Hispanic Heritage & Your American Accent

celebrating-hispanic-heritage-month

¡Hola, mis amigos!

It’s an honor to be celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month once again with my Latino friends and followers across the country and the world! It’s a time to recognize the rich traditions and culture that have brought so much joy and unique perspective to the United States.

I have a couple questions to think about as you celebrate your heritage: Is it possible to improve English pronunciation while holding onto your culture? Will you lose part of your heritage if you decide to work on your American accent?

This can be a worrisome topic for anyone with an accent: You worry your family will think you’re letting go of your culture, or that changing your speech will somehow change you. But I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way, and that you really can have the best of both worlds! When we talk about reducing your accent, we’re really talking about changing the parts of your pronunciation that make your English difficult for others to understand. You will still have your culture, your heritage, and your accent… just an accent more easily understood by native English speakers.

In fact, I was just featured in an article for El Sentinel, the Spanish-language version of The Orlando Sentinel newspaper, on this very topic. The article highlights how Latino workers are seeing their career prospects improve after their company offered them accent reduction training… not to eliminate their accent, but to make it more easily understood.

So which sounds are difficult for Latino speakers?

Most of the pronunciation issues for Latinos have to do with voiced and unvoiced sounds. Check out my video below to learn more about this concept, and use it to practice these most commonly mispronounced sounds.

1

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.”

2K and G sound are both produced in the back of the throat, but the K is unvoiced and the G is voiced. Try saying K-k-k and then G-g-g-g. You should feel the tickle or vibration on your throat when you say the G sound. Practice saying “coat” and “goat.”

3

P and B are both made by pushing the lips together and releasing them. P is made without using the voice while B uses the voice. It’s important to hear the difference, because one letter sound can change your entire meaning, as with the words “cap” and “cab.”

4

The V sound is made by placing the top teeth on the lower lip, turning on the voice, and blowing. If you put both lips together and blow, you get a B sound instead of the V. Practice with words like “very” and “berry.”

5

If you put the top teeth on the lower lip and blow without turning on the voice, you will make an F sound. To make the V sound, you need to turn on your voice. Practice by saying “fine” and “vine.”

 

Again, the goal here isn’t accent elimination, the goal is to be understood… and I think that’s a goal that you, and your friends and family who love you, can get behind!

¡Hasta la próxima, amigos!

 

If this article and video helped you, check out my free pronunciation guide and accent screening to further explore personalized accent reduction.

 

My corporate accent reduction and professional presence training engage communication issues to increase productivity, create stronger client relationships, and improve clarity of internal and external presentations and processes.

Learn more and contact us today at AccentuateCommunication.com.

Professional Presence: Finding Your Voice

professional-presence

Picture yourself in this everyday office scenario:

The staff is gathered for a presentation on a new company initiative.

The presenter passes out their information, and in a monotone fashion proceeds to plod through the slideshow presentation on the topic with seemingly little enthusiasm.

At the end they announce, “We really want everyone to get excited about this.”

Are you excited?

Have you bought into your company’s new project?

Given the lackluster presentation, probably not!

 

Maybe this presenter really is excited about the initiative, but they don’t know how to convey that to others… or don’t even realize how their demeanor is being perceived by everyone in the room.

And what would the ramifications be if this had been a pitch to a client, or prospective investors?

The non-verbal communication in this situation was the difference between increased morale at the launching of a new project, and just another boring meeting!

 

The 7 Percent “Rule”

You may be familiar with a “rule” that states communication is only 7% verbal, the other 93% being vocal tones (38%) and facial expression (55%). While the studies from the late 1960s that originated this “rule” have been widely misinterpreted – and the results really only apply to the circumstances of the study – it was still a benchmark in recognizing how we interpret messages based on our physical sound and presence… and other studies still reinforce how nonverbal communication influences how we perceive messages from others.

 

Take for example, a later study indicating that the combination of many non-verbal cues had over 4 times the effect of simply verbal cues. And a study out of Harvard University published in 2003 showed how tone of voice increased or decreased subjects’ perception of politeness in statements and questions.

 

Even so, science may not always be able to pin down a statistic about our use of nonverbal cues… but the evidence exists in those won or lost clients, daily engagement with customers and co-workers, and surveys of employee satisfaction.

 

It’s What You Say, AND How You Say It

We know the words we choose are important… no one wants irrelevant, illogical information or interactions. But it’s not just our words – strictly the information – that influences others, and determines their perception of us. Even when our words are in the right, is that enough to convey our meaning? In the example above, the speaker’s overall tone hindered the message of company enthusiasm. No doubt you’ve experienced either embracing or rejecting projects, ideas, or initiatives because of the way the message was delivered to you.

