Back to School and Pronunciation Rules

It’s back to school time and that means new school supplies, new teachers, and often new school rules. It can be frustrating for us and our kids when different teachers have different rules. Some are easy to remember and some can be more of a challenge, but following the rules is a key to a pleasant school experience.

Languages have their own set of rules, too, and failing to follow those rules can make communication frustrating and sometimes unsuccessful. I find that my clients sometimes know more grammar rules of English than I do, but they have not been taught the American pronunciation rules that they need.

You can’t follow a rule that you don’t know about, right? So, today I decided to share with you three of the most common American pronunciation rules that are hard for non-native speakers. I’ll show you the most common mistake or “rule-breaker” and then explain how to change it.

1. Saying an S sound instead of a Z sound

Many non-native speakers use an s sound for a z sound. 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 your throat. Practice saying words like Sue and zoo, and buzz and bus.

2. Using Long E and Short I interchangably

These two vowels are often substituted one for the other, but doing so can change the meaning of the word. The long E is made by pulling the lips back into a smile. This is the vowel in the sentence: Meet me on Green Street. The short I, on the other hand, is made by keeping your tongue flat on the bottom of your mouth. Open it just a little and say ” ih”, as in Give the tip to him on the ship.

3. Saying a W instead of a V sound

The W sound is made by rounding the lips and saying “ooh-uh”. This is the sound that begins words like water, where, and watch but this is not the sound we want to make when saying words like vacation or violin. The V sound is made by lightly placing the top teeth on the lower lip, turning on the voice and blowing. Practice each sound separately, then try saying: Victor’s watch, winter vacation, and wash the vegetables.

Were those tips helpful? I’ll be giving away American pronunciation tips like that and many more on my free webinar coming up in two weeks. Have you reserved your spot yet? Seats are going quickly, so reserve your space now.

  • 9/8/2011 1:05 PM Pedro Alvarez wrote:
    1. Even if you train your students to produce both /s/ and /z/, they will have problems wrt when to produce /s/ and /z/.There are some heuristics:
    1. plurals, possessives and corresponding assimilation. Exceptions in this category, if any.
    2. There is a heuristic that many ESL speakers have learned: /s/ in noun, but /z/ in verb (cf. use, advice, etc). However, this heuristic fails in words: crease, increase, decrease, lease, release, cease, decease (cf. disease), fleece, etc.

Are You Willing to Take the Risk?

Years of hard work … people calling you crazy … putting your life at risk … trying to do something others said can’t be done … is it worth it? Apparently, Orville and Wilbur Wright thought so.

Today, August 19, we celebrate National Aviation Day in honor of the Wright brothers who got their first airplane to take flight in 1903. These brothers had a dream and they were determined to make it happen. They knew that if they studied hard enough, they could figure it out. Do you know what they studied?


Birds fly effortlessly and without thought, masters of their craft. If you want to learn how to do something well, the best thing to do is to copy a master. So, the Wright brothers studied birds, the structure of their wings, and the way they flew, and applied these principles to their airplane wings.

If you want to do something well, find a master to learn from. If you want to learn to fly, study the birds. If you want to learn to ski, learn from professional skiers. And if you want to learn to speak English more clearly, learn it from a native speaker who knows how it sounds and how it works.

Sure, there is a risk involved in working on your pronunciation. You might make a mistake while learning a new sound; in fact, you probably will. Most people do. But is that a reason not to try?

And yes, a colleague might ask you to repeat yourself or laugh at you when the new word that sounded so good in class didn’t come out right at all in conversation.

But, chances are, if you work hard, you will see improvement in your speech. You will speak English more clearly and others will understand you better. Your confidence will improve and you will begin to believe that you can accomplish more than you ever thought possible.

I want to partner with you as you take that risk and feel the thrill of accomplishment in your pronunciation skills.

And it all starts with a simple step. Click on the link below to reserve your space in my free webinar coming up on September 12.

Yes, that’s right. A FREE webinar! I’m taking away the risk for you. It’s no cost and no obligation. All you have to do is show up and give it a try.

You will learn tips and techniques to improve your pronunciation and ideas for increasing your vocabulary. You will find out about common grammar pitfalls and why it is so important that you work on your accent now.

Imagine being able to say whatever you want, any time you want because you know you will be understood. Doesn’t that sound great?

It just takes a small risk — it’s what I call “sign up and show up.” That’s it. Reserve your space here and show up ready to learn.

If you’re willing to take that risk, the rewards will be worth it; I promise! So don’t wait to reserve your place; space is limited and I don’t want you to miss out !

If you’re excited about this opportunity to improve your pronunciation, please share it with your friends. Pass around the link on Facebook and Twitter, and let’s see who is ready to take the risk to speak clearer English with confidence!

Did you miss me?

Nothing says summer like a big, juicy slice of cold watermelon! I think Mark Twain summed it up well when he said, “When one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the angels eat.” It is a favorite American summer treat, found at almost any barbecue or cookout all summer long.

One of the reasons that a watermelon is such a refreshing treat on a hot day is because it is 90% water. And it tastes so much better than a plain glass of water!

You haven’t heard from me much lately because I’ve been enjoying some time off with my family this summer. And yes, we’ve been eating lots of watermelon fresh from the farmer’s market.

The beginning of August marks a time of transition for our family, as we enjoy the last days of summer and prepare ourselves for the new school year to begin. Believe it or not, my kids go back to school next week and that means that I’ll be back with more regular postings and a great new surprise to start the fall season off with a bang.

Some of you joined me over the summer for some intensive pronunciation study while everything else in life had slowed down for a couple of months. Many of you, though, have had some well-earned down time over the summer and now you are ready to work on your accent. Whether you’re preparing to go back to school, looking for a job, or just want to communicate more easily with your friends, this is a great time to focus on your English skills. You will especially like what I have to share next week – a fun and painless way to ease back into practicing your American pronunciation!

What have you done this summer to improve your pronunciation skills? In the comment box below, share the one thing that has helped you the most. I can’t wait to see what you’ve learned!

If you haven’t made the progress you had hoped for and you’re looking for some guidance, be sure to request your free pronunciation guide in the box on the right side of the page.