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.

How did Sofia Vergara get on Modern Family without losing her accent?

How did Sofia Vergara get on Modern Family without losing her accent? Do Americans have a double standard when it comes to accepting foreign accents?

Why are accents sexy and appealing coming from movie or TV stars, but aggravating or unacceptable coming from our co-workers or professors?

Or is it simply that some accents are more acceptable than others?

Last week while being interviewed on Regis and Kelly, Sofia Vergara admitted her own surprise at being so successful on American television in spite of her Colombian accent. When asked if she was disappointed not to have won an Emmy, she replied, “I won already just to be there with this accent! I never thought I was going to be part of a show like Modern Family or have a role that was going to be able to be nominated for anything with this accent!”

Despite her beauty and acting talent, she still believed that her accent would prevent her from being truly successful. So, why did it work for her? Are Americans more forgiving of her accent because she is famous, or is there something different about her accent compared to, for example, the teachers in Arizona being forced to reduce their accent to stay in the classroom?

I believe that it is because some individuals’ accents are easier to understand than others. Some people have mastered the ability to speak English clearly while still retaining parts of the intonation and pronunciation of their native language. Sofia has studied English long enough to master the necessary pronunciation while still revealing her Colombian heritage. So, even though we clearly hear the accent, we also easily understand what she says.

And this is, or should be, the goal of accent reduction training: to learn to speak English clearly enough to be easily understood, without losing all traces of your heritage.

Exactly what that looks like will be very different to different people. As an accent reduction specialist and speech coach, my job is to help non-native English speakers achieve their personal goals in American English pronunciation. For some, that means sounding “as American as possible.” For others, it means being easily understood but still having an “accent” from their home country.

Neither one is right or wrong; the important goals are being easily understood by others and feeling comfortable and confident when you speak.

So whether your dream is to be as successful as Sofia Vergara on Modern Family, to blend in inconspicuously with your American neighbors, or something in between, if you take the steps to work on your American English pronunciation, you are headed toward your dream.

If you’re ready to take the first step towards your dream of clearer English pronunciation, be sure to get your FREE guide to American pronunciation when you visit www.losemyaccent.com .

Hispanic Heritage Month: Let’s Celebrate!

Hola!

Because this month is Hispanic Heritage Month, I will be featuring tips and stories that are especially interesting to our Hispanic readers.

I want to start out by addressing a common concern. This is a reprint of a blog post from last winter, but it seemed to be perfect for the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. This month is set aside to honor your heritage, but I know that some of you worry that if you decide to improve your English pronunciation, you will lose part of your heritage.

Are you afraid that if you want to lose your accent, your family and friends will feel that you are abandoning them and your native culture? Please do not let this fear keep you from doing something that you know will benefit you. Your family and friends love you and want the best for you. If you are living in an English speaking culture now, you want to give yourself every opportunity to succeed, and that includes making sure that your English is easy to understand.

No one is asking you to forget your heritage or pretend you are someone you are not. When we talk about losing or reducing your accent, we are really talking about changing those parts of your pronunciation that make your English difficult for others to understand. Most people, even after completing accent reduction classes, will still have traces of their accent in their everyday speech. Ideally, your goal is not to eliminate the accent completely, but to change the parts of it that make it difficult to understand. Ultimately, the goal should be to have the best of both worlds: an accent that sets you apart as a native of your homeland while still being completely understandable in English.

So, let’s celebrate your past during Hispanic Heritage Month, and celebrate your future with some American pronunciation tips especially for you over the next few weeks.

If you have a story about overcoming a language barrier when coming to the United States, or another success story that you think would fit well on this blog, please contact me and let me know. I would love to feature some of your stories this month and let your successes shine during Hispanic Heritage Month.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!