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.

This is the second in the continuing series giving you tips and strategies how to help you ADD the English accent to your speaking style.

English Clarity Basic Strategies: Here is the set of strategies and an interactive software program, “English Talk Shop” that can help you attain better English clarity.   In the following segments, we will address the primary consonants, vowels and other segments that differing languages differ from the North American English [NAE] “Accent”.

Three Things You Need to Know:

  1. The letters in English words do NOT have the same sound rule system as Spanish.
  2. English has many different sounds, rhythm and stress patterns rules that are different than Spanish.
  3. Spanish only shares 20 sounds of the 41 English sounds. And 12 of the 25 rhythm-stress rules.

Sound Components You Need to Know:  All language sound-systems have muscle movement 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

  • PlaceWhere is the sound made in the mouth? For English Consonants, there are seven (7) possible places.
  • Manner: How is it made?
    • With friction (Fricative):
    • With friction + stopped. (Affricate):
    • With a exPlosion feature? (Plosive);
    • As a gliding sound / (Glide):
    • 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. For example: /Bet/ (Single vowel sound) versus /Bait/ (a Diphthong )

Differences:  With Consonants, we often see that most substitutions are because of voicing and / or a difference in place (where the tongue goes to make a sound).    Vowel differences between languages are usually in response to:

  • Not having the sound within your first language sound system (“mother tongue”)
  • Difficulty forming the sound around consonants that are not usual sound combinations within the your first language.

Yet, with differing versions/dialects of many languages, it can be most of the components 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 languageEven though the vocabulary may be English. It may not sound like it.

Although Latin American Spanish has many variances across countries, it is mutually understood in many of the countries.  Spain has some larger variances, yet Latin American Spanish is usually understood in Spain.

The NAE / English sounds that differ:  NOTE-Spellings are often different.    Phonemes in NAE – English that are not found in Spanish include the following vowels and consonants:

Vowels: Spanish has only 5 vowels: English as 17+: Spanish vowels are much shorter in duration than English vowels, so the word will sound “ cut-off” to an English listener

* /ae/ sound as in “ pack” – Common substitution may be an /eh/ as in “peck”

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

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

* /eh/ short “e” sound as in “pet” — Common substitution may be an /ih/

* /ah/ sound as in “pot” — Common substitution may be an /e-/

* /uah/ diphthong – sound as in “foot”  — Common substitution may be an /ih/

* /ih/ sound as in “pit” — Common substitution may be an /ee/

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

Consonants: There be either final consonant deletions or these substitutions; Many consonant blends may have one sound dropped OT with /s/ blends – There is usually an added /eh/ as in “estreet”

* /v/ sound as in “various; river, love”  — Common substitution may sound like  /b/ or /f/

* /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 /sh/:

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

* /th/ voiceless – sound as in “ thick; healthy; with” — Common substitution may be a /t/ 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 the Merriam Webster Dictionary 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 each word correctly 9 out of 10 times.

Next continue to follow the steps as listed in the English Clarity Basic Strategies from a single word

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.

LANGUAGE SOUND SYSTEM DIFFERENCES:

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:

Vowels:

* /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)

When I was in my first year of college, I was given the Book “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck.  The first sentence resounded with me as I struggled with emotions.  I had just lost my mother in the middle of a week of very difficult university tests.  The rest of the paragraph gave me comfort and insight.

“Life is difficult.  This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth, because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult–once we truly understand and accept it–then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

I was determining my direction in life and this helped to move me forward.

 

On visits home, my father had often invited me to come to one of his Toastmaster’s clubs.  In his downtown club was a gentleman who had been a favorite of mine as a teenager.  Courtney had been to radio announcer for our local city radio station. He had once had a deep resonant voice with a range of pitch and volume that could entertain even the most aloof listener. Now, he had lost his larynx and very nearly his life to cancer of the throat.

 

Yet, here was Courtney, arduously manipulating the limited electro-larynx, sounding like a robot and working to develop pacing and strategies that would somewhat humanize his speaking. To understand him, the audience had to listen very closely.  Each of us had to analyze, edit and wait as he spoke and closely watched his audience for cues; cues on what he was to change or repeat to be more readily understood.

