This is the second article of the series English Pronunciation Challenges: What a Latina Learned in an Accent Reduction Class where I share some of the resources I used during my class. These “tools” includes books, apps and web pages that will help you during this process.
Posts in this series:
- English Pronunciation Challenges for Latinos
- 10 Most Shocking Things I Learned About English Pronunciation [this post]
- 8 Tools I Used to Improve My English Pronunciation
The 10 Most Shocking Things I Learned About English Pronunciation
NOTE: Everything written in blue italics is pronounced like Spanish.
FIREFOX USERS: This post includes short audio clips. The best way to listen to the clips is by right-clicking the play (▶) button. A regular mouse click will open the audio in a new window.
According to Barron’s American Accent Training book, accent is the combination of intonation (music or rhythm when speaking), liaisons (connecting words) and pronunciation (sounds of vowels and consonants). During the course of my Accent Reduction class, we practiced all three elements. But the pronunciation part was the most shocking for me. Here are some of my discoveries:
1. English is a horrible mix of languages and dialects
Twenty nine percent (29%) of modern English words have a Latin root; the same percentage applies for French influence and close is Germanic with 26%. The other 16% includes Spanish, Italian, Celtic, Indian, Arabic and Greek. Here are some Foreign Language influences in English. I used the word “horrible” because you can imagine that with all these languages combined; there is no pronunciation rule that works 100% of the time.
2. English has 15 vowel sounds
Less than 10 minutes into my first day of class and I got my first Ah-Ha! moment when the teacher shared with us this revelation: “English has 15 vowels sounds. In Spanish there are only five sounds (a, e, i, o, u) and you just have to learn 10 more.”
1. English Alphabet Vowel sounds. The 5 sounds that say their “English name” when pronounced.
2. English Relative Vowel sounds. The other 10 sounds go into this category, including the 5 Spanish vowel sounds that I already know.
3. Pronouncing words with one vowel in a syllable (use relative vowels)
If there’s one vowel surrounded by consonants in a syllable it is pronounce with its relative vowel. This is common with short words such as add, set, pin, hop or cut.
4. Pronouncing words with two vowels in a syllable (use alphabet vowels)
When there are two vowels in one syllable, the first one uses the alphabet vowel sound and the second is silent. Some examples are: change, seat, pie, note, rude.
|Relative Vowel||Alphabet Vowel|
5. Voiced and un-voiced sounds
Voiced are all the sounds that make your vocal cords vibrate when pronounced. Fortunately, almost every vowel and consonant in English are voiced. There are only 7 exceptions that are know as un-voiced or voiceless: F, K, P, S, T, SH and CH. Why do you need to know this? Well, you will need it to know how to pronounce the verbs in the past tense next.
6. Three tricky ways to pronounce past tense verbs
1. Verbs ending with a T or D sound – Add the extra syllable -ed to the word and pronounce it like –id in Spanish to pronounce it in the past tense. Listen to the examples
need / needid
want / wantid
wait / waitid
construct / constructid
arrive / arrived
move / moved
play / played
smile / smiled
work / workt
stop / stopt
ask / askt
miss / misst
7. The “unclear” sound of schwa (ə)
There’s a totally new concept called schwa that left everybody completely clueless. Schwa is the “unclear sound” of a reduced vowel (or vowels) in a word. This was my second Ah-Ha! moment and (in my opinion) the clue to sound like an American. And here are the facts about it:
– Schwa is the most common vowel sound in English
– All of the vowels can be schwa
|Clear Vowel Sound||Schwa|
|Tom||atom / at ə m|
|Face||surface / surfəce|
8. Three different ways to pronounce the CH
1. ch sounds like tch – I learned that the correct CH pronunciation includes a stop sound like TCH. This works about 85% of the time with words such as cheese (tcheese) and much (mutch).
2. ch sounds like sh – In a few occasions the CH sounds like SH such as machine (mashine) or Chicago (Shicago).
Failing to make a distinction between these first two rules is the most common mistake I make. In Spanish we use the sh sound for ch, like in the words chango and Sharon.
3. ch sounds like k – There are some times that it sounds like k such as architect / (arkitect), schedule (skedule) or stomach (stomak).
9. Same word with different pronunciations
This is another tricky one. There are 2-syllable words in English that are pronounced differently depending if it’s a noun or verb. The rule is that 2-syllable words have the stress on the first syllable, except for verbs. Listen to these examples
|Nouns (stress in 1st syllable)||Verbs (stress in 2nd syllable)|
|permit (permiso)||permit (permitir)|
|address (dirección)||address (dirigirse)|
|record (registro)||record (registrar, grabar)|
10. Different words with same pronunciation
During the class we identified a couple of words spelled differently, but pronounced the same:
steak (bistec o filete) and stake (estaca, participación y otros)
write (escribir) and right (derecha, derecho)
roll (rollo) and role (papel)
aunt (tía) and ant (hormiga)
son (hijo) and sun (sol)
hear (escuchar) and here (aquí)
root (raíz) and route (ruta)
After finishing this class, I didn’t lose my latino accent as some people may have expected from the course name, but I learned about correct pronunciation. I also realized that my accent is not bad; it is just different and Americans aren’t used to it.
If you are a Latino interested in improving your English pronunciation, I encourage you to take a class like this because the learning experience is incredible. You can also check out some of the resources that I list in the next post of this series and feel free to share your thoughts about your challenges with American English.
Check out these other English Spanish articles.