On one of my travels early in my career, I purchased a Dutch newspaper. As I read through some of the articles, it seemed as if I could understand the subject matter. I asked a Dutch friend to read it to me.

Even though it was written with the Latin alphabet, the same one used for English, the pronunciation was far different than I expected. There was no way for me to follow my friend’s oral reading of the sounds that she used for the letters. Her sounds were very different than my English sounds version of the same letters.


This is the problem many other speakers of other languages that use the Latin alphabet have with English pronunciation. Although they are the same symbols or combination, they are assigned differing sounds.

My clients that speak Spanish as a first language have the same struggle.

Here are some reasons why.


Spanish is a one of the most common languages spoken in the world, yet the sounds systems do not match the English spellings.

  • Spanish has 5 pure vowels and 5 diphthongs. North American English [NAE] has approximately 18 vowel sounds.
  • Spanish has 18 consonant sounds.   English has 24 consonant sounds.

As you have probably determined, Spanish speakers do not have some of the same vowel sounds, or as many consonant sounds as do NAE [North American English] speakers.

The most notable variant is that Spanish spelling is consistent with how a word is said.


Not so with English. Find a copy of the poem “English is Tough Stuff”.  In the title, the last part of “Tough” is said the same way as the last part of “stuff”. Yet the spelling is very different. The remainder of the poem becomes increasingly difficult due to the variances of the spelling.

Why? Because England’s English has been formed though centuries as a language of adaptation to invasions [Anglo-Saxons; Normans: Romans, etc] and then England as a country relying on international commerce.


These variances occur throughout English writing, though as children English speakers learn many of the differences through many years of spelling lessons.

However, don’t ask a Native English speaker to recite the poem, “English is Tough Stuff”. They may be almost as baffled as you.


Spanish pronunciation differences can interchange:

ship” or “sheep”; “tot” for taught”, or “come” for “comb”; “fool” for ““full” .

They can add the “eh” sound before /s/ consonant blends. “”ehstreet” or “Eh stove”.


Of note is the failure to pronounce the end consonant accurately or strongly enough ; e.g. cart for the English word card or brish for bridge or thing for think.

And swallowing of sounds in other consonant clusters; examples: next becomes nes and instead becomes istead.

The rhythm and stress patterns will be different as well. Again, the rules for these patterns are different than English.


What to do:

It is critical to be able to hear the differences. Listening training is the first step of each of the following. Stress pattern difference training is usually the beginning format.

Next, producing the sound from words to conversations requires a series of training exercises and guidance in how to change muscle patterns.

Seek professional guidance. Next, practice in a safe forum such as a Toastmasters international club in your area.


Phyllis Thesier, MAT CCC-SP has been training professionals in effective English communication, accent management strategies, voice and presentation skills for over 25 years in corporations across the USA and Asia. She offers personal training for individuals and groups in bootcamps and workshops or customized training.

For more information and a free initial assessment, Contact her at p.thesier@accentmgtgroup.com or +01 216 -644-9250.

Are you working on getting your great ideas understood?  You have worked hard to develop these ideas.  Now is your time to shine.  Here is how.

With all that we are asked to do, it is often difficult to recall the sequences of steps necessary to add the American accent.  Here is a quick “review”.

The Review from October 1, 2013: In order of importance:

  • Resolution: Realize that it takes lots of practice to gain a new skill.  Resolve to do what it takes.
  • Professional Software: The best interactive software that I’ve found in the last twenty years is English Talk Shop.  http://www.englishtalkshop.com/.   Start with the “LISTEN & CHOOSE” segment.  You can’t say a sound that you can’t hear!
    Contact me for a discount code on each program. 
  • Find a Mentor:  It’s best to have a native North American English speaker as a mentor to help when there are questions.
  • Toastmasters International clubs:http://www.toastmasters.org/ are good place to find and use mentors. Look up “Find a Club” on the upper right or on the Left sidebar to find clubs near you.  Visit those that say: “Open to all.
  • Decrease your Speaking Rate to 100-110 WPM [Words Per Minute]: Often, your listeners must “edit” what you are saying. That means that it will take them extra time to determine the words.  If they have to edit more than 2 or 3 times in a couple of sentences, they often stop listening.

The “Rest of the Story” May, 2014

  • Listening Discrimination: Can you hear the differences between two words with the two different sounds in single words or short phrases? If we cannot hear the differences in the speech of someone else, then how would we be able to detect if we are pronouncing it correctly or incorrectly?  Your ability to hear the differences in all of your accent targets must be at 90% accuracy across ten sets of ten lists (100 trials). “English Talk Shop” has an excellent tool to help a student accomplish this.
  • Speaking:  Single Words: Basically, one cannot run correctly if they are not walking correctly.  We must start with single words.  One sound at a time –

EXAMPLE: *Target three (3) words with the sound that you want to change

*Practice these initially, at three sets of each target sound in single words. Do this with your mentor.

*Attain a 90% correct on each of three successive sets of each of the sounds.

