adventures in english
If English is not your native language, you may be pronouncing some of our really common words incorrectly. If you want to speak English so that everyone understands what you say the first time, it’s important to pronounce these super common words correctly. In this article and the accompanying videos, I will be giving you the American English pronunciation for these words. Note that in several of them, you’ll find the British pronunciation to be different. I have chosen the following words based on my experience working with non-native English speakers over the years.
For each of the ten words listed, I have created a detailed Youtube video to teach you exactly how to pronounce the word and each of its difficult sounds. To see a video, just click on the link next to the word. And please subscribe to my Youtube Channel and click on the little bell icon to receive notifications of when new videos are posted. I post new lessons each week, and you won’t want to miss any of them.
First, here are three relatively easy to pronounce words. The issue many people have is that they have silent letters.
1. Island – silent S. Pronounce it like this: AI lənd. The A in land is pronounced as a schwa since land is a weak syllable. If you’re not familiar with the schwa, check out my video on that as well: https://youtu.be/YcRiskgHjek. Island: https://youtu.be/fO5zqFADJOc
2. Would – silent L. In addition, the OU is pronounced like the OO in “book” or “good”. This word sounds identical to the word “wood”. https://youtu.be/-ZB3uF8oXYk
3. Whole – silent W. This word is pronounced exactly the same as “hole”. In addition, there is one other tricky part: the pronunciation of the L. It is both a dark L and a syllabic L. A dark L is used after vowel sounds in English. For this L variety, the back of your tongue, as well as the tip, needs to touch the roof of your mouth. The easiest way to do this is to just close your mouth when you say the L sound, so your whole tongue touches the roof of your mouth. In addition, the L here forms an extra syllable by itself, so “whole” and “hole” sound like two syllables: HO əl. https://youtu.be/rr0nMxzM3zU
The following two words look a lot more difficult than they are to pronounce:
4. Pizza – How do you pronounce a double Z in English? That’s something you don’t see very often. This word really isn’t too hard. The first syllable sounds like the name “Pete”, and the second syllable is pronounced like the “su” in sun. It sounds like this: PETE su. There are no Z sounds at all. https://youtu.be/pSZ7erHNc8c
5. Clothes – This word is much more difficult in British English. But lucky for you, we’re talking about American English today. The pronunciation is super easy. It’s exactly the same as “close” as in “Close the door”. Please not that in both “close” and “clothes”, the final S is voiced. It’s pronounced like a Z. https://youtu.be/QoFYSwuDmbA
The words in the next group are probably truly hard to pronounce for you because they contain sounds that are usually problematic for people whose native language is not English. And sometimes there are even two or three problem sounds in a word. With a little instruction and a lot of practice, you can learn to say each of these correctly.
6. Water – Several non-native speakers living in the U.S. have asked me how to pronounce this. They tell me that when they ask for water in a restaurant, their server never understands what they want. If you’re in North America, make sure not to use the British pronunciation with hard T and missing R. The middle T is pronounced as a d and make sure to fully pronounce the ER. This very American sound is so fundamental to correct pronunciation. If you are not pronouncing it correctly, it will give you a heavy accent, or worse, make many words unintelligible. Note that all the words 6-10 in this list include this common sound. Spend some time to master it. Check out my ER video here: https://youtu.be/HByKhq6s95Y. Water: https://youtu.be/oOtQzbnK8rQ
7. Tired – This is a weird one. Similar to #3 above, it contains a syllabic consonant. The R here forms a syllable by itself with no vowel sound. And don’t be fooled by the ED ending. We usually don’t pronounce the E in that ending. Pronounce this word as TAI erd. There’s that ER again, and it’s followed immediately by a D. Make sure you don’t forget to pronounce both sounds. Blend them smoothly together. https://youtu.be/-geqNWyTPMI
8. Theater – You may think the TH is the most difficult sound in this word, but it’s more complicated than that. This word has 3 syllables. Make sure the first syllable is stressed. Say it longer and longer than the others. Reduce the A in the middle to a fast, quiet schwa and fully pronounce the ER sound. There it is again! And one more thing: the T is a flap – pronounce it as a D. Say it like this: THE ə der https://youtu.be/0oF_fPSZ748
9. Girl – What gives a lot of people trouble here is the ER and L right next to each other. Another thing to note is the dark L which is also a syllabic L, just “whole/hole” in #3. To pronounce it, put your entire tongue to the roof of your mouth, and make the word two syllables instead of one. GER əl. https://youtu.be/klRDWaieRMA
10. World – This may be the hardest common word for many non-native speakers. It is really similar to “girl”. It has exactly the same two issues with ER and L, but adds another issue. You need to add another consonant sound to the end of the word. And ending consonants, especially clusters, can be a big challenge for many non-native English speakers. Fortunately, adding a D sound to an L sound is not so difficult, since your tongue tip is in the same place for both L and D. Just make sure to smoothly blend those two sounds together. Pronounce it like this: WER əld. https://youtu.be/yc1lKDIdXjg
Are the above words difficult for you to pronounce? What common English words would you add to the list of the most difficult to pronounce? Please let me know in the comments section below, so I can make a video for you.
