5 Accent Errors of Spanish Speakers

One of the steps in reducing your accent is becoming aware of your problem areas. People  use the speaking patterns and style of communication from their native language when speaking in a second. This is called first language transfer.

These are typical accent errors that Spanish speakers make when speaking English, that are due to first language transfer.

1. Vowels: Spanish has 5 vowels and 5 vowel sounds. That is part of the reason reading in Spanish is so easy. English also has 5 vowels, but 18 possible pronunciations (depending on region). English lax vowels, like the schwa, are difficult for Spanish speakers to discern and reproduce. Spanish speakers need to expand their range of vowel sounds.

2. S at the start of a word: Words that start with s- in English are difficult for Spanish speakers, who start words with es- instead. For example, a Spanish speaker would mispronounce spoon as espoon. To stop this habit, start the s with your teeth touching but your lips slightly open. When you start with your mouth is open,  it adds the extra vowel sound.

3. Stress: Correct stress is very important in English, and using the wrong stress gives you an accent.  Spanish stresses the penultimate syllable and speakers transfers this stress pattern over to English. For example:

  • English: I want to eat something.(stressing the main verb)
  • Spanish: I want to eat something (stressing penultimate syllable)

4. Sh/Ch: Spanish speakers confuse these sounds, and often replace ch with sh when speaking (your coworker is not named Rishard).

  • Sh is a smooth stream of air. It is unbroken sssshhhh!
  • Ch stops and blocks the air flow, which is then forcefully released. Like a sneeze:  a-choo!

5. /ɪ/ and /i/:  These are two distinct sounds in English and can change the meaning of  words, such as ship/sheep; been/bean; fit/feet.  Short /ɪ/ does not exist in Spanish, and speakers use the long sound /i/ instead.

  • /ɪ/ - is short and lax. Tongue and mouth are relaxed.  Sit with Tim
  • /i/ – is long and tense, and held longer than /ɪ/. Lips are spread.  Seat with team

Contact us to learn more about reducing your accent now.

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NEW Accent Reduction Series

Our Partner Axiom Learning Solutions is  spreading the good news about our new Accent Reduction Series!

Unlike multi-week classes, these workshops function singularly, so you can chose to attend one, a few, or all sessions. You don’t need to take them in order and you will not miss anything if you choose to take only a small subset of workshops.

Here are the topics:

Here’s the list of topics:

  1. Grammar and Fluency
  2. English Consonants and Vowels
  3. Sentence Stress and Rhythm
  4. Word Stress and Fluency
  5. Expressing Meaning through Intonation
  6. Speak Smoothly by Linking
  7. Pronouncing Technical Vocabulary

Contact us to learn more!

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Tri-State CACS 2016 Symposium

Are you attending the Tri-State Chinese American Chemical Society (CACS) 2016 Symposium this Saturday, June 18th at Rutgers University? Come to my presentation “Polishing your Speaking Skills with Accent Reduction” and learn tips and tricks for accent reduction! Hope to see you there!

Polishing Your Speaking Skills with Accent Reduction

Everyone has an accent–even native speakers.   It only becomes a problem if it interferes with communication. While learning to reduce your accent takes time and effort, there are changes you can make right now to become immediately more understandable.  This fun and interactive workshop offers practical tips and techniques to improve common and key errors in pronunciation.

You will learn:

  • Practical tips and techniques to immediately improve your pronunciation.
  • The 5 areas of pronunciation that give you an accent and what you need to do to fix each one.
  • To properly pronounce problematic consonants and vowels.
  • Common stress and intonation patterns- the most important part of clear speaking.
  • Typical pronunciation errors for Chinese speakers.

Location: Busch Campus Center, Rutgers University, 604 Bartholomew Rd, Piscataway, NJ 08854

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SAPA 2016 Career Development Workshop

Come join our workshop!

Enhancing Cultural Fluency and Becoming a Better Communicator
Saturday, June 4, 2016

at Rutgers University, 675 Hoes Lane, West Piscataway, NJ 08854

This session will help students, employees, and managers communicate appropriately and deal effectively with professors, colleagues, and customers from different backgrounds. At the end of the session, you will be able to
- Adjust your communication style (verbal and nonverbal) to better communicate across cultures;
- Identify yours and others’ cultural filters and their effects on communication;
- Develop strategies that promote cross-cultural communication and a healthy work environment;
- Recognize and avoid potential cross-cultural conflict;
- Address the concern of accent reduction and polish your speaking skills

Continue reading

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The challenge of consonant clusters

Changed. Desks. World. Boxed. These words are tongue twisters for many English language learners, because they end in consonant clusters.

