To change your accent and improve English pronunciation, you must learn how English speech and sounds are made. While many people focus on the lips and tongue when learning English, speech production goes way beyond this. The importance of understanding how we produce English speech enables us to evaluate all the factors which could be going awry when we talk. Once we figure out exactly what we are doing wrong, we can fix the problem and ensure our ability to speak English improves.
A client from India came to Change Your Accent a couple of years ago and asked for our help. He told us that his coworkers were having trouble understanding him, and felt sure it was because his lips and tongue couldn’t make sounds like “w” and “th” correctly. In our first session it became clear that it was not sound errors, but our client’s quiet voice related to poor breath support, that was having the biggest impact on his speech. Our client had focussed on sound errors related to poor lip and tongue movements because he hadn’t considered all the factors related to speech production. Once we identified the main factor affecting his speech, he made incredible progress.
So here’s a quick explanation of how speech is produced; this will help you to consider the many factors which might be impacting your accent.
- Our brain is the driver for speech — it figures out what we want to say and controls the physical process of speaking
- Speech starts when air from the lungs travels through the vocal folds to create sound. The control of air is known as breath support, and can impact voice qualities like loudness
- The sound created at the vocal folds is produced with vibration for some sounds, and no vibration on others. This is a very important distinction in English pronunciation. You must understand which sounds are made with vocal fold vibration and which ones are not.
- Once sound leaves the throat it is shaped or blocked into individual sounds by our different speech muscles, like the lips and tongue. English vowels are often shaped, while most English consonants are blocked
- Resonance, or where the sound is vibrated in the oral or nasal tract, is another important factor to consider. Most English sounds are resonated in the mouth (oral resonance), and only m, n and ng are resonated in the nose (nasal resonance).
- When we speak, we put sounds together in a rapid and coordinated manner to create words. In fact, over 100 muscles in our chest, throat, jaw, tongue and lips must work together to produce a simple phrase.
While it sounds complicated, the most critical thing is for you to consider all of the factors that might be impacting your ability to speak English. Don’t only focus on the lips and tongue. Consider other aspects like breath support, jaw movements, loudness, pitch, resonance and rate of speech. Once you understand how English speech and sounds are made, you have essential information to keep on learning!
“Accent Reduction Explained” is a client-requested series created to provide core knowledge and strategies for changing an accent. Information, including specifics about English pronunciation, can be applied to multiple accents including French, Chinese, Russian, Indian, Spanish, Arabic and Italian accents. Our goal is to demystify accent reduction so people can easily improve their English speaking skills to be better understood. We are committed to promoting diversity and helping people worldwide to join the conversation.