|About This Site: Accent Reduction Training|
Learning how to communicate effectively is the goal of all language students, and improving your pronunciation is an important key to the language puzzle. However, for many students, a lack of training in this area keeps them from reaching their goals. Thus, the purpose of this site is to help students in two ways: (1) improve students’ understanding of relaxed speech, (2) reduce their accents to improve comprehensibility, and (3) learn how relaxed speech is used with vocabulary and expressions in everyday language.
Keep in mind that everyone has an accent, and having one isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, your accent identifies you to your particular language, and it can be a positive thing. Imagine if Arnold Schwarzenegger (famous actor and current Governor of California) lost his accent, he would no longer be a novelty; in part, it is his accent that endears him to his audience. However, if our accent makes it difficult for others to understand us, then we should seek ways to improve our pronunciation. Accent elimination is not possible for most people, but improving our comprehensibility is.
What Makes Up Our Accent?
Asking a native speaker to help us correct our accents might not be a very useful way because most people (even native speakers) can’t really identify what elements affect the way we speak. However, to keep things basic, our accents are composed of a number of features including:
- phonological characteristics of individual sounds
- word and sentence stress
- pausing and linking of sounds and phrases
- word reductions
Now, one of the major challenges that students face is English ISN’T a very phonetic language, that is, spelling often does not equal pronunciation. Imagine someone, completely new to English, trying to pronounce the words ate and eight. Unless you have memorized these words, you wouldn’t have any idea on how to pronounce them.
Improving Rhythm in English:
In addition to these challenges, helping students learn the rhythm of English is one key to better communication. Therefore, the main focus of this Website is to help students in this area. Now, because students often pronounce words based on how they are spelled, students tend to stress words all the same, and the result is something like this:
- I WANT TO GO TO THE PARTY TODAY FOR ABOUT AN HOUR, AND I CAN DO MY HOMEWORK TOMORROW.
The problem is that students stress every word equally, and the student might sound even angry or upset (almost like a machine gun in slow motion). However, the rhythm of English is created by the combination of stressed and unstressed sounds that almost creates a musical effect, and the main unstressed sound is the schwa (ə) that often sounds like a. This, in part, is determined by both content and function words. Content words (stressed) are generally nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, and function words (unstressed) include pronouns, modals, prepositions, conjunctions, and helping verbs. Thus, the sentence above would be actually stressed like this:
- i WANT ta GO ta the PARTY taDAY for about ‘n HOUR, and i kn DO my HOMEWORK taMORROW.
Since students don’t know this general rule, then tend to say the words, to (preposition) and two (adjective), the same, as well as can (the drink container) and can (the modal of ability) the same. This is also true of the words, for (preposition) and four (adjective).
- i WANT ta BUY TWO CANS.
- i kn BUY FOUR APPLES fer the PARTY.
Keep in mind that word reductions are generally used in rapid, continuous speech, so we sometimes use clear sounds when we pause between words or ideas:
- i WANT TO . . . UM . . GO ta the PARTY.
Using This Site:
Rather than giving students some general rules and sample sentences unrelated to everyday life, this site tries to combine both listening and pronunciation practice with language samples that students can incorporate in their daily conversations. Topics range from cooking and taking the train to part-time jobs and making meals. Each lesson contains a short paragraph, an audio recording in Windows Media Format, and discussion questions. The main object is to try to recycle and weave the topics, vocabulary, and pronunciation into your natural speech. Here are some tips for using the lessons:
- read the paragraph and become familiar with the content
- listen to the recording, paying careful attention to the word reductions being used
- read the paragraph aloud, first, sentence by sentence, to improve your rhythm
- record yourself and notice if you are reducing the sounds
- create your own sentences using the words from the paragraph record your voice to see if you retain your accent in different contexts
- do the discussion activities at the bottom of each page with a partner and try to notice if your accent transfers to different situations