Do you hate mornings? Is it hard for you to get out of bed and get your day started? I must confess – I am not a morning person. I like to stay up late at night, sometimes watching TV or reading, sometimes working (by choice). I am not lazy. I enjoy nighttime more and feel that I get my best work done later in the day, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
I do want to share with you, however, a book I came across a couple of years ago while I was living in China. No, it’s not a Chinese book. It’s a book written in English. It’s called “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Enrod (https://amzn.to/2LraOTX). What attracted me to it was the idea that I could revamp my life to be more productive in the morning. Well, I have to confess, that’s not exactly what the book is about, but it is has changed my life in other unexpected ways.
This book is powerful! It’s all about investing in you. It’s about putting you first, being your best self, analyzing your life, setting goals and being awesome. It’s so motivational. And it really gets you thinking. There are a series of preliminary exercises first where you rate your life, breaking it down into its various areas, like work, home, relationships, leisure time, etc. Then you determine where you want to be in each area, creating short and long term goals, and strategies for reaching those goals. This in itself is a really powerful exercise.
Then you do a 30 day challenge. Don’t you just love challenges? The whole idea of the Miracle Morning is that each and every day, you put yourself first. The first hour of your day is dedicated to you. That right there will make you a morning person! Imagine starting your morning every day gently, doing things you enjoy and working on your own inner peace and personal growth and excellence. That’s a great feeling and something to really get out of bed for. In this 30 day challenge, you get the opportunity to make huge changes in your life and create a new routine and new habits.
I have to say that I faithfully did my Miracle Morning (MM) routine for quite a while. I did it when I was working a regular schedule, doing my “me” time in the morning before teaching my classes. It had a big impact on my life. At this point, I no longer do the MM things in the morning, but have incorporated a lot of the new habits into my life, such as meditating, practicing gratitude, etc. And every time I’m reminded of “The Miracle Morning”, I think “I should do another 30 day challenge”. It really helps set you on track for a new positive morning routine. Actually, it’s probably time for another formal analysis of my short and long term goals and a creation of strategies to achieve them too.
And if you’re wondering, I’m still not a morning person. I still find the quiet, dark stillness of the night hours to be so peaceful and it sparks my creativity. And I practice the various parts of the Miracle Morning at different times of the day and week, but I continue to do most of them on a regular basis. I encourage everyone to read this powerful little book, and do it now! https://amzn.to/2LraOTX Time flies! Before you know it, another month has passed, and then another year, and so on. It’s time to invest in you, so you can live the life of your dreams.
You might be wondering what all this has to do with improving your English. Well, let me explain. As in anything, if we don’t have clear goals and schedule time to work toward achieving those goals, we find that time passes very quickly and we haven’t accomplished anything. So, I want to stress the importance of goal setting and scheduling daily time for practice. And studies show that when we program time into our morning routine, whether it be for language learning, exercise or whatever, we tend to stick with it better. We often find too many distractions later in the day, and it’s easy to let our practice slip. So, therefore, I think your own personal Miracle Morning practice is so valuable. And you don’t need to buy a book to work on yourself if you don’t want to. You just need to set goals and establish strategies for reaching them.
