Ways to improve your American Accent…….
It is very important these days for Non Native Americans to try and copy the American Accent when they speak. However, deceptively, each region in America has their own distinct accent and different ways of speaking English. One should first try to master getting the neutral accent before attempting the other American accents. It is never too late to learn a new accent. Just like it is never too late to learn how to learn a new instrument, or learn to drive a car or ride a bike. It just needs patience and practice.
• The first thing for Non Native Americans to do when trying to speak English with an American accent is to slow down their rate of speech.
• Control of your breathing and stressing on syllables are very important.
• One has to be able to distinguish between the /v/ and the /w/ sound. There is as saying “ Bite your v’s and kiss your w’s.” This basically means that when you make the sound for the letter /v/, your teeth need to touch your lower lip, as if you’re biting your lip and say “vee” and in the case of /w/ your mouth needs to form a perfect pout, just as if you want to kiss your partner when you make the sound which is pronounced as “double you”.
• Americans are famous for rolling the “r’s”. This means that they stress hard on the “r” sound.
• Indians love to speak fast, because it’s ingrained into them due to the fact of the ”Mother Tongue Influence” (MTI). And when we speak English, we continue to speak with the same speed as that of our native tongue, without realising it.
Steps to speak with an American Accent more fluently:
1. Slow down your rate of speech (ROS)
• To start speaking one has to learn how to sound as if you’re talking slower even when you’re talking fast.
• First breathe, so that you know that you are speaking from your diaphragm, as it slows down your speech. This is known as breath modification. This and airflow has to be mastered first.
2. Word stress is the next step.
• For example the word “development”. Americans stress on the second syllable de-vel-op-ment.
• Most non-native American English speakers stress on the first syllable in the word America. They tend to say Am-er-ica, whereas you need to stress on the second syllable, Am-er-ica.and the “Am” in America is pronounced as “Uhm” instead of “Am”. So the word sounds like “uh-mer-ica”.
• Another word that is commonly mispronounced is “bathing”. Non-native American English speakers often pronounce it as it is spelt. “Bath-ing”. But the correct way of saying this particular word is “ bay-dthing” with the stress going on “bay”.
• It’s ideal to use a rubber band to help you to practice when learning to stress on the right syllable. Put the rubber band across both wrists, and when you stress on a word, stretch the rubber band apart, you can also use your hand, move it up when stressing on a syllable. Continuous practice may seem like you’re trying to sing the words, but it helps to repeat words aloud. This sing song way of pronunciation is called a pitch. When you stress on a syllable your pitch should go up and on non-stressed words, it remains neutral or on a downward pitch in cases of words that have more than two syllables.
• One of the hardest things is getting pronunciation correct. One of the most mispronounced words is the name of the city “Chicago”. A lot of people pronounce it as they see it. “Chic-ago”. However, the “ch” is actually pronounced as “sh”, and the “a” sound is drawn out, “aa”. So the word is “Shi-caa-go” and the stress is on the second syllable,“shi-caa-go”.
• Another word that is most mispronounced is “Schedule”. British English speakers and Indians often pronounce the word as “sheh-dyool”. Whereas the Americans and most others pronounce it as “ske-dyool” with the stress on the fir first syllable. Here the “sch” is pronounced in the way you pronounce the “sch” in school, and not as the “sh” in “shame”.
• Another word that most non-native speakers find hard is the name “Arkansas”. This word is tricky, as it is not pronounced as spelt. It is stressed on the first syllable, and the last “s” is silent. In fact the last syllable is pronounced as “saw”. So to successfully say this word, you have to say it as “Ar-kan-saw”.
4. Rolling your “r’s”:
• Loosen up your tongue
• Try and make short trilling sounds. (trrr /drrr sounds)
• Roll your tongue and try to roll only the letter “r”. (rrrrrrr)
• Once you’ve mastered the above step, start practicing rolling the “r” in words. i.e sombrero would be “sombrrrrrrerrrro”, and rolling you r would be “rrrrrrolling your rrrrr”.
Initially, it may seem funny to go on rolling your “r’s”, but through constant practice, you’ll get good at it.
5. Pronunciation of the letter “t’ in most words:
Americans often do not say the” t” sound in most words. What you hear instead is a “d” sound. As in the case of the word water. They often say “waa-derr”. Or in the case of tomato, it becomes ta_may_dough”. Another example is the word “ghetto”. You must have heard Akon singing a song by the same name, and you can hear him say “ghe-dough”. Getting would become “gedding”, letting becomes “ledding” and so on.