What Are Consonant Clusters?

In English, pronunciation goes by sounds, and not by spelling. Clusters are made of two or more consonant sounds together, not letters. For example, the word box ends in one consonant letter but two consonant sounds /ks/.

Where do consonant clusters occur?

Consonant clusters can occur in any syllable. Consonant clusters that are at the beginning of a word are usually easier for most speakers than those at the end of a word. In English, the longest possible cluster at the start of a word has 3 sounds, as in split. The longest possible end cluster is 4 sounds, as in twelfths, bursts and glimpsed.

What types are the most difficult and for whom?

Most speakers will have different levels of difficulty depending on the length, position, and type of consonant cluster. They are easier to pronounce for speakers who have them in their native language. German and Russian contain consonant clusters while Japanese does not. Spanish  only has them in certain places, with no word initial /s/ consonant clusters, nor word final consonant clusters.

These first language patterns transfer when speaking English.  A Japanese speaker may unconsciously add an extra vowel as in desk-u, or change-ee.  A Spanish speaker may add a vowel to word initial /s/ clusters (e-spring) or drop consonants in word final clusters.

For almost all English language learners, combinations of r, l, and w are also difficult, such as world, rarely, and swirl

Words that end in –ed have 2 possible cluster endings. These words will end with either /d/ or /t/.

Spelling          Final Consonant Cluster

bounced          /nst/

boxed              /kst/

grasped           /spt/

asked               /skt/

blinked           /nkt/

crunched         /ncht/

splurged          /rgd/

changed           /ngd/

arranged          /ngd/

formed             /rmd/

Want to improve your pronunciation and reduce your accent? Contact us to learn about private coaching and for a free accent assessment.

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Accent Errors of Speakers from South East Asia

South East Asia covers many cultures and many languages. This includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and others. While each are unique, they also share common threads.

Speakers of South East Asian languages often share common pronunciation errors when speaking English.

Speakers of South East Asian languages:

1. Don’t have aspirated consonants (pronounced with a puff of air) in their native language, and so they don’t add it in English.  They must add a puff of air to English aspirated consonants, such as in words that start with p, t, ch, k.

2. Retroflex on most consonants. This means that they curl up and back the tip of the tongue when they should not. Retroflexed consonants is a strong marker of a South East Asian accent.

3. Have tense and closed pronunciation. This, combined with retroflexed consonants, puts much of their pronunciation in the front of the mouth. They must open their mouths and loosen and relax the jaw muscles. In English, the jaw, lips, and tongue are all very flexible and active.

4. Use one sound for v and w. In English, these are 2 distinct sounds. The v is made with the top teeth touching the lower teeth. W is a rounded sound, with your lips in a circle and pushed out slightly.

5. Use intonation where they should use stress. This means that the voice is raised in pitch (goes up) when it should be showing emphasis. This adds to the sing-song sound of speakers from South East Asian languages.

Want to improve your pronunciation and reduce your accent? Contact us to learn about private coaching and for a free assessment.

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How to pronounce the letter L


Correctly pronouncing /l/ is very difficult for many non-native speakers. /l/ is commonly confused with/r/ or /w/. If you don’t have /l/ in your language, you will have to retrain your muscle memory.  You must focus on proper placement for your tongue, lips, jaw and air flow.

Making /l/

  • /l/ is made differently depending on where it is in the word.
  • Don’t move your jaw or lips when making /l/. Move only your tongue. Your tongue will have different places of articulation for Light L and Dark L.

Light L

  • The /l/ at the beginning of a word. This is the easiest to pronounce.
  • Light L is produced before a vowel.   late, like, lamp, look
  • The tip of tongue touches alveolar ridge.
  • Light L is a flick of the tongue against the alveolar ridge.  It has a la-la-la-la sound
  • The back of the tongue remains low.