However, if you are interested in reading this cool book, click here to get it right now on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2LraOTX
Here’s wishing you a dream life full of blessings.
Affiliate Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Although you won’t pay any more for any purchases you make, the commissions will enable me to continue to provide free content to readers.
Place names can be confusing to pronounce in English. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the names of cities, states, rivers, etc. are often derived from words in other languages, like Native American languages, Spanish or French depending on who lived in these areas before they became part of the United States. So their spelling and pronunciation can seem unpredictable, even to native speakers.
Let me give you some examples. I grew up in Southern California, where lots of place names are Spanish. This is common in California and the Southwestern part of the United States, such as in Nevada, Arizona, Texas, etc. You have probably heard of the following cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. But, how do you pronounce the smaller cities you haven’t heard like “La Jolla” and “Mission Viejo”? Here’s a hint for you: in Spanish, J is pronounced like an English H and LL is pronounced like Y, so Viejo is Vee A ho, and Jolla is Ho ya. Locals all know the pronunciation and never even think about it, since they hear these words all the time, but newcomers are bewildered.
Now I live in Seattle, Washington. Washington is full of Native American (Indian) names. The city of Seattle was even named for a local Indian chief. When I moved here, I had no idea how to pronounce words like Puyallup and Mukilteo. I had to ask the locals to say these words for me, so I could pronounce them correctly.
If English is not your native language, there may also be another reason American place names are problematic for you. You may be using your native language’s pronunciation for these names. In your language, these names may have been modified to fit your language's sound system, and are not necessarily understandable when said the same way in English. So, it’s a good idea to learn the pronunciation of American places names where you live, work, travel and do business, even if you think you already know how to pronounce them. You may be surprised that you’ve been saying them wrong.
Last week, I visited Chicago, Illinois where I found more Native American names and also French names. Check out my Youtube video on how to pronounce Chicago, Illinois. And don’t forget to click on the red “subscribe” button to subscribe to my channel, so you receive notifications whenever a new video is posted. You can expect to see a new one each Friday. Next Friday, I’ll talk about Seattle. You won’t want to miss that one.
Part of being a truly proficient user of a language is having a wide ranging vocabulary. English in particular has a very large lexicon compared to many languages. There is very often more than one word or way to express the same idea in English. English also has many words that are similar, but express subtle differences. Learning to vary your word usage instead of repeating the same simple words again and again will enrich your language, making you sound more sophisticated and more educated. It will also give your English a more native feel.
Here’s an example of a word that even natives tend to overuse: beautiful. Instead of saying, “She’s a beautiful woman”, how about saying, “She’s a gorgeous woman”. Other good choices include stunning, ravishing, elegant, breathtaking, dazzling, radiant, striking, and captivating. And there are so many more. Aren’t these so much more interesting than just saying the plain and overused “beautiful”?
When you hear these less frequently used and more colorful words, your mind immediately begins to paint a vivid picture. So it’s a good idea to learn some synonyms for words you tend to use frequently. Synonyms are words that have the same or a similar meaning. You can easily find lists of them on the internet.
Here are a couple more to think about. What could you say instead of using the words “big” or “small”?Another great way to improve your vocabulary is to check out the word of the week and other great tips and articles on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/AccentCoachNicole/
Both personally and professionally, 2017 was an exciting and productive year. In fact, I'd have to say it was one of the best, or maybe even the best year of my life. It was a year full of fabulous travels, visiting family and friends, lots of fun times and the year I dedicated myself exclusively to developing my online English school. I am really happy to be able to follow my passion full time and help more and more people speak clear, understandable English. If you'd like to see more of my adventures, check out the slide show I've created.
I want to talk to you a little about one of the reasons you may be losing opportunities in the American world. Surprisingly, it may not be your accent. Sometimes, people who speak English really clearly and have only a minor accent tell me they need to improve their English. When this happens, I am reminded that there may be an issue that goes beyond the spoken word. People automatically gravitate towards others who are like them. They feel comfortable with similar people and they trust them, since they share common values.
