Tongue in Cheek- & out, up, down, & all around

English words can be difficult to pronounce. They are seldom pronounced the way they are spelled. There are those darn silent letters. And there are several sounds in America English that just don’t appear in other languages.

If you have ever had these thoughts, you’re not alone.  And if you’ve ever begun working on your English accent or pronunciation, you may have felt like giving up, that you will never “get there,” and change the way you sound.

Allow me to be your cheerleader today. Allow me to encourage you.  One way I look at this work of accent and pronunciation  is like training at the gym.  The mouth consists of many muscles, which are found in the lips and the tongue.  “Getting there” means working those muscles and training them.  You have to practice using them in the way that produces the sounds you want to be able to make.  You don’t start lifting the heavy weights until you have practiced lifting the lighter weights.

I also refer to the tongue as a dancer.  To articulate the various speech sounds, the tongue must do some fancy foot work, dancing from one spot in the mouth to another spot very quickly.  Think of the word months.

For the /m/, lips are together, and you’re vibrating your vocal chords: mmmmmmmmmm

For the /o/, mouth is open, tongue is down, and you’re vibrating your vocal cords: ooooooooooo

For the /n/, mouth is slightly closed, tip of tongue is touching the roof of your mouth right behind your top front teeth, and you’re vibrating your vocal chords: nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

For the /th/, stick your tongue out between your front teeth and blow- no voice:  thththththth

For the /s/, quickly bring the tongue back inside your mouth, with the tip touching the roof of your mouth again, behind your top front teeth, only this time, don’t let your tongue touch completely- leave some air between your tongue and roof of mouth, so you can blow air between the two surfaces, and don’t use your vocal chords: ssssssssssssssss

There. You have just produced a word with five diffirerent speech sounds in it, all within a fraction of a second. And your tongue sure danced from place to place quickly.

Having the skill to correctly say the word months, especially if your native language doesn’t have the /th/ sound, takes training and practice.  My advice is not to give up, but rather to be patient with yourself.  You can and will get there, if you’re willing to work on it.

If you were wondering if it was your imagination that English is tough, let me assure you, as a native English speaker and speech professional, it’s not you.  It’s English.  It’s just difficult.

If you’re looking for a good book to guide you through mastering the American English Accent, I like Barron’s American Accent Training by Ann Cook.

Some people just don’t have the motivation to independently follow a book or audio CD’s, and for those who need more of a push, working with a speech coach can be very effective. (Like a personal trainer at the gym!)

The bottom line is that if you make it a priority (like working out), you can make it happen.  And if you need a little help in getting there, that’s also ok.  Good Luck.