Improve Spoken English with Google Calendar and a Watch

If you want to improve your spoken English, you know you need to practice. The more you listen and speak, the more you improve. But you’ve got to remember to use your new pronunciation skills when carrying on conversations every day.

Google calendar can help. And so can your watch. You can use your sense of hearing as a reminder to speak more clearly. How can that help, you wonder?

Just look at these examples:

Beep! Beep! Beep! You reach over and turn off the alarm that has just awakened you, and you get out of bed. You’ve just used your sense of hearing to help you accomplish the task of waking up at a certain time.

Ding! Ding! The oven timer goes off, reminding you to take your dinner out of the oven before it burns. Your sense of hearing has helped you get dinner cooked correctly, before your sense of smell had the chance to tell you that it had already burnt.

Buzzers,timers, and alarms are part of our everyday life these days, but have you ever thought about using your sense of hearing as a reminder to help you improve your spoken English?

Of course, you use your hearing to listen to other speakers of English and to listen to yourself as you practice sounds and words. But, how could listening to the beep, buzz,or ring of alarms and timers be helpful?

Because what your mind dwells on is what it does well.

If you focus on your pronunciation, you will improve your spoken English. If hearing an alarm or beep reminds you to focus on your speech, you will improve if you hear the alarm often enough.

I want you to try an experiment to see if this technique is helpful to you.

Choose one sound that you are trying to learn really well. Make a list of 10-20 words that include that sound and keep it with you. Find a watch with an alarm or a timer, or use Google calendar reminders if you are at your desk all day. Set your timer to ring or beep at 30 minute intervals during the day. Don’t forget to plan around meetings, as you don’t want your alarm interrupting your boss’s presentation!

Each time the alarm sounds,practice 5-10 words from your list, out loud but quietly if you work in a cubicle. Even if you can’t practice aloud, think about the words and the correct pronunciation of the sound. This activity brings this new sound to the forefront of your brain, so when you are conversing with co-workers or family and that sound appears in a word, you are much more aware of it and more likely to produce it correctly.

Experiment with different sounds and different intervals of time between alarms.Within a very short time, you should see a significant improvement in your ability to remember to use your new pronunciation skills.

Not sure exactly which sounds you should be practicing? Take my free online speech and accent screening at

English Pronunciation of S and Z: How to Make Voiced and Voiceless Sounds

One very common struggle for second language learners is understanding the voiced and unvoiced sounds, particularly S and Z. S and Z use the exact same tongue and mouth shape; the difference is in the voicing.

The S sound is produced without the voice, but the Z sound requires the voice.

To feel the difference, put your hand on your throat and try saying S-s-s-s. You should not feel anything.

Now try saying Z-z-z-z. You should feel a vibration in yourthroat. You should also be able to feel the difference if you put yourhands over your ears or on your cheeks. You should feel them vibratewhen you say Z, but not when you say S.

I have created a video which demonstrates the difference between the two sounds, and also gives you some practice words to try. You can watch it below and practice along with me.

English Pronunciation: A Tongue-Twisting Poem

For those of you looking for a challenge to practice your English pronunciation, I present you with a poem highlighting some of the crazy variations in English.

I want you to try and read it aloud before listening to the podcast below. Since I teach an American accent, that is the way I recorded it. British English pronunciation would vary slightly on some words. Have fun – and be sure to try it yourself first and then listen closely to the podcast and see how well you did. Good luck!

Fun English Pronunciation Poem
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through.
Well don’t! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard but sounds like bird.
And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead,
For goodness sake don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth as in mother
Nor both as in bother, nor broth as in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear, for bear and pear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose—
Just look them up—and goose and choose
And cork and work and card and ward
And font and front and word and sword
And do and go, then thwart and cart,
Come, come! I’ve hardly made a start.
A dreadful Language? Why man alive!
I learned to talk it when I was five.
And yet to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn’t learned it at fifty-five.

