Springtime Challenge: Grow a Speech Garden

People who love gardening often spend all winter planning what they’ll grow in the spring. They pore over seed catalogs and websites, plot out their flower or vegetable beds on paper, and put aside money for new plants, mulch, and all the other necessary materials to make their garden beautiful and prosperous.

Have you ever thought about tending to your speech the way you’d tend to a garden?

Well, I’m issuing you a challenge!

Springtime Challenge

For Better Hearing and Speech month, we’re talking about how your communication takes care… the kind of care that would go into the planning and maintenance of a lush and healthy garden.

What does it look like to “grow a speech garden” with care?

Identify The Weeds

Any gardener knows that weeds will take over your garden in no time if left to grow! They become harder to uproot as they get bigger. The same is true for your speech: an unhelpful sound left unchecked will make you harder to understand, and will take more work to “unlearn” the longer you continue to use it.

Feed the Healthy Plants!Garden beds need nutrients in the form of fertilizer or compost – and of course watering – to ensure healthy plants and growth. Your American accent can benefit from similar care… so practice the sounds you know are working.

Introduce New SpecimensGardeners are always looking to include new specimens in their gardens – perhaps an heirloom vegetable variety they’ve never grown, or an exciting new hybrid of their favorite flower. When your correct sounds become strong enough that you don’t have to focus on them as much anymore, you can more easily introduce the next batch of sounds that need more work.

So, how do you know which sounds to focus on?

In this video from awhile back, I explain more about how your clear speech is like a garden you must maintain, and how important an individual speech coach or listener is.

And I also want to encourage you to join me for my 8­-week online clear speech course that starts June 9!

This course will tackle exactly what we’re talking about with your “speech garden”… identifying the sounds that give you trouble, practicing the correct sounds, individual attention from a speech pathologist (me, of course!), and listening and support from others who are also growing their “speech garden.”

Speaking and Learning Together

All the course information is right here, so don’t miss this opportunity to change the course of your speech this spring! Just like a garden that produces a bountiful autumn harvest, you can be speaking more clearly by this fall after my 8-week course.

And after you reserve your spot, you can bring a friend for free!

Working with a friend will help you both better tend to your speech gardens.

I hope you take this “Speech Garden Challenge” and commit to working on your American accent this spring… and I hope to see you June 9 for my “Speaking and Learning Together” accent reduction course!

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.”


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:


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!



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!

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.


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.

Take a Deep Breath (1)

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.

Is That Variable Valuable? You CAN Pronounce This Clearly!

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.

Improve Your Pronunciation of Long E with a Virtual Trip to the Beach

Last week, we talked about how hard it can be to pronounce the long e sound in beach, and I promised you another video full of more practice sentences with that tricky long e sound. Now, you can work on your American pronunciation while sitting at home and enjoying a virtual trip to the beach.

When you do get to the beach, you’ll be ready to talk about it without any worries, because you will be able to say these beach words with ease.


What other sounds do you find difficult to pronounce? Leave me a comment about it, and you may see a video on just what you asked for very soon!

If you’re not sure what sounds you should be practicing, please visit www.losemyaccent.com and sign up for a free accent screening. You can record your voice, send it to me, and I will tell you the top three sounds that will help you to improve your American pronunciation.

Yum! Improve Your Spoken English by Eating Candy!

You want to improve your spoken English and you are trying to remember everything you’ve learned about pronunciation and intonation,but it’s hard to break old habits. Even when you know the correct pronunciation of a sound, remembering to use it in conversation is another matter.

You’ve tried lots of different ways to remind yourself to use the correct speech, but they’re just not working. Before you give up and think you’ll just have to live with your accent the way it is, there is something else you can try.


Yes, I mean mints and lemon drops and sour candy. Not as a reward or incentive, but as a reminder. Let me explain what I mean.

We all use our senses every day to remind us to do different things. When we see a note, we’re reminded to complete a task. When we hear an alarm, we know it’s time to get out of bed or to be somewhere. Everyone has one sense that works better than others at cueing them to remember things.

One often overlooked sense is the sense of taste.

Now, of course, many of us greatly enjoy our sense of taste as we eat a delicious meal, but what I’m talking about here is using the sense of taste as a reminder.

How can you find out if your sense of taste will remind you to practice the skills you need to improve your spoken English? By conducting a simple experiment.

All you need is a list of 10-20 words that you are working on (all with the same sound in them) and some strongly flavored candy – mints or lemon or other sour candy. It is important that you choose a candy that you do not eat regularly, because we want it to”wake up” your mouth and brain when you eat it, signaling your brain to pay attention to what is going on.

Keep the candy in a bowl on your desk, in your pocket or purse, or somewhere easily accessible so you can suck on it throughout the day.

Each time you reach for a piece of candy, recite a few of your practice words, paying careful attention to pronounce them correctly. Over the course of the day, your brain will learn that when it senses that taste, it’s time to use your new English pronunciation.

If this seems to work well for you,experiment with several types of candy over a few days and see which one triggers the strongest memories. If the candy is too mild, you may just enjoy the taste too much and forget the practice, so be sure to use only strongly-flavored ones.

What a yummy way to improve your spoken English!

Not sure exactly which sounds you should be practicing? 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.