Pronouncing American English

Guidelines for pronouncing American English are like America herself; diverse, full of rule exceptions and occasionally contradictory! Having a more standard sounding American Accent involves multiple language skills that are not often taught in typical ESL courses. Our clients have done the hardest work of learning to read and write English, which is a challenge in itself! Shaping one’s accent further involves the following four elements of speech:

  • Speech sounds

    An accent modification training program should initially focus on making the sounds of English correctly. The typical sound error patterns can be influenced by the initial language spoken and the American dialect that is modeled by the trainer and the community in which the client lives. Work at the sound level is crucial so that the client can hear and compare their speech to models of the goal dialect.

  • Vocabulary

    Many English language words do not sound the way they are written. Practice applying the new sound patterns relative to the letter patterns in words may require some adjustment in this process.

  • Inflection

    Stress on specific syllables in words can have an effect the intended word meaning in English. The stress put on certain words and phrasing in sentences also add meaning to communication. Training may involve work with more natural sounding phrasing and inflection with words and sentences.

  • Generalization

    Practice applying all of the new skills to conversation or other verbal practice is one of the final steps of training. This will continue to develop even when formal sessions are completed with practice and awareness.

Developing these skills are the ‘icing on the cake’ for clients that have already learned to read, write and speak American English to the point of fluency. This provides additional education and awareness to shape their current speech patterns to reflect more elements of American English.

It is not possible to eliminate all second language sound patterns in an accent modification course, nor is that desirable for many clients. All American dialects have their sound patterns, inflection and phrasing, so there is no such thing as a perfect American accent. Work with a speech-language professional will aid in helping clients develop these skills to achieve their personal or professional goals to present a modified American speech accent pattern.

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