How Do You Reduce Your Accent?

How Do You Reduce Your Accent?

Intonation, known as the rhythm and melody is the most important skill to master to speak with less accent and improve English pronunciation. Without using American intonation your speech may sound fast, choppy or monotone. This article will teach you how to speak using the American style of intonation and improve your American English pronunciation with immediate clarity.

Intonation: What Is It and Why Is It So Important for Reducing an Accent and Improving English Pronunciation?

Intonation is a term describing how pitch, rhythm and melody are used to group phrases together. American English has a very specific melody style unique from most languages. Learning how to speak English with correct intonation will significantly improve your English pronunciation.

In order to appreciate why intonation is important for improving English pronunciation, think about your speech pattern and determine if you would benefit from changing it.

  • What are your speech habits? Is your speech rate too fast, forceful or choppy?
  • Do you delete sounds and syllables while speaking?
  • Do you mumble?
  • Do people sometimes have trouble understanding when you are telling a story or are in deep conversation?

Intonation Challenges for the Accented Speaker That Influences English Pronunciation

Intonation can be a challenge when English is a second language.  All cultures use intonation with their native language differently.  It is not unusual for speakers to bring their own intonation style from their first language into their American English.  Although you may have learned the consonant and vowel sounds and rules of grammar for English, if the American intonation pattern is not a part of your speech, you will always speak with an accent. Your speech will seem foreign because the American style of intonation is not used.  American English must be spoken in the American style. Many accented speakers are surprised to have the intensity of their accent decrease after learning how to change their intonation style and rhythm pattern to match the style of American speech.

Introducing the Details for American Intonation That Improves English Pronunciation Quickly

Speaking in a new style may feel awkward since it is new. Keep an open mind and practice this new style for at least three weeks.  After some practice, this new skill that once felt funny will feel natural and your English will be more American sounding to your listener.

A good approach for improving your English pronunciation is to compare your speech to moving up and down a staircase. Many speech therapists and linguists make this comparison. This visual analogy of a staircase is a helpful technique for understanding how to move and change your speech sounds and therefore quickly improve your English pronunciation.

The approach on how to use intonation effectively is to begin your statement in your “natural” tone. Then, move up to one step higher early in the statement. Then move your pitch down the imaginary speech stairs on each syllable for the rest of your statement.

Examples:

  cat         ve-           go           work        
The   is     She is   ry       Let’s   to       You can   af-      
      fat.         pre-           the           ter    
                  tty.           wedd-           you  
                                ing.           eat.

                                  
      

                   

  • In the first phrase, there is a rise in pitch on the word “cat.” Then the melody moves down in pitch on each syllable for the rest of the statement.  The rise up in pitch, followed by moving down in pitch on each syllable, creates the melody. 
  • In the next phrase, the rise in pitch is on the word “very.” The phrase, “She is” stays on the same pitch pattern.  As soon as there is a rise in pitch, there is a drop on each syllable for the rest of the statement. 
  • Notice the same pitch style in the other two examples.

Note: The next time you watch the news pay close attention to the broadcasters. You will be able to identify pitch changes and hear the “speech stairs” melody in their statements.



Speech and Voice - Elizabeth Peterson


Elizabeth Peterson, Denver’s leading speech therapist and executive speech coach for over 22 years and is the author of Accent Reduction 101, Third Edition 2017 and Speak Like a Broadcaster & Lead Like a CEO, Third Edition 2017 . Learn More

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Elizabeth Peterson M.A., CCC-SLP Speech Therapist

Speech Therapist & Executive Speech Coach for over 20 years
Licensed speech therapist in the State of Colorado
Certified with the American Speech Language Hearing Association
CSHA and American Speech-Language Hearing Association

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