April Showers and May Flowers: Vowels, Jokes, and Syllable Stress

April Showers Bring May Flowers (2)We’ve been getting a lot of rain lately where I live in the South, and although it makes for some dreary days, the payoff is outstanding: amazing flowers are blooming and filling our yards and parks!

Americans have a rhyming phrase that helps us get through the wet months:

“April showers bring May flowers.”

This phrase reminds us that all this rain has a purpose! I bring it up because it’s also a timely way of getting you to open your mouth wide for a number of vowel sounds as you practice to reduce your accent.

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“April showers bring May flowers” also has the “ing” sound… which you can read more about in this post.

This phrase also has a joke that goes along with it, which leads me to ask you:

Mayflower

Do you know the difference? And how can that little space between “May” and “flower” make any difference? Hear the difference between them, and how Americans use these words for a springtime joke, in this video I made a few years ago:

If this video and pronunciation information helped you, or if you’d like more information on accent reduction, take my free accent screening and receive a free pronunciation guide at losemyaccent.com.

We Need Each Other! Reduce Your Accent through Community

I’m truly excited this month to be sharing with you how interacting with those around you is a major factor in reducing your accent. Why this month? May is “Better Hearing and Speech Month”, as sponsored by the American Speech­Language­Hearing Association (ASHA). Not only is ASHA my credentialing organization, but it does significant scientific research into a multitude of speech and hearing concerns for children and adults.

ASHA BHSM

A major research focus for ASHA has been the overuse of technology and its effect on language and hearing development, specifically among children.

In a 2015 ASHA survey of 1,000 parents:

• 52% expressed concern that technology negatively impacts the quality of their conversations with their children

• 54% say they have fewer conversations with their children because of technology

• 52% are concerned that misuse of technology is harming their children’s speech and language skills.

How does this translate to YOU as an adult professional?

As you work to reduce your accent, and as a professional who is probably using a substantial amount of technology at work and at home, I would ask this question…

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Speech-­language experts are noticing a significant negative result that the isolating effects of tablets, smartphones, and other personal technology devices are having on children’s language development… and I would put forth that any adult trying to make changes in their speech is experiencing the same effects.

Think honestly about your daily life: does the technology you use isolate you, and slow the accent reduction progress you could be making?

Dr. Judith Page, ASHA’s president in 2015, notes that there is no substitute for listening, talking, and human interaction in developing vocabulary and communication skills, and I would agree!

But as technology is not going away, this brings us to my next question…

more effectively

What would it mean to use technology to reduce your accent? Setting personal limits on screen time to allow for more human interaction would be a great start. Another option is using a video chat service to practice your English with a friend who lives elsewhere, and setting up regular “appointment” times with them offers you accountability in actually making the time to practice. But also I’d like to take it a step further, and get people together who are all on a journey to clear speech and being understood.

Speaking and Learning TogetherWe need the listening skills of others, friends to practice with, and the support of a community around us to encourage us in improving our speech. That’s what my “Speaking and Learning Together” course is all about… sessions where you can work with me and others who are working toward the same goal. We’ll be starting the course this summer, so be watching my blog and social media for start times and early bird specials.

Let’s control the way we use technology to affect our speech, instead of it controlling us!

And I have more resources for your accent reduction… you can take my free accent screening, and receive a free pronunciation guide, at losemyaccent.com.

3 Ways to Slow It Down: Connecting with International Co­Workers

We’re living and working in an age of international connectedness. Your co-­workers or clients may actually be living overseas and speak English as a second or third language, connected to you through internet chats and teleconferencing. Or, you may work daily in person with non-­native English speakers who have been in the U.S. for several years or only a few months.

No matter the situation, you need to be able to effectively communicate with your team.

In my last article on communicating with non-­native English speakers, I outlined how to keep language simple in the workplace. Today, we’ll talk about slowing down.

Slow It Down!

Right now I’m going to ask you to stop and remember:

• A foreign language class you took

• A time you were shopping in an international market

• Any time you overheard a foreign language conversation

Do you remember how the other language sounded? Was it incredibly fast and jumbled to you? Did you wonder how they could talk so quickly?

An international worker can feel just this way when trying to understand our language as well.

Be Aware of Your Speech.

You know how it is when you get on a roll with an idea… your speech speeds up as you get excited, and your words can hardly keep up with your brain. Or perhaps you’re pressed for time, and you rush your message or instructions. Even the everyday pace of your language can be too fast.