Americans intonate their speech a lot. You can tell how a person is feeling by listening to how they intonate. Intonation is the rise and fall of your voice when you speak, also known as the pitch of your tone. It is the variation of your spoken pitch that indicates the attitude, and emotion of the speaker, it signals the difference between a question and a statement.
• “I can go to the movies” is a statement, whereas by changing your tone you can make the same statement becomes a question ”I can go to the movies?”
• In English, we have syllables that are strongly stressed and weakly stressed. Strongly stressed syllables are those that we have at roughly equal intervals while speaking. Weakly stressed syllables are those syllables that are squeezed in between the strongly stressed syllables. For example you can have a sentence “Declan left” two strong stresses and two words. Now take the sentence “Declan’s gonna leave”. Declan and John are the strong stresses, and gonna is the weak stress. We use “gonna” instead of “ going to” is because we have to fit it between both the stresses.
• It is often the unstressed syllables that we have to squeeze and fit into the space between the stresses that lead to what some people call “sloppy English” but in fact it is actually good English speaking, because honestly, that’s what gives English it’s rhythm. And if you don’t speak English with that rhythm, then the English speakers will have a hard time understanding you, or in this case understanding your accent.
• The rhythm of a person’s mother tongue language is deeply implanted into us even before we are born, while we are still in our mother’s womb. That is because you hear the melody and rhythm while in the womb, so it comes naturally to you to learn you native language than it to learn another. When you start learning another language, what you unconsciously do is import your own rhythm and melody into that new language. So it is very important to try and work on a neutral accent before starting to learn how to get an American accent. Practising Rhyth while speaking can be done using a rubber band over your wrists, you can clap your hands according to the rhythm of the sentences, you can move your hand up and down like a musician conducting his orchestra. But most of all, it takes a lot of practise.
8. Informal contractions (Reductions):
• Informal contractions are short forms of words that people use when they speak casually. These words sound like slang, but are not slang words. Informal contractions are more common in American English. Informal contractions are never used on “correct speech” and never used in writing. They are only used when speaking fast and usually among friends. There are Americans however, who never use them at all.
• Here is a list of common informal contractions along with their meanings.
1. Whatcha doing = what are you doing
2. Whatcha gonna do = what are you going to do
3. Gonna = going to
4. Wanna = want to
5. D’ya = Do you
6. Ya’ll = you all
7. Aintcha = ain’t you / aren’t you
8. Ain’t = aren’t , am not, is not
9. Gotta = got to
10. Gimme = give me
11. Kinda = kind of
12. Lemme = let me
13. Ya = you
14. Dontcha = don’t you
15. Wontcha = won’t you
16. Howdy = how do you do?
17. Gotcha = got you
• Accent is, in a simple definition, the way a person speaks. It is independent of rhythm and can go anywhere in a sentence. Understanding how you can make one word or one syllable stand out from other words in the same sentence, is really important to how we put meaning together. You won’t see this happening in any other languages. Example: I’m going to the bowling alley after dinner. You can say I’m GOING to the bowling alley after dinner, stressing on going, which is indication what you want to do after dinner. However, you can also have the same sentence but the stress can be put in a different place. Example: I’m going to the bowling alley after DINNER. Here the stress is on Dinner, thereby indicating when you are going to the bowling alley. Here you can see that by using stress in different parts of the same sentence you can change the meaning of the sentence altogether.
10. Practise makes perfect:
• Now that you have learnt the basics of American English, the only way to perfect it is to constantly practise speaking the language. This can be done by constantly listening to channels that broadcast only English programmes, news channels, movies, newspapers, online tutorials, and speaking to Native American English speakers.
• Watching movies and programmes on television which have sub titles are often a great help because you can understand what is being said, even if you can’t always understand what you hear. Stopping and starting these movies is a great help.
• Another thing is to stand in front of a mirror and talk to yourself, often by listening to a sentence or phrase, and repeating it until you can say it just the way it sounds. This way, you can see how your jaw and the muscles of your mouth move when you say different words, and pronounce different sounds.
11. Words that are spelt different:
There are quite a few words that Americans spell differently. Here are some of the words, they might be spelt slightly differently, but mean the same.
American English Spellings British English Spellings
12. Various accents to look out for within American accents:
As I mentioned earlier, there are numerous accents in America. Here are just a few of them.
1. The general American accent.
2. The Eastern New England English. (You can hear this accent in the areas of Eastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Eastern New Hampshire and Eastern Connecticut.)
3. The New York City English
4. Mid Atlantic English. (along the area from Philadelphia to Baltimore)
5. Western American English
6. Midland American English