 

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Dr. Ann Utterback, a vocal coach exclusive to broadcasters, says that the world is looking for “comfortable communicators”: presenters who make you feel like you’re the only one with whom they’re interacting. In an interview with Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute, she describes one aspect of this as ‘vocal energy’ – “focus and passion for what you’re saying.”

 

So just knowing how to run the slide software isn’t enough… the balance of what you’re thinking, feeling, and projecting creates the dynamism to win and keep customers, influence investors, and excite and engage those around your on your team.

 

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Ultimately, your vocal presence can either enhance or break down your meaning.

And this presence is made up of many components… some you may feel comfortable with, and others that may need work in order to really find your voice, and allow others to hear your true meaning.

My corporate professional presence training breaks down these components:

Vocal quality

Vocal variance

Rate of speech

Accent clarity

Body posture and gestures

 

And you may be surprised how factors outside of your physical voice can be used to great effect in magnifying your “voice” and message:

Crafting a powerful story

Knowing when to speak, and when to listen

Adjusting responses to questions for different audiences

 

We’ll be exploring these components of your professional vocal presence in the weeks to come!

 

My corporate professional presence training engages the issues of vocal presence to increase productivity, create stronger client relationships, and improve clarity of internal and external presentations and processes.

Learn more and contact us today at AccentuateCommunication.com.

 

Lisa Scott Featured Speaker at Thought Leader Forum

 

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Did you know that almost one third of the American workforce in engineering, computer science, and healthcare is made up of immigrants? Many of them have studied English for years, but may still have trouble mastering the nuances of the language. Accent reduction training enables talented international professionals to engage more fully in American culture both at work and in the community.

I welcome the opportunity to share the positive impact of accent reduction with other professionals who may not be familiar with this specialized communication training. Highlighting the hard work it takes for foreign-born engineers, doctors, and professors to engage in American culture is something I always want to promote!

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I was honored to be a speaker recently at the Velocity Thought Leader Forum, where I detailed how my proven methods at Accentuate have turned the English language struggles of many immigrant professionals into success stories for their career and everyday life… and how these successes translate into better business for American companies, which now have a way to stop the money leaks caused by communication breakdowns.

I’m very grateful to have received so much positive feedback from other CEOs, executives, and professionals at the Velocity event about my talk and what Accentuate is doing for foreign-born professionals and American corporations.

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Is your international team performing at its full potential?

Communication breakdowns cost large corporations over $62.4 million per year.

Is your company missing out on grants, sales, or important clients because of heavy accents or presentations that are hard to follow?

Accentuate can help remove these cross-cultural barriers.

Schedule a consultation with Lisa Scott today – and visit AccentuateCommunication.com for more on how your company’s productivity can benefit from a team that is clearly speaking the same language!

Prepositions of Time: “In,” “On,” & “At”

Have you ever asked a co-worker to join you “on 3:00” for a meeting?

Perhaps you mentioned to someone that your birthday was “at Friday.”

Though you may not have realized it, you were using these prepositions of time incorrectly!

 

When do you say

 

In trying to grasp a larger vocabulary, a student of English may start to overlook the small connecting words that bind language together, but these prepositional words have a great impact on others’ perception of your mastery of the language. Using them incorrectly could cause confusion with co-workers or make you feel insecure in your speech.

 

If you can remember this order, “IN, ON, AT”… then you can remember this general rule for how to describe points in time:

 

General Rule

 

See how “IN, ON, AT” progress from general to specific as you read their descriptions:

 

Prepositions of time

 

At the beginning of this article, the correct usage would mean the meeting is “at 3:00,” and that your birthday is “on Friday.”

 

Take a look at the following practice sentences and see if you can choose the correct prepositions.

 

Fill in white

 

Now check out my video from a few years ago that further explains the usage of “IN, ON, AT” and will help you practice how to use them… and then see if you got the sample sentences correct below!

 

 

Answers white

If this video and 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.

Time to Speak Up! Caring About Your Communication

Tell me if this resonates with you: you’re comfortable in your workplace when it requires reading emails and going through written material… or writing to co-workers and jotting down notes.

But when needing to speak out loud to a co-worker, or asked to speak up at a meeting, you say as little as possible.

You’ve been misunderstood so many times, it’s just easier to stay quiet.

Sound familiar?

Speaking Out Loud FB

If you learned English outside the U.S., you probably spent years structuring sentences, memorizing vocabulary, and listening to English. You excelled in reading and writing, and by all measures became fluent in the English language.