Be aware small

When speaking with an international worker or client, take the time to evaluate how quickly you’re actually talking. Even asking your co­-worker, “Am I talking too quickly?” shows that you care that they understand you. However, be aware that they may answer that you are not, in order to not seem unintelligent or rude.

Slow Down, but Don’t Exaggerate.

When we slow down our speech, we tend to start over-­enunciating our words or stretching them out. Try to avoid this.

Exaggerating small

Exaggerating words makes your listener feel belittled, and your speech no longer comes across the way English actually sounds. Again, just be aware of your pacing instead.

Slowing Down Saves Time.

It seems counter-intuitive, but we all know that taking our time on any project produces a better quality product and fewer headaches later on because of mistakes. Your language in the workplace is no different.

Miscommunication smallThis is especially true for highly technical environments, in which the precision of instructions and language is vital. Take a few extra seconds to slow your speech and make sure your message is clear, and you’ll be glad later that you did!

If you’d like more strategies on communicating with the non­-native English speakers in your workplace, or would like to offer your workers accent reduction classes or seminars, please contact Lisa Scott for a consultation… and visit AccentuateCommunication.com for more on how we can help you break down cross­-cultural workplace barriers.

Just How Do You Say “Pecan”?

 

learn to say Pecan (1)April is National Pecan Month, and it’s only natural for Americans to love pecans: The pecan is the only nut tree native to North America. It’s been growing wild and in cultivation from the northeastern United States all the way down to the river valleys of Mexico… so naturally, all these regions from north to south have developed a different way of pronouncing “pecan.”

Ways to say “Pecan” (1)

In fact, the linguistics department at University of Wisconsin­ Milwaukee identified eight different ways Americans say “pecan”, and plotted them all out on this fun map.

Take a listen to these various pronunciations and learn a little more about the beloved pecan in my latest video!

 

So, just how do you say it?

More fun than saying “pecans” is eating them. Here’s a tried and true pecan recipe that makes a great snack or gift.

Spicy Glazed Pecans

adapted from Spiced Pecans by Alton Brown

1 lb. whole pecans

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. cinnamon

1⁄4 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. coconut oil

1⁄4 c. brown sugar

2 Tbsp. water

Place pecans in a large saute pan and toast over medium heat for 4­-5 minutes. Stir frequently until just browned.

Add butter and coconut oil and stir to coat pecans.

Add spices and stir to combine.

Add sugar and water; stir and cook until mixture forms a glaze.

Pour the pecans evenly onto a sheet pan to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Enjoy!

Find more great recipes at ilovepecans.org.

If you’d like more information on accent reduction, take my free accent screening and receive a free pronunciation guide at losemyaccent.com.

Take a Deep Breath! Reduce Your Accent by Reducing Your Stress

April is Stress Awareness Month, and we’re continuing this month with ways to improve your accent by bringing down your body’s stress level. In last week’s article, I asked you to loosen up the muscles that control your speech with exercises for your shoulders, neck, and jaw. If you haven’t tried those, take a minute to look back at my previous article and stretch out those muscles.

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with some helpful stretches, let’s move on to an important part of your speech you’ve probably overlooked: your breathing.

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I’m sure you don’t notice your breathing until you get into a stressful situation: a presentation at work, a tense moment of disagreement with a co­worker, or an important meeting. You probably become aware of the quicker, more shallow breaths as your heart rate and stress level rise.

Let’s explore what causes this, and work to calm things down!

Try the following exercise, and notice how your chest and stomach both behave:

Hands on Stomach SMALL

If your stomach moved in with your breath, and your chest rose and fell, you are chest breathing.

In a higher stress situation, this creates quick, shallow, less efficient breathing… but perhaps more importantly for you, your voice won’t sound as rich and full as it could if you were relaxing your chest muscles.Chest SMALL

The last thing you need during a presentation is for your body to be working hard just to breathe, especially if you’re trying to project your voice across a room. You also don’t need your lungs working overtime if you’re trying to make a good impression!

Instead, I want you to use your diaphragm muscle to expand the lower part of your lungs. This deeper breathing automatically slows your heart rate and stress level, while reducing tension to the muscles that control your speech.

Try the stomach breathing exercise again, and this time make your hand pop out with your stomach while you expand the lower half of your lungs.

If you’re still having trouble making this happen, here’s a tip!

