Many people from Russia or other Slavic countries speak English very well. However, when they come to work in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, they face challenges doing business with Americans. One Russian speaker put it this way: “I am proud of my Russian heritage. But at business meetings, I want to talk about...
Many people from Russia or other Slavic countries speak English very well. However, when they come to work in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, they face challenges doing business with Americans. One Russian speaker put it this way:
“I am proud of my Russian heritage. But at business meetings, I want to talk about business, not culture.”
A great way to gain more control of the topic at such business meetings is to diminish the differences in your accent. Americans gravitate toward novel experiences, and meeting a Russian or Eastern European can be exciting for them. However, if your accent is less notable, they may not persist as much with questions about your background.
How might a Russian speaker modify their accent in English?
Different tongue positions
“Yes” –that’s a very common word. You say it every day. But it might be giving you away. In Slavic languages, the equivalent to the Y sound is formed farther back in the mouth, close to the middle. But in English, it is all the way forward. The tongue comes so close to the front that you can feel a little tickle just behind your teeth with the voice vibration. So, “иеc” and “yes” should sound very different.
That’s just one example of all the subtle changes you can make to pronounce things in the standard, general American way. In general, most vowel sounds and some consonants are pronounced farther forward in the mouth than sounds in Russian and other Slavic languages. An accent coach can help you learn all of those details and more.
Rhythm and intonation
Russian is a very expressive language. There are specific terms to express feelings and situations that might be difficult to translate. English also boasts a wide variety of lexical expressions. The reality, however, is that most Americans don’t make full use of it. Instead, they rely more on rhythm and intonation to express themselves.
Suppose you are sitting in a typical restaurant and overhear two Americans speaking at the next table. You may be shocked by their volume level. In many other cultures, people soften their speech to maintain public decorum. Americans, on the other hand, are more likely to use abrupt variations in their pitch, pace, and power when expressing their feelings and opinions.
Relax the throat
Of course, you don’t have to be overly dramatic. But modulating your voice and using more tonal variety can add impetus to your conversations and presentations. One of the keys to doing this effectively is to speak with a relaxed throat. Although many Slavic speakers use a deeper voice than the typical American, they sometimes speak with a lot of tension in the back of the throat around their vocal cords. This tension limits the range of tones that are possible and comfortable while you speak. Try to loosen that tension and open up the throat.
Try tongue twisters
Tongue twisters can be fun, but they are also a helpful tool. For example, practicing with word combinations like “Eleven benevolent elephants” or “lemon-lime liniment” can both loosen up your throat and help you move your tongue more deliberately. Combined with the adjustments in mouth positions, this results in clear speech that is well articulated.
Don’t be afraid of change
Ask any polyglot; our voice changes when we learn to speak a language to a near-native level. People who go through American accent training often feel like their English voice is becoming different from their native voice. When you get to that point, don’t worry. You’re not losing your identity. This quick switch is a tool used to go back forth between languages.
Fluent communication in English requires differences in mouth shapes, tongue movements, throat tension, rhythm, intonation, vowel placement, and the list goes on. Basically, you have to use a different voice for a different language. If you embrace that change, then you will see a breakthrough in your cross-cultural communication skills.
You can do it!
It takes time and effort, but learning to speak English with an American accent is well within your reach, and the benefits are limitless. Sign up for accent training today and start a new chapter in your language journey!