How to Speak with Less Tension to Improve English Pronunciation and Reduce Accent?

How to Speak with Less Tension to Improve English Pronunciation and Reduce Accent?

Just as all cultures have their own style with how they speak with melody, the same is true with the degree of tension required for speaking with less of an accent and improving English pronunciation.  Many accented individuals speak with too much tension in their face and throat. American English is spoken with little muscular tension on the consonant and vowel sounds. This is the opposite of many languages, such as Spanish, Asian and European languages, which require speaking with tighter musculature in the back of the throat, lips, tongue or face. Part of what makes American English pronunciation accented is that it is spoken with too much muscular tension.

Where Do Accented Speakers Place Their Tension?

  • In some cultures, tension is used in the mid-tongue, soft palate and throat which impacts accent.  This type of muscular tension can influence your English pronunciation to sound nasal because the sound waves are sent to that area of the nasal cavity.
  • Too much tension can also influence how much force is placed on the speech articulators, therefore influencing accent and interfering with accurate English pronunciation.  Where sound is placed in the oral cavity is as important as how sounds are pronounced for culturally accurate  American English and to speak with less of an accent.
  • The most notable examples are French, Australian, some African and Spanish languages, as well as some dialectics in Canada. Some cultures will speak with too much facial tension in the lips, bringing them too far forward.  The result is speech that sounds hard or lacks clarity, as in some Spanish and Asian languages.  Some cultures keep their tongue too low in their mouth cavity, making it difficult to follow through on ending sounds or establish the /er/ sound, which is notable in Chinese or Vietnamese cultures.
  • Another accented English habit is being too far forward with the tongue tip, creating hard or choppy speech or a rolled /r/ as in Russian, Spanish, Italian, and many other European languages. 
  • Too much tension can also be applied by Americans which produces a regional accent as heard by people from states such as Maine, New York and Massachusetts, to name a few.

When muscular tension is used outside of the standard American model, foreign accent is impacted and spoken in a style that is outside of the standard American speech model. 

American English and Degree of Tension

Be aware that American English is produced with little tension in the throat, lips and tongue when speaking at the conversational level.  If it is your goal to reduce your accent, this is an important point.  This may be very different from how you speak your first language. Think of keeping your speech forward in your mouth to avoid having tension in your mouth cavity.  When rehearsing your words and sentences, it is a good idea to record yourself so you can listen and determine if you are improving your English pronunciation and reducing your accent.  If your English appears choppy, you are probably speaking with too much facial tension and therefore, increasing your American accent.

Strategy Training for Reducing Tension

1.  Hold Each Syllable Slightly Longer in Conversational Speech as A Strategy to Reduce Your Accent.
For many accented English speakers, holding syllables for a slightly longer duration will help you to ease into each sound segment with less tension and improve your English pronunciation.  Daily and frequent practice will be necessary to increase your awareness on how you pronounce your English.  If it is your goal to reduce your accent, and improving your English pronunciation, decreasing your tension will be necessary.

2.  Feel Your Articulators Touch Lightly.  A Great Accent Reduction Strategy.
When talking, feel your articulators touch, but do it lightly.  You can control the tension in your speech by having light contact with your articulators.  Your articulators are your lips, teeth, tongue, jaw and facial muscles.  When speaking, have light contact with all of your articulators as a key strategy to help you to reduce your accent.  Heavy or tense contact will build up pressure, creating choppy or hard-sounding pronunciation and increasing your accented speech. If it is your goal to improve your English pronunciation, you must consistently use a strategy to eliminate some of the tension that is not needed for American English to ultimately reduce your accent. The thought of keeping your speech forward in your mouth will help maintain light contact between your articulators, decrease the oral and laryngeal tension as well as better position you to have an easy onset with your sounds. This is a good accent reduction strategy.

3. Move Those Speech Articulators with Full Range of Motion to Improve Your English Accent.
Move your speech articulators (lips, teeth, tongue and jaw) but with ease.  Notice the full range of motion with your lips, teeth and drop in your jaw. Speaking with a full range of motion with ease should help decrease facial tension and be an important new behavior to reduce your accent..  Moving from sound to sound at a fast rate will increase tension and sound choppy and take you away from your goal of speaking with less accent. 



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 22 years
Licensed speech therapist in the State of Colorado
Certified with the American Speech Language Hearing Association
CSHA, Colorado Speech-Language-Hearing AssociationASHA, American Speech-Language Hearing Association

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