So, how was it? Harder than you thought? Not so bad? If you did well with this one, you are well on your way to communicating fluently in English! I have another, more diabolical English pronunciation poem that I will share soon – but I have to practice a few of the words first!

If it was a challenge for you and you’d like some personalized coaching on your pronunciation, you can get a free session with me after you take my free accent screening at


How to Use Sticky Notes to Improve Spoken English

You’ve been working hard to improve your spoken English, hoping that soon you will speak with more of an American accent. But there is so much to remember — pronunciation patterns, word stress, intonation, grammar — it’s enough to make you want to give up!

But don’t despair! There are some simple tips and tricks you can use to boost your memory and build your new English speaking habits more quickly.

In last Monday’s post, we talked about using our senses to help us create new habits, and today we will focus on the sense of sight.

Have you ever made a list of tasks you needed to complete? Did you find that just looking at the list helped you remember to get those things done? That was using your sense of sight to remind yourself to do something different — to finish a task on the list rather than whatever else came to mind at the moment.

Have you ever used a sticky note to write yourself a message, and then stuck it somewhere that you knew you would see it? That was using your sense of sight to remind yourself to take action on whatever was written on the sticky note.

But how can that help me with my American accent, you may be thinking. You can’t improve spoken English just by looking at a sticky note — or can you?

No, if you write on one sticky note “speak with an American accent” and stick it on your desk, it probably won’t have a great impact. But, remember when I mentioned last week about focusing on one sound or goal at a time?

Let’s suppose you are working on the th sound, as in think or thank you. I want you to take at least 10 brightly colored sticky notes and write on each of them one word or picture that makes you think of the th sound. You might write think on all 10, or 10 different words that start with th, or a picture of a thumbprint. It doesn’t really matter what you choose, as long as it reminds you to say the th sound correctly.

Now, I want you to put those sticky notes all over your house where you will see them as you go through your daily routines. Put one on the bathroom mirror, one on the bedroom door, one on the refrigerator, one near the TV, one in your office, and so on. There is no magic place to put them; the best places are the ones you visit most frequently. Every time you see that sticky note, it will trigger a response in your brain of “Oh yeah, I need to remember to say th.”

If you have the freedom at work to put several notes up around your office, that is even better.

The more times you look at them in a day and practice, the more quickly the new sound will become part of your everyday speech. After a couple of weeks, if you find that the notes are blending into the background but you don’t feel like you’ve completely mastered the sound yet, then get a different color of sticky note, make them again, and put them in slightly different places. That will trigger in your brain the response that something is different and once again, you will pay attention to the notes and they will be a reminder to improve your spoken English.

If you find that this technique works for you, then you can repeat it every few weeks with a new sound or grammar point. Of course, you can use this sticky note technique for any new habit you want to establish, even if it has nothing to do with speaking English. You could even make a family game of it, with each family member having a different colored sticky note and a different habit. Challenge each other daily to remember to use your new skills!

Maybe you are one of those people who just doesn’t see visual details, and you could walk right past a flashing neon sign without seeing it. If that is you, I still want you to give this a try. Be sure to get the neon, brightly colored sticky notes and not the pale yellow ones. If you can still walk past them without seeing them, maybe visual cues are not the best way for you to remember new things. And that’s okay, because we are all created differently and I’m going to teach you several other ways to remind yourself of your new skills.

Check back next Monday to learn how some people can use listening to bells and alarms to improve spoken English.


5/25/2010 8:48 AM Linda Pucci wrote:
This is a great suggestion! I knew someone who did this and put the postit notes in interesting places–on the milk carton in the refrigerator, on the toilet seat, on the ceiling above their bed–and it kept the whole family interested in finding them!

5/25/2010 1:25 PM Lisa Scott wrote:
What a great way to keep the kids engaged; I love the creativity!

Use Your 5 Senses to Improve Your Spoken English

You’ve been working very hard to improve your spoken English, practicing those new sounds whenever you have the chance, but it’s hard to remember to use your new English pronunciation in everyday conversation. What can you do to remind yourself to use your new skills when talking with friends or discussing a project at work?