To be more readily accepted into the American workplace and social circles, you may have to adopt new behaviors that allow you to be perceived as similar to the main culture. For example, in conversation, Americans generally smile and make eye contact and are somewhat animated when they speak, speaking in a loud voice and showing some emotion. If your speech is monotone or flat and lacking emotion, you may seem unfriendly, uninterested and unapproachable.
But the good news is, you can make your speech sound friendlier by adding more pitch variation and smiling. Act professionally, but don’t appear too serious. You should include more ups and downs in the melody of your speech. You should learn to make small talk. Asking someone how they are, talking about the weather, discussing the weekend can help you build a friendly rapport. You don’t have to turn into an American, but you may need to modify things a bit so that Americans feel comfortable with you and see you as someone they can trust.
Americans are generally light-hearted and friendly. Some outsiders describe this as fake, but really, it’s our culture. Just because an American smiles and chats with you doesn’t mean they are your friend. Don’t be fooled. We just treat everyone this way.
Rule of thumb: treat everyone you meet like they’re a friend and you’re happy to see them. See if this doesn’t change things for you. It really may not be your accent getting in the way at all. The good news is that the solution is probably a lot easier than changing your accent. You just need to appear friendly and trustworthy. Don’t forget to smile!
I feel lucky because English is my first language. I have never had to struggle with pronunciation and spelling or grammar rules and exceptions. But as an English teacher, I have worked with people from all over the world who have learned or are currently learning English. I have assisted and guided many through the process of improving their spoken English. I have seen how they struggle.
Although I have not had to experience the pain of learning English, the experiences of my clients and students made me think back to how I learned Spanish and Chinese. Like many of you, I studied Spanish throughout junior and senior high school. I learned a lot of vocabulary and grammar, could read and write some, but had almost no occasion to speak Spanish. Then I went to Mexico on an intensive study program. That’s where I truly learned to speak. I lived with a Mexican family, watched Mexican soap operas, listened to Mexican music and interacted with the town’s people as I went about daily life. However, upon returning home and continuing my studies, my Spanish teacher commented that my pronunciation “left a lot to be desired”, meaning that it was terrible! Well, that hurt, but I had no idea what to do about it. So, I just kept doing what I was doing and I didn’t give up, since I loved learning the language and about the culture. The trip I took to Mexico introduced me to Mexican rock music, which I loved. Every day, I sang along to my favorite songs and continued taking classes in college. I also made more Spanish-speaking friends. Years later, I went back to Mexico, and this time, things were different. People actually thought I was a native speaker.
As I think back on that experience, it seems I accidentally stumbled upon a couple of the keys to effortlessly improving accent in any language. Want to know more? Join my class “5 Days to a Better Accent”. If you are wondering about the Chinese, I have a completely different experience that I’ll share another time.
One of the main causes of a foreign accent when learning another language is interference from our native language. As babies and young children, our brains learn which sounds are and are not important. The young child’s brain quickly learns to dismiss the sounds not included in our mother tongue, and at some point we are no longer able to distinguish them. We do not even notice them, and may have difficulty hearing them, even when they are pointed out to us.
So, English may have sounds that don’t exist in your native language. Therefore, you substitute an incorrect sound for the English sound. For example, you may not have some or all of the short/relaxed vowel sounds in your language. So you pronounce the “i” in the word “it” as “eat” or the “a” in “man” as “mon”.
Or, perhaps you DO have the sound in your language, but you don’t realize the spelling rules from your language don’t apply to English. Let’s take the letter “o” as an example. You may incorrectly assume when you see an “o”, you pronounce it “oh”, when it fact in many cases, it may be an “ah” sound, like the names of these 2 stores: Ross, Costco. You should pronounce the “o” here just like you would in the words “job” or “dog”, with an “ah” sound.
Furthermore, we automatically apply the sound system and intonation patterns we learned for our mother tongue to the new language. So now, we need awareness of what’s important in the new language and we need practice to form new habits. A famous wise man once said, “When you are ready to learn, the teacher will appear”. Are you ready to learn? Join my class “5 Days to a Better Accent” and you will find out about the most important things to focus on to improve your accent and speak more understandably right now. You will also learn fun and easy ways to practice to make your new pronunciation an unconscious part of your speech.
