There are two English languages; the spoken language and the written language. Broken English happens when the speaker does not understand the difference between the two. In many other languages, one symbol equals one sound, hence the spoken and written languages are one. This is not the case with English. There are 26 letters in the alphabet, but there are 44 sounds in well spoken English. One letter in English can have many sounds, and one sound in English has no letter equivalent at all.
But because many foreigners assume that the written and spoken languages are essentially the same, that the English language is phonetic, they assume that if they master the written language, they will be mastering the spoken language as well. Because English is not a phonetic language, it is essential that students understand that the spoken and written languages are largely distinct, and learn their separate rules and logic. Over time, the vague connection between the two can be gleaned.
What happens to your English if you don’t understand that the “o” symbol can be pronounced many different ways? “Hot” sounds like “hope”. “Pot” sounds like “Pope”. And on and on. Mispronunciation becomes common because the speaker is pronouncing the 26 letters of the alphabet, rather than the 44 sounds of English. To avoid this, it’s important to be sure to learn the spoken language concurrently with the written language, and with the same vigor.
Understanding the difference between the spoken and written language is only half the battle. If you want to speak English excellently, you must fight against a larger, more insidious force than this basic misconception. Do you know what it is? Your Iphone. Unfortunately, we live in a society that prizes the written language to the detriment of the spoken language. How many of your friends prize public speaking, and can’t stand dawdling on their Iphones? None? Yea me too. Since Guttenberg’s time, we have canonized writing, and eschewed speaking. To win the battle of better English, you have to resist the pull of the written word, on your computer screen, Iphone, tablet, TV, ect, and begin to open your ears to the sounds of English.
As the video above attests, more and more people are seeking out accent reduction classes. Initially, accent reduction was popular in large cities like New York City, but it is growing, and reaching into bedroom communities all across the country. Many professionals in states like New Jersey, Washington, and Arizona are signing up for accent reduction.
So what should you look out for while considering a class? Here are three things to avoid:
1) No relevant experience – Anyone can call themselves an accent reduction coach, so it’s important to check on your teacher’s credentials. Validate that your teacher has experience teaching at the collegiate level or a Masters Degree in Speech Pathology.
2) No lesson plan – if you’ve spent any time researching options for accent reduction classes, you are probably aware that there are many teachers who tend to wing it when it comes to the lesson plan. Not so good. A solid accent reduction program will take between 8-12 hours and will involve a full evaluation to start. Your syllabus (yes you should have a syllabus) should cover core vowel and consonant sounds, but also more advanced concepts like sentence and syllable stress, and intonation.
3) No patience – is your teacher rolling his or her eyes at you every time you struggle with a sound change? Acting dismissive or disdainful toward your questions? Not good. In fact, that’s very, very bad. Accent modification takes time, and it is imperative you study with a teacher who is willing to explain concepts calmly, and answer your questions enthusiastically.
Presenting well is a challenge, and that challenge is doubled when English is your second language. Here are five ways you can improve your ability to present to executives despite imperfect English:
1) Write your speech out – This is the simplest way to improve your speeches. It’s generally best to speak from brief bullet points, but this is not an option if English is your second language. Put your thoughts down on paper.
2) Have your speech proofread – Go to Craigslist and hire a graduate student from Columbia or NYU and have them weed out awkward phrases. If it is a 30 minutes speech, this might only cost you $40 or so. It’s worth it. Make sure you ask why your phrases are off so you can improve them going forward.
3) Rehearse your speech with a coach – A speech coach with a specialty in accent reduction (like yours truly) can hear your problem sounds and rhythm patterns clearly, and teach you specific techniques to fix them. This will vastly increase your ability to be understood. A good coach can teach you effective speech structure as well so your speeches spark interest.
4) Go slow and pause at the end of phrases – This is the simplest way to improve your presentations. Simply take a pause at the end of a thought or phrase, take a breath, and allow for some space and time in between thoughts. This gives the audience time to absorb what you are saying. Read this post to practice pausing between thoughts.
5) Try again if you stumble on a word or phrase – It’s ok if you cannot pronounce every word in your presentation perfectly. There are plenty of successful New York City executives who give presentations with speech mistakes in them. But it’s not a good idea to just skip over mistaken words or phrases while presenting if it will confuse the audience. If you mispronounce a word, take a breath and try the phrase again, going slowly and really focusing on your articulators (lips, tongue, lower jaw).
If you would like some help with your presentations, contact me directly for a free, in-person, twenty minute consultation. I can put a coaching plan together for you that will vastly improve your articulation, and your persuasiveness.