This is probably a busy time with travel, shopping, and plenty of holiday merrymaking, so we thought we’d come up with 10 quick tips on how to get some extra American accent practice in. Here are some little tools for continuing to improve your American oral posture, pronunciation, intonation, and rhythm. Some of them are quite portable, and can be practiced almost anywhere and anytime.
Sing! Find an American song that you love, get the lyrics, and learn it. Or learn part of it. Learn one line! Sing it until you connect with a few moments of American resonance and rhythm, and then keep singing it to get that feel internalized. This is great for vowel work (e.g. check out Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” for some great long /o/ going on) and general pronunciation and vibe. (“Vibe” is the physical “attitude” or “feel” or even “look” of the accent…beyond mere pronunciation differences. Every accent has its own vibe. Imitation can help you understand this).
Post-it practice. Choose one word or phrase that contains a target sound you’re working on, and that you say frequently. Write it on some post-its and stick them on your refrigerator, computer monitor, bathroom mirror. Examples:
a. “Probably” (for the /a/ sound spelled with an O).
b. “Stop it!” (Good for eliminating the EH in front of ST, for Spanish- and Portuguese speakers…also useful if you are a parent :).
c. “Hello!” (for those of you missing your H sound).
d. “OK” (to get the diphthong /ei/).
e. “Thanks!” (TH, of course).
Red light practice. If you’re standing there waiting for the light to turn green, look around and comment quietly, using a word with one of your target sounds. Examples: “Here is a bench, here is a dog” (for H). “Nice store, beautiful door” (for OR). “Been there, never been there” (for IH). Reminder: “been” is pronounced like “bin”, not “bean”.
Stand, move, act! Practicing a particular American vowel or consonant? Read out loud – standing up, walking around. Make it physical. Use our practice materials, or an article, a play. Become an actor rehearsing a script. Look around, speak with feeling, while pronouncing the sound correctly as much as possible.
Phone practice. If you know how to get into the American oral posture, make it a practice to do your favorite posture set-up (e.g. “AH-EE-AH-EE-AH”) before answering the phone, then pick up with a nice open “Hello?” See how long you can stay in the posture.
Eavesdrop! Pick someone who is speaking near you on the train, in a cafe, in the apartment next door… and eavesdrop (meaning “to secretly listen in”, pronounced EEVZ – drap).
Note the up and down patterns of the intonation and give the speaker a rating:
a. Whoa! super-animated – could be a news anchor!
b. Pretty average
c. Pretty flat
d. Pretty flat AND boring
e. Impossible to understand
Also, see if you can figure out what is going on psychologically based on the intonation and facial expressions. Are they fighting? Are they joking? Are they happy, or angry?
TH test. After you’ve rated his/her intonation, listen to the TH for a while. TH is the most frequent consonant sound in English, so you can probably rate about 10,000 of them in one conversation. (Say that: Ten-thousand, not Ten tousand.) Hugely-generalized prediction: if your subject was born in the U.S. or U.K., anywhere from 50% – 100% correct. If subject born elsewhere, anywhere from 0% and up. (You can do this with any sound you’re working on.)
Bottoms up! Some clients say that their American accent gets better after a drink. What the heck, try it!
No language needed. While watching a movie at home, occasionally hit ‘pause’ and imitate the last sentence the actor said. Don’t worry about the words. Get the intonation, the rhythm, the vibe.
Here’s a great example of two actors doing just that: speaking American accent with virtually no English to be heard. It’s almost complete “gibberish”. Because they are shaping their words using the oral posture, intonation, and rhythm patterns the way native speakers do, the result is something that sounds very American. You can almost guess what they’re saying, in fact. NOTE: contains brief profanity! (a “bad 🙂 word”)