*Choose 3 more. And continue the process until you have 20-30 words with that target sound in the beginning, middle or final positions of words. Example: “Those: mother: bathe”

  • Phrases: Use the “English Talk Shop” phrases or something similar. Record, listen and assess yourself 20 to 30 times.  Listen and assess.
    Are you at 9 of 10 correct?  If not, ask a mentor to listen and grade you until you are at 90% for each set of 10 phrases.
  • Sentence Reading: Use the sentences in English Talk Shop. Listen and score your efforts.
    Did you make the correct sound/stress pattern/linking 9 out of 10 times? If not, again, use your mentor.
  • Responses in Sentences & Phrases: EXAMPLE:
    *Create your own sentences and phrases with the words with target sound. Or you can type the target word into “Google”.   There you will find multiple sentences from articles or websites.
    *Read and Record these and play each on back.  Does it sound correct? If not, do NOT proceed until you can make the sound correctly.
    *Next:  Pull out a word or phrase and design a new sentence without writing or reading it. Record this.  Does it sound better or worse? Say 90% correctly.
  • Cannot determine this as yet?  Record a “memo” on your phone and text or email it to your mentor.  What do they say?
  • Paragraph Reading:
    *Choose a paragraph from a favorite newspaper or professional publication.  Even better, a white paper related to your industry.  You want to increase your clarity in your industry to increase your prospects of advancing.
    *Hi-light one target sound in all of the words of a paragraph with yellow. For example:  For all of the /th/ sounds throughout the paper.
    *Read, Record, Replay and Assess: Did you produce 90% of them correctly?  If not, do it again until you can do it three (3) times in a row.
  • Still uncertain if it is correct or not?  Record a “memo” on your phone and text or email it to your mentor or to me at: p.thesier@accentmgtgroup.com. I will be happy to listen and give you a free analysis.
  • Finally!    Multiple Sentences: 60 Second Reply: Most of what we do throughout our workday is respond to questions from colleagues and clients on the phone or in meetings.  These are usually “extemporaneous”. This means that we often know what we are talking about, yet it is not a “prepared” speech.  However, these situations often cause individuals to speak less clearly.
  • To practice, have a mentor at your work ask you questions and have you record your responses.  Again, Record, Replay and Assess. How did you do?  If it is not 90% across three successive tries….Try again.  You must be able to have control at an “automatic” level.


I’m traveling again this summer.  If you are in any of these places, too, Contact me!  Let’s have a cup of tea or coffee.

May 30, 2014 – June 15, 2014: Clients in Massachusetts at TechSandBox.org

June 5, 2014 – TV Guest of Helen Fu: Your Health Compass: http://www.westfordcat.org/

June 5, 2014:  9am – 10:30am Toastmasters at TechSandbox.org

August 20  – 27, 2014: Malaysia:  Toastmasters International World Conference


Now that you have a set of strategies and, hopefully, an interactive software program, or  “English Talk Shop”,  you can attain better English clarity. Here are some English accent targets.

In the following segments, we will address the primary consonants, vowels and other pronunciation code systems that differ from the North American English [NAE] “Accent”.

Sound Components You Need to Know:

All English consonants and vowels have behavioral components that make up how each sound is made in a very rapid tiny muscle movement sequences.

Consonants have three components. Place: Manner and Voicing

Place:  Where is the sound made in the mouth? For Consonants, there are seven (7) possible places.

Manner: How is it made?

  • [a] With Friction (Fricative):
  • [b] With friction + stopped. (Affricate):
  • [c] With a plosive feature? (Plosive);
  • [d] As a gliding sound / (Glide):
  • [e] Or as a liquid free flowing sound? (Liquid)

Voicing: Ask yourself – For each consonant in English – Is the larynx (voice box) turned on when the sound is said or is it off ?

Vowels of English are made using the voice moving across different select tense or relaxed movements of the tongue and openness of the mouth and jaw.  Other English vowels are blended combination of two single vowels – called diphthongs.

Differences:  With Consonants, we often see that most substitutions are because of voicing and / or place.

Vowel differences between languages are usually in response to:

  • Not having the sound within the that individuals mother 1st language sound system or
  • Difficulty forming the sound around consonants that are not usual sound combinations within the first language.

Yet with differing versions/dialects of many languages, it can be all components that are involved in the substitutions or omissions.

When tired or stressed, muscle groups tend to revert to old learned sequenced sound patterns of movements of the first language.  Even though the vocabulary may be English.


Mandarin: Mainland Standard: Although Mandarin has approximately four “dialects” / versions, it is mutually understood across most of China.

The NAE / English sounds that differ:

NOTE- Spellings are often different.