Lie Flat SMALL

With repetition, you’ll be able to draw on this deep breathing technique when you need it most.

Slow, deep breathing is probably the quickest, most effective way to calm the nervousness before and during a meeting or presentation. And I have some other ways to help you prepare and feel confident for those big work responsibilities. I originally made the following video during Halloween season, but the presentation preparation tips in it for non­native English speakers are still very true. Take a look, reduce your job stress, and be understood!

If this video and article helped you, or if you’d like more information on accent reduction, take my free accent screening and receive a free pronunciation guide at losemyaccent.com.

Relax! Reduce Your Accent by Reducing Your Stress

Improving your speech or reducing your accent takes a lot of self-awareness… it requires listening to yourself and regular practice in order to improve. But today I’m going to ask you to be aware of something other than the sound of your voice.  I’d like you to be aware of your body’s stress.

 

Relax!

Since April is Stress Awareness Month, I’d like you to take time this month to notice where you hold stress and tension in your body, as this greatly affects the muscles that control your speech and pronunciation. Let’s take a look at a few exercises that will help you relieve speech muscle tension.

 

Shoulders and Neck

Controlling your speech begins further down than your tongue and cheek muscles. It starts in the shoulders and neck, a place where many of us carry stress and tension.

 

Roll Shoulders

 

 

Cheek and Jaw

Many of us clench our teeth or tighten our cheek muscles when stressed. Try to be aware of this, and try the following exercise when you notice yourself doing this.

 Fingers

Be sure to follow through by massaging all the way up into your cheekbone.

Now… hopefully I’m not boring you, but I want you to give a big yawn!

 Yawn

These exercises can help you reduce your tension, to help reduce your accent and be understood!

However, no one will be perfectly understood all the time… and missteps with your speech and accent can be a great source of stress if you’ve been trying to improve. In my video below, I’d like to encourage you with some helpful things to remember for the times when you are misunderstood. I made this video a couple of years ago, but the suggestions in it are timeless.

 

If this video and article helped you, or if you’d like more information on accent reduction, take my free accent screening and receive a free pronunciation guide at losemyaccent.com.

 

3 Ways to Keep It Simple: Connecting with International Co-Workers

The American workplace is more and more an international one. Through internship or residency programs, we work daily with non-native English speakers who have been in the U.S. for only a few years, or who even arrived just recently. Online, we’re communicating globally through video chats and e-conferencing. Modern travel and the internet have blurred the borders of our world.

 

What does this mean for the American professional whose co-workers now come not only from across town, but across the globe? Your international co=workers probably dedicated much of their time and energy to learn English in order to have the job and life they desire. We, in turn, should appreciate that effort by evaluating how our communication skills can welcome them into our workplaces and help them continue to improve.

In this ongoing series on cross-cultural communication, today I offer three ways to…

 

1. Use Plain English

Keeping it simple for your foreign-born co-workers means paring down the words you use. It doesn’t mean you’re dumbing things down for them… after all, these are professionals who are performing their job in a second language. That alone requires skill and intelligence! However, that doesn’t mean they’re familiar with all the vocabulary in the English language.

For example, say “moving” instead of “transitioning”… or “friendly” instead of “amicable.” If a co-worker has to constantly stop to look up words you’ve used, you have slowed productivity for them and your team, and reduced their confidence in communicating with you. You want just the opposite.

 

 

2. Repetition is Helpful

Call a spade a spade… and keep calling it a spade! Changing the word you use to reference a project or piece of equipment will only confuse a non-native speaker, who thought they had already learned the word you wanted to use.

Repetition of labels allows an international worker to become quickly familiar with these ideas, and move past the learning stage to a deeper level of confident communication.

 

 

3. Offer to Explain

Remember to kindly ask if there are any words that were unfamiliar to them, or any concepts that they would like repeated or explained in a different way.

This simple gesture will show you care that your co-worker understands you, and that you value their communication with you. To know they can ask you for an explanation without feeling embarrassed builds trust for your professional relationship.

If you’d like more strategies on communicating with the non-native English speakers in your workplace, or would like to offer your workers accent reduction classes or seminars, please contact Lisa Scott  for a consultation… and visit AccentuateCommunication.com for more on how we can help you break down cross-cultural workplace barriers.

