Secrets of an English American accent for Koreans

You want to speak with an English American accent, but you’re having a hard time figuring it out. You’re not alone! In 2003, 74.2% of people polled in a government survey in Korea admitted that they had difficulty communicating in English.

And it’s not all in your head. The Korean accent is particularly difficult for listeners to understand. A survey taken by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in Hong Kong asked foreigners to rate how easily they could understand speakers of English from 12 different Asian countries. Koreans ranked at the bottom of the list.

So, now what? You know you have a hard time speaking English clearly and that others have a hard time understanding you. But what can you do about it? I’m going to share with you some secrets to an English American accent that you would normally only get when you work with me one on one to improve your spoken English. So, practice these techniques on your own, but be sure to get in touch with me if you get stuck. I’m available for further help over Skype no matter where you live.

And now for the secrets to being able to speak like an American:

Secret #1: You must understand the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds.

K and G are almost the same sound, but G uses voice and K does not. What do I mean? Put your hand on your throat and say “ahh” Feel the vibration? Your voice is on. Now say k-k-k-k. You should not feel vibration. Now try saying g-g-g-g-g. You should feel the vibration again. This voicing is the only difference between the word coat (a piece of clothing) and the word goat (an animal).

Secret #2: You must learn to hear the difference between the f, v, b, and p sound.

This is a difficult concept for many Koreans because the f and v don’t really exist in your native language, and the b and p are often interchangeable. However, in English each of these sounds is distinct, and using the wrong sound can easily change the whole meaning of a word. Here is a very simple example:

fan — something that blows air to cool you off

van — a vehicle you can drive

ban — to prohibit or not allow something

pan — a cooking utensil

The only difference in each of these words is the first letter, but it completely changes the meaning of the word. So, you can see how easily an English speaker would be confused if you substituted one of these sounds for another.

The difference in these sounds is in the lip and teeth placement, and also in the voicing, like we talked about earlier.

F and V are both produced by putting the top teeth on the lower lip and blowing. The V uses voicing and the F does not.

B and P are both produced by pushing the lips together and releasing. The B uses voicing and the P does not.

Try saying the words fan, van, ban, and pan. When you master the four sounds, each of those words will sound different.

Secret #3: You must understand the difference between short and long vowels.

A common confusion is between the long e as in sheep and the short i as in ship. To make a long ee sound, pull your lips back into a smile. Practice saying words like sheep, sleep, team, green, and street.

The lips are not pulled back as far when saying the short i sound. This is the sound in words like ship, slip, Tim, grin, and swim.

Secret #4: You must learn to hear the difference between the w, r, and l sounds.

You are probably aware that this is a challenge, as once again, your native language does not really distinguish between these sounds and English does. The w is produced by rounding your lips, turning on your voice, and releasing the sound. It comes out as “oooh -uh” at first. The l sound is made by placing the tongue behind the front teeth and turning on the voice. The r is made by producing the l sound, then pulling the tongue a little farther back in the mouth, keeping the tip up but no longer touching.

These four secrets are some of the biggest reasons that Korean speakers struggle with their English American accent. Now that you know the secrets, I want you to practice the sounds until you can hear and say the different English pronunciations.

If you cannot hear the differences on your own, or you want individual help to practice, please feel free to contact me at www.losemyaccent.com. I offer a free 20-minute consult over Skype so you can decide if you are comfortable working with me. I want you to have all the support you need to feel confident speaking English!

OFW Wants to Speak English Like an American

If you are an OFW, an Overseas Filipino Worker, or a native seeking a job in English, you may be concerned that your English skills are not good enough to compete with your peers. You want to speak English like an American, but what is the best way to learn? First of all, if you have not done so, you should enroll in ESL classes. These classes are a great way to learn the basics of English grammar and pronunciation. Look online for additional courses and practice opportunities. Speak English at every opportunity and don’t be afraid to ask others for help if you’re not sure about an English word or expression.

What if you have done all these things, and you feel that you know English pretty well, but other people still don’t understand you? Then you need to find an accent reduction specialist. This person is usually a professional speech pathologist who specializes in accent reduction. He or she has learned how to teach others to produce the sounds in American English. As an accent reduction specialist myself, I want to offer you some tips on English pronunciation to help you get started. Though each person’s language and accent is unique, there are common sounds that many Filipino speakers struggle with in English. I have listed several sounds below and suggestions of ways to sound more American.

  • Open your mouth more when saying vowels. Many of the a sounds come out sounding more like o with Filipino speakers. I know it may feel awkward, but you can’t make an a sound without opening your mouth.
  • Be sure to enunciate final consonants, particularly ones made inside the mouth, like h, k, and n. Many Filipinos leave these sounds off entirely, which changes the meaning of the word.
  • Say w not v, in words like water and where. W is made by rounding the mouth like an o and voicing, then opening the mouth slightly. It may sound like o-uh when you first try it.
  • Say f, not p, in words like four and find. F is made by placing the top teeth on the lower lip and blowing slightly.
  • Practice hearing and saying the difference between voiced and unvoiced consonants. The only difference between k and g or t and d is whether your voice is turned on when you say them. Try it — no voice makes k, and voice makes g. It makes a big difference in American English whether you pronounce those sounds correctly. So remember, k and t have no voice, but g and d do.

Hopefully, those tips will help you to speak English like an American. If you want more personalized help, please visit my website at www.losemyaccent.com and take my free accent screening. I’ll listen to it and send you feedback specific to you. It only takes a few minutes!