Dark L

  • The /l/ at the end of the word. This is difficult to pronounce.
  • Dark L is produced after a vowel (or schwa).  call, school, tell, people
  • The tip of tongue touches alveolar ridge, and stays there. It is not a flick, like Light L.
  • Dark L has a “uh-l” sound.
  • The back of the tongue is raised toward the soft palate.

Practice both Light and Dark L

Bring your focus to the difference in tongue placement.

Practice /l/ in the initial position.

  1. later
  2. love
  3. long
  4. leave
  5. left
  6. location
  7. lasagna
  8. lamp
  9. lawyer
  10. listening

Practice /l/ in the final position.

  1. people
  2. call
  3. feel
  4. individual
  5. pool
  6. email
  7. unusual
  8. virtual
  9. until
  10. tell

Interested in reducing your accent? Contact us for a free assessment!

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What Makes You Awesome? Selling Yourself in the American Workplace

The ability to “sell yourself” with confidence is a key skill for success in American culture.

American culture focuses on the individual. In interviews, performance reviews, meetings and presentations, people are are expected to “sell” themselves by stressing individual, quantifiable achievements, as well as showing enthusiasm and energy.

In many cultures, people do not speak up or praise themselves, and it is a difficult new skill to adopt. If you want to develop this ability, here are 5 ways to get started.

1. Break away from humble. It’s not bragging if it’s in the right context (for example, asking for a raise). It is not only OK that you can describe your achievements and abilities, but in certain contexts, it is expected.

2. Use audience awareness. Who are you trying to sell yourself to, and for what goal? This will help you focus your talk.

3. Discuss your successes without qualification. State them directly, and stop there.  Don’t question yourself, say you were lucky, or the success is undeserved.

4. Speak directly and confidently. Adopt the attitude, body language and speaking techniques of confidence.  Include vivid stories and examples that are memorable, rather than just listing facts.

5. Move from “we” to “I” when discussing successes and achievements. For group-oriented cultures, these behaviors are seen as undesirable. Credit for success goes to the team, not the individual. If you talk about team successes, be sure to include what your specific role was in the success.

For many non-native speakers of English, selling yourself is a skill that takes time to develop and be comfortable with. Create a short narrative and practice aloud until you can comfortably summarize your strengths, abilities, and experience.

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Top 3 cultural clashes for foreign medical graduates

I just completed working with an organization whose employees interact with every foreign medical graduate who wants to become licensed in the US, the majority of whom are non-native speakers of English. Our training focused on developing the cultural competence and communication skills to provide the best customer service.

Working with over 100 employees organization-wide identified 3 common areas of conflict they had with the soon-to-be doctors in America. The conflict and differences are consistently between the low context American workplace and the applicants from high context cultures, in the following areas:

1. Gender – Issues of gender were a common theme. Men who could not get what they wanted from female employees often asked to “speak to a man” or “speak to the manager” only to find the manager was a woman, too. Some men outright refused to work with a woman. Men often called to demand confidential information about or to try and undermine female family member applicants.

2. Status – Doctors in general and those from high context, hierarchical cultures in particular, believed themselves to be of higher status than the employee who was helping them. Status is viewed through family name, connections, or job title. Status conflicts also extended to gender, with men viewing themselves of greater status. Employees also felt that applicants with high concepts of their status were often rude and demanding in interactions.

3. Cheating –The concept of cheating varies by culture and one shouldn’t assume all people share the same definition. Cheating for this organization included providing false documentation or unacceptable practices during licensing exams. American culture has very strict definition of cheating and plagiarism, which is more fluid in other cultures. Specific definitions with concrete examples and consequences must be communicated.

A doctor’s personal cultural beliefs and values do not stop once she or he becomes licensed in the US. It is reasonable to assume these carry over into the health care workplace.  Of course not every foreign doctor from a high context culture fits this profile. However, healthcare organizations must acknowledge and address the need for cultural competency training for many of their foreign medical professionals.

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CAL Learning partners with Axiom Learning Solutions

CAL Learning is proud to announce our partnership with Axiom Learning Solutions as their intercultural and language training provider,  within their Learning Services.

We continue our commitment to serving the pharma/biotech, technology, healthcare, and other industries  in developing the language and culture skills of their foreign-born employees.

contact us for more information on accent reduction, language or intercultural training programs.

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