It is not necessarily bad to have an accent, and for some people I would not recommend spending time trying to change your speech. If people have trouble understanding you and your oral English is interfering with your life (in work, school, your business or your personal life), then your will likely benefit from improving your speech. The opportunities available to you and your quality of life will improve as a result.
People have many reasons for wanting to change their accent. In my opinion, there are two occasions when you really need to make the effort to change. One, when your accent hinders communication & causes misunderstandings & people ask you to repeat yourself often. Two, when you are losing opportunities in life due to your accent. For example, not getting a job or being promoted, losing potential clients, not speaking because you are embarrassed by your speech. If you experience any of these thing, then, you should make the effort to change.
And last but not least, I’d like to mention that there is no one true and correct accent for English or any other language. Speech is a way for humans to communicate with one another. Whichever speech allows you to communicate successfully with those around you is correct speech. If you consciously want to improve your speech, you should choose to imitate the accent that is most useful for you personally, the easiest for you to learn or the one you prefer. Are you ready to work on your American English accent? Join my “5 Days to a Better Accent” class. Learn to speak clear, understandable English and experience the confidence and success that brings.
Today I entered a new reality. It's a reality filled with adoring fans, screaming for autographs and pictures and boys telling me I'm beautiful. They hang on my every word, even though they can't understand what I"m saying. My name is in lights on the marquee, and there is a lavish banquet in my honor. No, this is not a dream. Strangely, this was my world today. I was taken to a middle school in another town to do a workshop for the English teachers at the school. Although the city is big, it has a small-town feel. No one has ever seen a westerner in person, and I caused quite a stir. I was the show-and-tell object of the year. Upon arrival at the school, as we were walking to the building, the other teacher with me pointed out the marquee - yes, my name was on it as if I were a rock singer in concert. I laughed and took several pictures. I went in and gave my two-hour workshop to the teachers and things went as expected, except that as students passed by the room, they would group around the window and stare in mesmerized and giggle and chatter. When the workshop finished, things turned funnier. I was taken to various classrooms packed with children to give short motivational speeches to them to practice English, study hard, etc, etc. They cheered, they screamed, a few tried their best to ask me questions in English. As I'm quickly whisked away to another classroom, children are running down the hall after us thrusting books and pens at me. They all want me to sign their English books! Some want pictures, a few asked for hugs. All want my QQ contact info (a cell phone chat program that everyone is on in China). After that, I was taken to a restaurant in a fancy hotel, where we had an amazing dinner with 10 people and tons of wonderful and expensive food (crab, rack of lamb, etc.) I'm a celebrity here, and all because I'm foreign. I'm apparently the most exciting thing to happen in a long time. How can I ever return to the U.S. and a life of being ordinary?
There are many ways to get around in China. Of course, there are cars, buses and taxis, and we've often seen images of Chinese people commuting by bicycle on TV and in movies. But there's a whole other convenient way to travel. It's by scooter or electric bicycle. They're better than a car because they're very inexpensive, they can go anywhere and get you places fast, even in traffic. I had my first experience riding as a passenger today. I had lunch downtown with several other English teachers. I took the bus, so of course got off at the wrong place, since I don't know my way around town, and am unable to ask for directions since I am deaf, mute and illiterate here. Fortunately, I have a cell phone, so my new buddy zipped over and picked me up. I hopped on behind her and we quickly flew across town through streets and alleyways.
We were a bit off the main street, so after lunch, one of the Chinese ladies offered to give me a ride to the bus stop. This ride was more interesting. We not only rode on the street with all the other vehicles, but also the wrong way into oncoming traffic and up on the sidewalk. Watch out pedestrians - vehicles always have the right-of-way here. Driving habits are somewhat unusual here. They obey stoplights, but drive wherever there happens to be space (in the right direction, wrong direction, on the sidewalk), but they drive fairly slowly and there seems to be few traffic incidents.