not exist or from letter pairings that are pronounced differently in their native language versus in the English language. 

This can result in adopting an accent when speaking. Often times these difficulties arise from an inability to distinguish between voiced and unvoiced sounds. Voiced sounds are sounds where the vocal cord is used and its vibration is necessary whereas unvoiced sounds are sounds that are formed without this vibration and that only require the correct positioning of the tongue. For example, an individual of South Asian descent often has difficulties with the pronunciation of the letter "t" and it is mispronounced as a "d." The letter "d" is the voiced version of "t." In this case, "water" is often pronounced as "wader." A speech pathologist can help correct this by helping an individual position the tongue when talking and also showing them when to use the vocal cords. For example, to produce the sound "d," the tongue needs to be placed in the middle of the roof of the mouth and the vocal folds vibrate while with the sound "t," the tongue is placed in the same position but the vocal cords do not vibrate. "Th" is formed when the tongue is placed in-between the top two front teeth and can be voiced (the vocal cords vibrate) or unvoiced (the vocal cords do not vibrate). Sometimes the "th" sound is also pronounced as a "d" or "t" by some individuals with European, South American or Caribbean accents such as in the word "they" which is often mispronounced as "dey". Another example is the letter "s" which can either be pronounced as an "s" (unvoiced) or a "z" (voiced) sound. Individuals often use one of the sounds too little or too much which is a common problem. For example, in the word "bees," the letter "s" is pronounced as a "z" sound whereas in the word "pessimistic," it is pronounced as an "s" sound. Rolling of the letter "r" is very common in Spanish such as when pronouncing it at the beginning of a word such as in "rojo" meaning red. However, in English this poses a problem because the "r" isn't rolled such as in the word "rabbit" or "red," making it difficult for native Spanish speakers to pronounce these words. The rolling of the "r" is also found in other regional speakers such as South Asians and other languages such as Welsh. Other difficulties that individuals have with learning English pronunciation is distinguishing between the sounds of vowels. For example, in French or Spanish, the letter "i" is often pronounced as an "e." In the word "indien" in French(which translates to "Indian"), the letter "i" in the middle is pronounced as a long "e". Therefore when pronouncing word such as "impossible" in English, speakers may make the same error and pronounce the word as "eemposseeble". There are many more examples of words that can be mispronounced in the English language due the inability to produce or distinguish among sounds. If your English pronunciation is causing you to have difficulty being understood, impacting your self-confidence, or limiting your professional growth, please contact us to schedule a meeting to discuss specifics of your accent and how we can work together to help you pronounce English sounds more accurately.

 By: Guest Bloger, Pavithiraa Ravindran