Phonemes in NAE – English that are not found in Mandarin include the following vowels and consonants:


* /ae/ sound as in “ back” – Common substitution may be an /ah/

* /ai:/ diphthong – long “I” sound as in “lime” — Common substitution may be an /ah/

* /ei:/ diphthong – long “A” sound as in “ grey;” — Common substitution may be an /eh/

* /i:/ long “E” sound as in “green” — Common substitution may be an /ih/

* /eh/ sound as in “Red” — Common substitution may be an /ih/

* /ow/ diphthong – sound as in “Yellow”  — Common substitution may be an /ah/

* /oo/ sound as in “Wood” — Common substitution may be an /uh/

* /ow/ diphthong – sound as in “Brown” — Common substitution may be an /uh/

* /u:/ long “U” sound as in “ “Blue” — Common substitution may be an /ah/

Consonants: There be either final consonant deletions or these substitutions;

* /v/ sound as in “various; river, love”  — Common substitution may be an /f/ or /w/

* /z/ sound as in “ zoo; easy; knees” – Common substitution may be an /s/

* /sh/ sound as in “sheet; social; quiche” — Common substitution may be an /s/

* /zh/ sound as in “ vision; beige” — Common substitution may be an /s/ or /z/

* /ch/ sound as in “ chair; nature; watch” — Common substitutions may be an /ts/:

  • (/ts/  & /dz/ are common sounds in Mandarin)

* /J/ sound as in “jeans; logic; package” — Common substitution may be an /dz/

* /th/ voiceless – sound as in “ thick; healthy; with” — Common substitution may be a /s/ or /f/

* /th/ voiced – sound as in “these; either, smooth” — Common substitution may be a /d/ or /z/

Listen to each word on a pronunciation website such as www.dictionary.com.  You can see the spelling, the simplified pronunciation, the IPA spelling as well as Hear the pronunciation of the sound in the word.   Record your effort – Have Mentor listen – Then record correctly 9 out of 10 times.

It takes practice to override old learning. 

Resolve to do what it takes.   Practice and desire make magic happen.

Recently, I gave a presentation and a workshop to a large group of International MBA students at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Three second-year MBA students assisted me.  Two of them were from China.

Each had a story of  “code-switching” of accents and grammar when they were doing their internships. They noted that when they spoke Mandarin with another student from China before going to a meeting where they spoke English, they found that their American colleagues less understood their English.

After listening to a meeting recording, they understood.  They were “code-switching”: In effect, using some Mandarin sound system, rhythm and grammar rules when they were speaking English.

The confused listener did not understand and stopped listening to the speaker.

Does this happen to you?

A Sports Analogy

All of us watch or play an athletic sport, correct?  And in each one of these sports, the players use the muscles in their legs, arms and hands in similar yet also different moves, timing and strength, dependent upon the desired target movement. Those muscles are the same muscles for each sport, yet moved differently.

As one moves the muscles the same way consistently, the muscles develop adaptation and facilitation to produce the similar sequence with out conscious thought.  This is called procedural memory.

Coaches highly discourage playing different sports during a season so that the athlete does not “confuse” the muscle -procedural memory. Confusing the muscle memory makes them less effective players on the field.

The same holds true for speaking.  Sound systems are practiced repeatedly within our mother tongue or with peers who sound as we do.  Yet when we change to a different language the “accent – procedural memory” of our first language over-rides and code – switching ensues.  Now the listener is confused. The accent that the listener is accustomed to is the one that they grew up with.  When we “code-switch” or use sounds systems/accent of our 1st language with a 2nd language, the listener cannot understand the sounds, rhythm or words to understand the message.

Our listeners try, yet have difficulty understanding and stop listening.  We lose our listener.  And maybe the sale or a promotion………………

Knowing the Different “CODES” 

Sound System or Codes

Sound systems in speaking are produced by muscles in the mouth and throat using with specific movements of the lips, tongue, voice and breath to generate the target sound or movements in coordination with following movements. The timing of the each of these muscles and muscle groups yields changes in sounds, voicing and voicing timing, pitch tones, air-flow, linking, place of the articulators, resonance and rhythm.  Then there are accepted subtle body language behaviors that also contribute to communication.

Talking is another “sport” where we move the same muscles, approximately 72 muscles, and muscle groups around for the same desired results – Winning the game of “Effective communication” in the language we are using or ”playing”.

As said before, languages of the world share some sounds, yet not all.  In the following articles, you’ll see which sounds North American English (NAE) does not share with other languages.

Although there are many, other differences that we will also discuss include:

  • Clusters or consonant blends,
  • Word endings
  • Sound linking between words
  • Rhythm
  • Stress patterns and tones

NEXT TIME:  The strategies for the the sound system and accent “code” of North American English (NAE)

A Socio-Economic Activity for Building Business Relationships

“The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions.” – Claude Levi-Strauss.

We grow up with our parents telling us to Not to talk to strangers. We study hard, talk to the folks in the next cubicle or in our study groups and then want to find a job. That is when we are usually first exposed to the “socio-economic activity” called Networking. And, it’s absolutely fear-inducing…

A few years go by and we want to advance our careers. Networking is again necessary.

Networking, when done well, offers great rewards. Doing it well is really a scientific activity. And, since scientists work well with a strategic plan and process, here is one to help you. Note that it is best to have someone help with this.

Continue reading →