An Easy Way to Improve Your English Pronunciation

May 15th, 2010

Two Common Threads

In the last couple of months I’ve had the good fortune to speak with a huge variety of non-native English speakers, both clients of mine at the Lake Tahoe Institute of English and casual acquaintances.  I’ve spoken with native speakers of Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Korean, Vietnamese and Mandarin.  I have noticed two common threads in all of these conversations.

You Speak Better Than You Think

First, most of these people spoke English far better than they thought they did.  They nearly always apologized and seemed embarrassed by their perceived lack of ability.  Of course I know it is intimidating to speak confidently to someone you know teaches the language, but not all of them knew what my profession is.

You probably speak better than you think, too.  So relax a little bit.  Just talk and all will be well.

It is the most unusual English speaker who will be impatient with you.  Most are extremely patient and appreciative of your efforts.  After all, we know that as a rule, we don’t speak any other languages, and as a rule, we are embarrassed by that.  We just appreciate anyone who has succeeded at all in learning our language.

Finish Saying Each Word

Second, and as important, I’ve noticed that the one problem that these non-native English speakers from many different backgrounds have in common is that they don’t finish their English words.  They drop the final letter or two, which leaves the listener often unable to discern which word the speaker is using.  This is probably the single most important factor in making your speech understandable to others.

For example, someone might say “Why you ha so man bo to ree”, instead of “Why do you have so many books to read?” or “I lie to ee mee for dinner” instead of “I like to eat meat for dinner.”  As the listener, in the first sentence, we don’t know if you are saying “ha”, “have”, “has”, “hair”, “ham” or “man”, “many”, “men”, etc.. You get the idea.  It makes it so much more difficult for the listener.  Add in the fact that so many listeners are themselves non-native speakers of English who have an accent of their own, and then you have real trouble.

It seems to me that a very simple but elusive fix to this serious clarity problem is to remember how the word is spelled, and then make sure you say all of it (that is, unless the ending is silent, which it sometimes is in our crazy, irregular English language – you just have to memorize those).

I know, you think you are saying all of it, but I’m telling you, chances are, you are not.  Slow down and finish your words.  I promise, you won’t have to repeat yourself as often.

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