 

His audience was a group of patient and supportive Toastmasters. The group was composed of a couple of farmers, two professionals – One a scientist from India and another an Asian engineer that were from the local research division of an international company; three or four local business owners, my father among them, a physician and Courtney.  We all listened raptly.

Please remember that I was a nineteen-year-old, not known for listening.  Like most, I liked to hear the sound of my own voice and have others listen to me.

This group of Toastmasters and Courtney taught me a fascinating lesson.  Listening was an invigorating experience.  I listened with my eyes and ears, watching and discerning each movement and analyzing how Courtney managed to make a robotic voice come alive.  I listened to the sounds and words, finding that I needed to edit and then come back to the speech, working to keep abreast of the story.  I watched Courtney observe his audience. He listened to their sighs, adjusted and repeated as needed, adding gestures and facial movements to illustrate his points. He did all this with a robotic-sounding, battery-powered mechanism he held against his scarred neck.

He worked as hard or even harder at listening and observing as the audience did.

Life, then, was extremely painful and difficult for Courtney.  He had accepted it and was moving on, trying, failing, retrying, learning and excelling.

The lesson gained from Courtney and Toastmasters was to:

  • Listen more intently
  • Observe more thoroughly …..And….
  • Find out how to help individuals of all types to become better speakers.

How to develop an “Articulate Advantage”, no matter what our circumstances.

If you have a telephone, you have had the experience of talking to a support center person or a sales person with an accent.  My mother, who is very hearing impaired struggles with this.   And….so do many of the managers and their international teams, who are not hearing impaired.  The phone is better than straight email.  It allows for flexibility of Q & A’s. Until, someone stops listening… Why?

Sometimes it feels like we are dealing with multiple “distortions” on these phone conferences. So, we move closer to the phone.  Then we have others speak LOUDER, s-l-o-w-er, ask for repetitions or clarification.

Finally we ask the other person or get asked, “Can you send me an email about that?” or worse, someone just …..Stops Listening.

And, no matter how valuable the information is – the other person is not “buying” our ideas.  The tenet for many in sales is:  “A confused mind never buys.”

Why do people seem to understand each other when someone is talking live and yet struggle when they are on the phone?

Several reasons.

1. When speaking face to face we subconsciously use facial gestures and body language that cues the listener on the emotional tone as well as (even small) gestures that indicated size and shape of what we are discussing. Also a speaker can subconsciously monitor the listener’s body language and modify their message if they observe confusion.   We cannot observe each other on the phone.  Even videoconferencing is difficult as we feel constrained to  one position. In person, our subconscious gives us lots of information, letting us modify and edit much quicker. We do not get that with phone call meetings.

2. We all know that Native English speakers have a much more difficult time understanding speakers of English as a second language (L2 English speakers) than do the L2 speakers seem to understand each other.  Why?  “Not because it’s less difficult

It is because they are already accustomed to paying attention for longer periods.  However, they still get confused as we get confused with the differences in the pronunciation; the dropped syllables (“Idee” for “Ide-a”) strange vowels, (“Tex” for “Takes), different stress patterns (“e-CON-o-mic” for “e-co-NOM-ic”), along with different sentence rhythms that we are accustomed to in native English.

Most L2 English speakers will not tell you that they do not understand.  Most Native English speakers do not tell the L2 speakers that they do not understand.  They each get off of the phone and complain.

GOAL: Get the information on the First Call.

STRATEGY: Avoid confusion:

(a) Send a full transcript of information and information requests (in sentences) of your side of the conversation. Have them send their response, also.
(b) Speak slower and use repetition.
(c) Simplify the number of topics to be in the phone call.  Keep it to 3 or 4 topics at most:  (d) Have only one, yes, just  (1), primary “call to action” per phone call.  – Teams from Asia often feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of “deliverables” that their Western counterparts demand.

And often the language of the requests is filled with colloquialisms that are unfamiliar to them. So…they get confused and do not “deliver”. When they successfully deliver two or three different times, then make it two “deliverables”.  You need them to perform, so break it into small bites.