Most people think of speech as a mental exercise. But have you noticed all of the muscle movements involved in forming sounds? We use a combination of over 100 muscles in our face, neck, and chest to speak. Many of the muscles used for articulation can be trained to help you improve your American English...
Most people think of speech as a mental exercise. But have you noticed all of the muscle movements involved in forming sounds? We use a combination of over 100 muscles in our face, neck, and chest to speak.
Many of the muscles used for articulation can be trained to help you improve your American English accent. Let’s learn some exercises and techniques that can supplement your accent training program. Before we start our workout though, what can we learn from athletes about losing an accent?
Changing your accent is like learning a new sport
Can you learn an accent as an adult? Like an athlete who wants to master a new sport, it may be hard, but it can be done. Why would an athlete do that? Think of a gymnast who wants to become a swimmer. Reaching this goal will help him become a better athlete. It is good for his body, and his brain, perhaps even his career.
Similarly, learning the General American accent can open the door to many opportunities and be good for the mind. It will take dedication, accent training, and practice to reduce a thick accent. But it is well worth the effort.
Like the athlete, you will need to learn new muscle movements. Specifically, the ones that make up the American English accent. At first, these new movements will feel strange. You may discover muscles you didn’t even know you had. However, as you continue to train those muscles, you will speak English more confidently.
The athlete would also probably invest in a swim coach to guide and teach him. Likewise, you can enlist the help of an accent coach.
What are some accent reduction exercises you can do to make speaking American English easy? First, let’s start with a warm-up.
Accent Reduction Exercises and Warm-ups
Like many good workouts, this accent reduction exercise starts with a stretch.
Why? Stretching the mouth and tongue is essential to improve the American accent. Some have observed that Americans tend to speak with broader mouth movements than speakers of other languages. American long vowels, diphthongs, and intonation have an influence on these characteristic mouth shapes.
How? Try these steps.
- Open your mouth as wide as possible, then slowly form a pout (a.k.a. duck face).
- Try sounding out the 5 long vowels: “Aaay, Eeey, Aaay, Oooh, Yoow” (ā,ē,ī,ō,ū). Exaggerate the movements.
- Stretch your tongue in all directions. In-out; up-down; left-right
- With your lips pressed together, push the tip of your tongue against your inner cheeks.
- Lightly lower and raise your jaw with tension in your lips.
- As you learn new mouth movements and sounds, practice them. If you’ve learned the B sound, repeat it: “babababa”. If you know the L sound, repeat, “lalalala”.
- Combine all the consonants you know with all the vowels you know.
- Exaggerating the movements during practice is like weight training for speech.
Now that you have more mouth mobility let’s move on to breath control.
Improve word grouping with breath control
Why? Our breath fuels our speech. If you run out of air, you can’t speak! Americans tend to speak with a bigger breath. A key to the American accent is learning word linking, or word grouping, by putting words together into phrases instead of pausing after every word. Several phrases are usually made in one breath. Some sounds, such as unvoiced consonants, require more air than others.
How? Practice breath control while reading the following paragraph. Take a deep breath. Read as much as you can before drawing another breath. Continue doing this until you’ve reached the end of the paragraph.
I was impressed to find out that my friend, who moved to the United States at the age of 22, learned to speak with an American accent. It was surprising since she only knew a little English upon arriving. She told me that she took online accent reduction classes and that her virtual accent coach taught her everything she needed to know.
How many times did you have to stop to take a breath? Try it again, but fill your lungs from the bottom this time. Any improvement?
Another advanced breathing exercise is a lip trill or lip bubbles. For this, you fill the bottom of your lungs and make a buzzing sound with your lips. Again, try to see how long your breath can last.
With that boost of power in your voice, now you are ready to take your accent exercises to the next level of difficulty.
Use Tongue twisters to learn the American accent
Tongue twisters are not just for kids. You can find them all over the internet, and they are very useful.
Why? Tongue twisters help practice challenging areas of your English pronunciation.
How? Find or create a tongue twister for any American English sound that you find difficult.
Here are some simple tongue twisters:
- Seventy-seven benevolent elephants
- Red leather, yellow leather
- Truly rural
- She sees cheese
To create your own tongue twister, think of sounds that you often stumble over and scatter the sound throughout a phrase or sentence. It does not need to make sense. For example, to practice the /th/, /s/, and /z/ sounds, saying “the Southerlands” repeatedly can help.
Another way to untwist your tongue with difficult words is to write them phonetically. This may help you to identify where the twist occurs. Try to isolate and repeat that sound. Exaggerate the movement and say it slowly. Here’s an example:
Is this word difficult to pronounce? Which part? Perhaps the first two syllables. Practice saying: EE-YAY. Focus on the /y/ sound as in “yes.” Now try repeating the word.
Another way to practice this word is to break it down and pronounce it from the last syllable to the first:
As you can see, a lot goes into each syllable! But what about those particularly challenging sounds?
Use Minimal pairs to practice similar American sounds
Minimal pairs involve practicing English words or phrases in which only one sound differs. They are great for identifying difficult sounds in American English.
Why? English minimal pairs help you train your ear and speech muscles to distinguish the tiny differences between two similar American sounds.
How? Find words that only differ by two sounds you find difficult to distinguish, and practice them:
- Ban; van
- Shin; chin
- Ship; sheep
- Bet; bat
- Face; vase
Wow! These are useful exercises. But how can you get feedback to make sure you are moving in the right direction with your accent?
Sign up for personal American accent training
Which is the most effective of all the tips and tricks a gymnast can use to become a proficient swimmer? Finding a qualified swim coach. Likewise, many qualified American English accent coaches can help you reach your goals.
Why? With quality one-on-one American accent training, you will learn exercises and techniques that are tailored to your accent-related needs. Your accent coach will do the following and more:
- Teach you the correct mouth positions and movements
- Help you make the needed adjustments for each sound
- Create accent reduction exercises according to your individual needs
How? Maybe you are thinking, “Are there really any accent reduction classes near me?” The good news is that the best classes are online. They are more personalized and more flexible for your unique lifestyle. So, sign up for accent reduction classes today. Find a plan that fits your schedule and get started. Invest in your goals and find an accent coach that can work with your particular situation.