You might have been surprised, then, when you came to America as a scientist, researcher, or engineer, and found that others had trouble understanding you!

Accustomed to learning in a passive way rather than an active one, and without an emphasis on speaking, you prefer to listen instead of engage in conversations. You’re tired of repeating yourself, and misunderstandings have caused embarrassment or perhaps a shy personality.

May is “Better Hearing and Speech Month”, as sponsored by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). ASHA is my credentialing organization, and this year’s theme is “Communication Takes Care.”

ASHA BHSM

So today, let’s talk about how you can “take care” of yourself and others by speaking up!

Make Simple, Creative Daily Changes

There’s no way around it… it’s going to take work on your part to practice speaking out loud and identify your problem sounds.

So let me give you an example of a simple way one of my clients practices speaking out loud:

He purposefully pays his bills over the phone, rather than mailing them in.

This way, he can practice his pronunciation with a variety of listeners, taking note of any words they don’t understand, so he can practice them again before the next interaction.

Here are some other ideas:

TalkEatCall

Use Technology to Your Advantage

The same client I mentioned above also uses voice recognition software to identify problem sounds for him to practice. A program like Dragon® Naturally Speaking is a small investment, but can turn nearly everything you’d do on a PC into a voice command – and it’s instant feedback for you on which sounds you should work on.

Using the voice assistant on your phone, like Siri®, to do web searches or take notes, can also give you great feedback on which sounds give you trouble – and practicing challenging words in the privacy of your home can feel more comfortable.

But I’ve got another wonderful way for you to use technology to reduce your accent… my upcoming 8-week online clear speech course!

 

SALT

I’m so excited to be leading this course once again!

“Speaking and Learning Together” starts June 9… and it includes online training videos and livestream group sessions where you can work personally with me and others who are also working toward clear speech. And right now, you can bring a friend along for free!

Find out more about this fantastic course here and register before it fills up!

If you’re hoping to reduce your accent by simply listening, it’s probably not enough to create a change.

We need the listening skills of others, friends to practice with, and the support of a community around us to motivate us to improve our speech.

So don’t let my “Speaking and Learning Together” course pass you by… and you can also take my free accent screening and receive a free pronunciation guide at losemyaccent.com.

Hoping to see you on June 9!

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!

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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.

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.

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.

Why YouTube Isn’t Enough

If you’ve been following my blog or Facebook page for any length of time, you know that I enjoy posting videos of American pronunciation and culture on YouTube, and I hope you find them helpful! And there are, of course, many more language pronunciation videos out there as well. But is viewing free online videos enough to help you be understood by your co-workers, clients, patients, and American friends?

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If you are still actively learning English vocabulary, sounds, and grammar, YouTube videos may be great for you right now. But if you’re reading this article with ease, you are probably already beyond that. Take a look at the following question and try to answer honestly:

What kind of English Speaker are you- (1)

If you answered anything other than “I’m always understood”, you are probably ready to take the next step in your English pronunciation: personalized accent reduction!

Depending on which dialect you speak, the English language has anywhere from 44 to 52 different sounds… and non-native speakers usually only have 10 to 15 of those sounds that are affecting the way they speak and are understood. How do you know which are affecting you, and which to actively work on? That is an answer YouTube videos just cannot provide.

The English Language Sounds

So what are your options for reducing your accent?

You may have looked into home-study software kits, a local small group for speech training, or a number of online speech training programs… and you’re probably wondering which is right for you. I like to go back to the familiar saying, “you get what you pay for” when it comes to accent reduction, and what you pay for should definitely include heavy one-on-one attention from a speech coach. You need the feedback of a trained American listener to help you concentrate on the right sounds for you.

No matter which program you go with, do your homework before purchasing to make sure you will receive individual attention to your accent. And as always, I’d love to be your coach! You can receive a free accent screening and pronunciation guide at losemyaccent.com. With personalized attention and practice, you’ll be able to say, “I’m always understood!”

Broken Rules: Learn how to say Snow Plow

Some people like to say that “rules are made to be broken.” Well that’s certainly how it seems to be with the English language sometimes! Just when you learn a pronunciation rule, it seems there is a group of words that break that rule.

learn to say...

 

This often happens with words that have the same spelling, but are pronounced completely differently. In this video, we’re going to talk about that wintertime white stuff – snow – and the phrases and sounds that go along with it.

If this video was helpful, my free pronunciation guide and accent screening can help you with these sounds and more. Check it out at losemyaccent.com.