Easter Traditions : Know your Vowels and Vocabulary

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This weekend, Americans are once again celebrating another springtime holiday: Easter. For many, Easter is an important holiday in their Christian faith. For others, it’s a welcoming of the spring season and new life.

did you know... easter

You’re probably seeing Easter candy in the aisles at all the stores, and hearing friends and co-workers talk about their plans for this weekend. Perhaps they’re having a big family meal after their church service, or attending an Easter egg hunt with their children at a public park.

In this video, I’ll take you through the Easter story and many American Easter traditions, both religious and secular. I’ll also help you with several vowel sounds and how to pronounce the “R” sound, while we explore Easter phrases you should know to be able to talk about the holiday with the Americans in your life.

If this video helped you, or if you’d like more information on accent reduction, take my free accent screening and receive a free pronunciation guide at losemyaccent.com.

And however you celebrate, I hope you have a Happy Easter and a beautiful spring season!

Luck of the Irish : Phrases and Sounds for St. Patrick’s Day

“Top o’ the morning to ya!”

Although that is not a phrase actually used in Ireland, Americans love to say it and embrace all things Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, every March 17th. Mythical leprechauns, pots of gold, and the color green are everywhere as everyone becomes a little bit Irish to celebrate the culture of “the Emerald Isle.”

In fact, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations as we know them in America only just began around 60 years ago, as Irish immigrants sought to retain their heritage.

What started as small gatherings quickly became parades and festivities all over America and the world! I love that our country is full of customs and celebrations from people groups the world over.

In my latest video, we’ll learn some phrases for St. Patrick’s Day, practice the sounds in those phrases, and delve into the history of the holiday.

With practice, you may not need the “luck of the Irish” to sound like an American!

If this video helped you, or if you’d like to know more about how accent reduction can benefit your work and personal life, take my free accent screening at losemyaccent.com. You’ll also receive a free pronunciation guide.

Siri® Understands Me Now: How Accent Reduction Aids in the Use of Voice-Recognition Technology

Siri Understands Me Now! (2)

Most of us recognize the voice of Siri®, the iPhone’s voice – assisted technology. But Siri® doesn’t recognize the pronunciation of everyone who attempts to communicate with her. Apple says that she handles 1 billion voice requests per week, but many non-native speakers have reverted back to text-based requests after Siri® failed to grasp what they were asking.

As an accent reduction trainer, I received a flood of new inquiries from internationals in the US when Siri® was first released. People who had thought for years that their pronunciation was good enough were suddenly faced with the fact that this new technology told them otherwise.

Granted, the technology itself is partly to blame. As analyst Jeff Kagan reported in this Fortune article, “[These technologies] are still in their very early growth and frankly get more wrong than right.”

Siri Voice Assistant (2)

But it’s not going away. And it’s not just in phones any more. We see voice-assisted technology in cars, in our homes, and even in new wearable technology. From warehouse floors to laboratories to hospital wards, more and more employees are using hands-free devices that require that their speech be easily understood by a computer.

Certainly, the technology will continue to improve and understand more variations on the pronunciation of words. But in the meantime, what can non-native speakers do to use Siri® and other similar programs more effectively?

Accent reduction classes can be very helpful, both in increasing the accuracy of pronunciation and in building confidence.  According to one of my clients, an engineer named Baskar, “the course has helped me tremendously to understand the subtle differences and nuances in the usage of many words.”   Determined to meet his personal accent reduction goals, he thought of a unique way to use voice-recognition software to his advantage. Dragon® Naturally Speaking has become his practice companion. He takes note any time the software misunderstands a word he says, and then uses that list for further practice. As he explains, ” It helps to see what others hear when I say a certain word.”  His English clarity is improving, as is the ease of using a variety of voice- recognition programs. 

After several weeks of working with me, another client, Hari Nallan, proudly announced at the beginning of a session, “Siri® understands me now!” His confidence was boosted by this objective measure that his speech is clearer now than it was just a short time ago. It’s carrying over into his business, too. His clients don’t ask him to repeat himself as often, which makes for smoother transactions as he builds his business worldwide.

Investing the time now to work on pronunciation will pay off quickly, since the need to be understood by voice recognition software is growing rapidly. In fact, according to comScore, 200 billion searches per month will be done with voice by 2020.

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No longer will saying that your English is “good enough” actually be good enough for the voice recognition software that will be an integral part of our daily lives at home and at work.

If you’re not certain that your English is good enough to be understood by the latest voice- recognition software, then it may be time to get an outside evaluation of your pronunciation.
Don’t know where to start? Visit losemyaccent.com to take a free accent screening.