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.

UPDATES:

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

 

Initial Strategies:

Realize that it takes lots of practice to gain a new skill.  Resolve to do what it takes. This story and video from Fast Company demonstrate the practice across time that each skill takes.

http://www.fastcompany.com/3015027/leadership-now/want-to-conquer-a-new-skill-do-it-every-day

Professional Software:

The best interactive software that I’ve found in the last twenty years is English Talk Shop.

http://www.englishtalkshop.com/

I’ve tried so many software programs and can only recommend English Talk Shop as a premier program. It starts with mastering one’s listening discrimination skill and continues up to common response found in the working world.   *Contact me for a discount code on each program.

Sequential Strategies:
1. 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”.

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 one 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.

3. Speaking:  Speaking Speed:  Many individuals think that English speakers speak very quickly.  Then they try to do this without having control of the English sound system.  It does not work.

All languages have different sound systems that are intricately coordinated by muscles of the mouth and throat. One must speak slower in order to monitor and correct the differences in these movements.

The Rainbow” passage is a standard used by linguists to assess differences in speaking speed of connected words in English.

When the sunlight strikes raindrops in the air, they act as a prism and form a rainbow. The rainbow is a division of white light into many beautiful colors. These take the shape of a long round arch, with its path high above, and its two ends apparently beyond the horizon. There is, according to legend, a boiling pot of gold at one end. People look, but no one ever finds it. When a man looks for something beyond his reach, his friends say he is looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

To gain Control of your speaking muscles: You must say and record this paragraph in 55-60 seconds consistently 9 out of 10 times.

4. 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 –
    • Target three (3) words with the sound that you want to change
    • Practice these at ten sets of each one in single word level initially with your mentor.
    • Attain a 90% correct level on each set of three.
    • Choose 3 more.  And continue the process until you have 20-30 words with that target sound in the initial middle or final positions of words.

5. Speaking: Phrases: Use is English Talk Shop phrases. 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.

6. Speaking: 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?

7. Speaking: Sentences / Phrases:

  • 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.  Ask your mentor to help.
  • 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?

8. Speaking: 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-lite 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.
      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.9.  Speaking: Multiple Sentences: 30 Second Reply:  Approximately 50 words: 5-7 SentencesMost 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%, try again.


      Finally
      :  If you are having a difficulty changing your muscle movements to make the appropriate sound, find a speech pathologist that specializes in Accent Training or contact me at p.thesier@AccentMgtGroup.com.  AMG can help you with your initial issue and then guide you to one of several training options through Accent Management Group, LLC.  We have on-site, on-line individual, group or combination options for training, feedback and practice that start at  $29.95* per hour per person.  [*Group of 5 – Distance Coaching + Mini-Assessment]

Realize that it takes lots of practice to gain a new skill.  Resolve to do what it takes. This story and video from Fast Company demonstrate the practice across time that each skill takes.

The Steps:

  1. Find a Mentor:  It’s best to a native North American English speaker as a mentor to help when there are questions.  Toastmasters International clubs are good places to find and use mentors.
  2. Decrease your speaking rate to 100-110 Words Per Minute (WPM).  Why? Two reasons:
  • It’s a muscle process.  The procedural memory for making speech sounds is automatic.  In the new learning process, your muscles will revert to your first language sound system if you are not consciously slowing down to give your brain time to set up the new sounds.
  • It shows respect for your listeners.  It gives them time to edit and understand what you are saying.
    • Measuring Speaking Speed:
      • Find a paragraph from an article that is ~ 100 words long.  Use the Word Count option of your word processor program to determine this.
      • Audiotape yourself speaking this paragraph.
      • To Count the WPM.  1.  Divide the # Words ÷ # Seconds.  2.  Multiply this # times 60.  This will equal the WPM.   EXAMPLE:  100 words ÷ 40 seconds = 2.5 words per second: THEN Multiply by 60 = 150 WPM
      • Repeat this to until you get to your target.  Do this 2-3+ times.
        Only use professional software that has robust listening discrimination components:  The best interactive software that I have found after searching the last twenty years is American Speechsounds through “English Talk Shop”.

I have tried so many software programs and can only recommend English Talk Shop as a premier program. It starts with mastering one’s listening discrimination skill and continues up to common response found in the working world. Contact me for a discount code on each program.

We will discuss more steps in the upcoming articles.

Remember: 1. Find a native English speaking Mentor. You cannot do this alone. 2. Measure your speaking rate and S-L-O-W down.  Your listeners really do want to understand you. You owe it to yourself and them.  3. Invest, yes, Invest in only software that has full systems listening components.

Contact me at p.thesier@accentmgtgroup.com for a discount code for the American Speechsounds from www.EnglishTalkShop.com

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.

In my flexible editorial planning calendar, I had wanted to talk about how to dress for summer business events….then, I spotted Kare Anderson’s June 2012 article in the Harvard Business Review.

It reminded me that most folks won’t care what we are wearing when we listen to them attentively. When we do, these folks think we are the most interesting person in the world…. Ms. Anderson stated that the value of giving undivided attention is as beneficial to the giver as the receiver.

As a child, I spent many hours in an Andrew Carnegie library; the kind of library with granite steps leading up to solid doors that opened into a world of ideas, experiences and wondrous stories. I also spent time at my father’s real estate office. His office was often the gathering place of business people. They spoke about their own world of ideas, experiences, wondrous stories and life’s learning.

In my mind, the people I met at my dad’s office were each like libraries – I needed to learn their content too. It was easy: all I had to do was sit back and be enlightened, educated and entertained.

Learning how to listen, how ask the right questions, how to empathize and still contribute meaningfully is a life-long endeavor. However, attempting to be the center of attention is so much more work and, more importantly, ineffective. Our audience gets bored with us.

There’s a professional association with chapters around the world where people go to learn how to listen well and speak well: Toastmasters International. Visit a club near you; you can get invited as a guest (for free).

I’ve belonged to clubs in several US cities as well as China. By participating, I’ve benefited from many fascinating stories and a wealth of knowledge.

The world is full of walking libraries that come in all sizes and shapes. Two-year-old to 102 year-old folks are equally fascinating. Especially when you actively listen.