It’s really a matter of developing a new habit, and it works much the same as any new habit you might try to learn, like making your bed in the morning or unloading the dishwasher before bed. The hard part at this point is not figuring out HOW to do it, but consistently remembering to do it every day.

Research has shown that it takes 21 days to develop a new habit, so if you want to improve your spoken English in everyday life, you need to remind yourself to use the new pronunciation for at least 21 days. Of course, you will feel overwhelmed if you try to remember every sound you’ve learned all at once.

So, here is my recommendation. Pick one sound to focus on at a time.

Now, you need to figure out the best way to remind yourself to use that new sound. We’re going to discuss how to use your senses to do just that. Over the next few Mondays, I’ll be discussing these options in more detail, but I want to give you an overview to get started.

Unless you have a disability, you use the five senses of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling every day. You probably prefer one sense over another, but you may not know which one helps you remember the best.

We’re going to do some experiments to find out. I will show you how to use each of your senses as a cue to remind you to use your new and improved spoken English in daily conversations. We’ll try things like looking at brightly-colored paper, listening to a bell, touching a rock, tasting sour candy, and smelling perfume.

How do you think you could use these activities to remind you to use better English pronunciation?

Share your ideas below, and be sure to read next Monday’s post to learn how brightly colored sticky notes could be your key to English- speaking success!

The Rain in Spain: How Eliza mastered the English Pronunciation of the Long A Sound

Don’t you wish there were a magic button you could push to improve your English pronunciation? Wouldn’t it be great to wake up one morning and, all of a sudden, you could say all those difficult sounds?

Of course, there is no magic button, but sometimes your hard work and persistence seems to suddenly pay off, when a sound that has eluded you for a long time unexpectedly comes out perfectly.

In the popular play and movie My Fair Lady, young Eliza Doolittle finally masters the “proper” English pronunciation of the long A sound, after lots of hard work and practice. Just at the point when her tutor is about to give up on her, she gets it.

Her purpose in working so hard on her English was to be seen as a “lady” instead of just a flower girl on the streets. She was motivated by a desire to improve herself and gain more opportunities in life. What motivates you to improve your English pronunciation? The chance for a better job? The freedom to be understood every time you speak to friends? The desire to feel confident that you CAN speak clearly and be understood?

Watch the video clip and practice the long A sound along with Eliza. You can say it: “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”

Even if it seems hard at first, one of these days you will wake up and, as if by magic, you too will have mastered the correct English pronunciation of the long A sound.

If April Showers Bring May Flowers …

I heard a classic spring joke the other day, and it reminded me of the importance of knowing the context to understand a joke. What is easily understandable to most Americans will get nothing but a questioning look from those unfamiliar with American history. So, I’m going to give you the “inside scoop” so you’ll understand this joke, too.

First of all, there is a popular expression about spring that says “April showers bring May flowers”, meaning that all the rain in April helps the flowers to bloom in May.

This expression led to the development of a joke that goes like this:

Question: If April showers bring May Flowers, then what do May Flowers bring?
Answer: Pilgrims

Are you laughing — or groaning — or wondering why it’s supposed to be funny?

What you need to know is that some of the earliest settlers in America, those who founded Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620, were known as Pilgrims. They were Puritan Christians who traveled here from England on a boat named the Mayflower. So, Mayflowers bring Pilgrims, or at least did at one time.

The problem with this joke is that it ignores the different stress patterns between the words May flower and Mayflower. When talking about the flowers that bloom in May, you use two words and the stress falls equally on the first word and the first syllable of the second word, so you say MAY FLOWer. When referring to the ship named Mayflower, it is all one word, and the stress falls on the first syllable, like this: MAYflower.

If you remember this little tip about the stress patterns, you can really impress your American friends with your knowledge of English when they tell you this joke.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of the Pilgrims and the Mayflower, you can visit