As an NRI, you have spent years studying English and know thousands of words. Your written English communication is superb. You are confident that you are ready to live in America and will be able to communicate easily with those around you.
But then, you get here and you find out it isn’t nearly as easy as you expected. Why can’t these people understand you? Do you really need to improve your spoken English? It’s frustrating when people misunderstand you, particularly when you know you have a good grasp of the English language.
So, what’s the problem? It’s all in the pronunciation. No matter how great your knowledge of the English language is, if you don’t know the rules of English pronunciation, you will have a very hard time being understood. Many people apply the pronunciation rules of their native language to English, but the rules are different, and that’s where an accent comes from.
So, for example, you might try to say:
Will, would you zip the green coat?
But, it sounds like:
Vill, vould you sip de kleen co?
To the listener, it doesn’t make much sense.
But, what can you do? As an NRI, you’ve already invested years learning English and you want to move on in your career and your life. The best thing to do is to figure out which sounds are causing the most confusion in your spoken English, so you can learn to practice saying them correctly. It will be different for everyone, depending on your native language, but there are similarities among many of the dialects of India.
You can practice these sounds in everyday conversations, as you go about your daily life. I’ve listed below some of the most common sounds that many Indian speakers have trouble pronouncing. See if you can figure out which of these applies to you.
1. Saying an S sound instead of a Z sound
Many Indian 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 sip and zip.
2. Saying a K sound instead of a G sound
This is a very similar issue to the one above. K 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. Saying a V sound instead of a W sound
The V sound is made by placing the top teeth on the bottom lip, turning on the voice, and blowing. The W sound is made by rounding the lips as if to make an O sound and then turning on the voice as the lips open slightly. You can practice as in the example above, using the words wine and vine.
4. Saying an F sound for a V sound
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.
5. Leaving off Final Sounds
Final consonants are very important in English, but many Indian speakers will let the final consonant drop off. When this happens, it is difficult for the listener to determine what word has been spoken. For example, cat, can, and cad could all sound like “ca”. Be sure to enunciate the final consonants in words.
The best way to reduce your accent and improve your spoken English is through practice, both with American speakers and with other NRI’s. When you identify which sounds you need to work on, practice them and pay careful attention to when you use those sounds in conversation. If you have trouble figuring out which sounds are hard for you, or figuring out how to produce the new sounds, you can contact an accent reduction specialist. That way, you can find out exactly what to do to make your spoken English more understandable, and your English pronunciation will grow quickly and efficiently.
Why don’t you take my free online speech and accent screening at http://www.losemyaccent.com? It only takes a few minutes, and you will get free tips on how to improve your pronunciation.