Many of our clients at Change Your Accent who seek out accent reduction are from India. They speak a variety of languages including Hindi, Gujarathi, Tamil and Telegu, and they all want our advice on the most effective ways to improve their English pronunciation and speak better English. Perhaps you’re curious about this too. Maybe you struggle to speak English clearly even though you've lived in North America for years. Most likely, your grasp of English is great but you can't always make yourself understood. Your accent might even limit your professional and social success, and affect your confidence and self-esteem.
Let's be clear: an accent should never hold anyone back! Especially when there are simple and effective ways to help. We're speech therapists and accent coaches and we know that with the right guidance and a bit of practice you can easily improve your speech, including your English pronunciation. Our eBook and video lessons, for example, can systematically show you how to change your accent. You've already done the hard work by learning English. Now it's time to focus on refining your skills so that your communication in English is an asset!
The first thing you should know is that all ESL speakers, including those who speak Indian languages, apply the sound and speech characteristics of their native language when learning English and English pronunciation. So to change an accent, you must figure out which of your native speech characteristics are interfering with your ability to speak English clearly. Next, you have to systematically change these characteristics. Once you make a few changes, you will be amazed at how much your speech improves.1. SOS - Speak Slowly, Open Your Mouth and Say Each Sound and Syllable
SOS is Change Your Accent’s number one tip for accent reduction because of its huge impact on speech.
- Many Indian languages use a faster rate of speech than English. Generally, North Americans speak at about 125 to 160 words per minute. Slower speech can have the biggest impact on being easier to understand.
- Indian speakers sometimes speak through their teeth. Learning to use an open mouth during speech ensures that sounds come out clearly.
- Our clients from India often leave out some sounds and words in English. It is important to say all the sounds, syllables and words in a sentence — even the words that don’t carry the main meaning (e.g., "a" and "the").
2. Improve English Pronunciation
Some English sounds don’t exist or are said differently in Indian languages, and our clients often omit the sound or substitute one sound for another. So we teach our clients first to hear the sounds and then to produce them. The list below includes some of the main sounds to learn and the substitutions to avoid. Practice saying sounds on their own first, then in single words and then in sentences. It helps to record your speech or find a native English speaker to give feedback.
a. Don’t mix-up the “v” and “w” sounds
- Pucker your lips without touching any of your teeth, and the correct “w” sound will come out. Practice common words like: what, where, when, why, which, etc.
- When saying words that begin with “v”, don't pucker your lips and make sure the upper teeth rest on the lower lip. Try saying the words - village, voice, vote, Silicon Valley, Las Vegas and so on.
- The “r” sound is pronounced differently in English, and changing they way you say “r” can help.
- The English "r" sound is continuous and smooth, with no trilling or tension.
- The tip of your tongue should not be raised so high that it touches the teeth or ridge just behind the teeth and the back of your tongue shouldn't cause friction or vibration.
- Practice saying words like race, right, rough and red.
- Put the tongue between the teeth when saying a word with a “th” in it – don’t substitute with “d” or “t”. For example, say “then” instead of “den”.
- The “th” sound occurs in many frequently used words in English including: the, that, there, this, there and they.
- The long vowels in English take longer to say than the short ones – i.e., there is a distinct difference between bet and beat or cot and cod. Hold that word with the long vowel for just another moment when saying it.
3. Figure Out Intonation and Syllable Stress
Indian speakers often have a very different intonation and stress pattern than North American English speakers. This can make speech difficult to understand.
- Indian languages often use a rise in intonation to emphasize something. Statements and questions both follow a rise-fall pattern of intonation, which contributes to a “sing-song” quality.
- In English, a rise in intonation is most often used to ask a yes/no question or to signal uncertainty.
- A fall in intonation is used with wh-questions and statements.
- Practice listening to and copying rising and falling intonation patterns in English. For example, use rising intonation in these sentences: Are you going? Do you want tea? Try falling intonation when saying: I live in Canada. What time is it?
- Indian speakers often stress the wrong syllable in words. Some words that Indian English speakers usually stress incorrectly include: develop, alternative, optimize, comprehensive, and industry.
- Learn which parts of a word are stressed and which ones aren’t. Usually, if the word is a noun, the first syllable will be stressed. If it is a verb, the stress is on the end syllable. Examples: the record – to record, the project – to project.
4. Avoid Using Fillers
Fillers are words which we add to our speech (e.g., like, y’know) that don’t contribute to the meaning. Speakers from India often have a habit of using fillers such as actually, basically, so and ma'am. These fillers are distracting and should be avoided.