Key tips on English pronunciation and accent improvement for people from India:
This post focuses on the specific difficulties that people from India encounter when speaking English, or during pronunciations of certain parts of English speech. For overall accent reduction and how to lose your accent, refer to the posts at the bottom of this article.
Based on common observations by everybody and feedback, here are some of the main problem areas, along with the tips to improve them:
1. The pronunciation of ‘Rs’, ‘Ts’, ‘Ds’ is not clear or hard to understand/distinguish:
‘T’ sounds almost like ‘D’: In some parts of American/Europe Pronunciation of ‘t’ is supposed to be less crisp. It should sounds more like a ‘d’ in many cases, especially between vowels. Katie is pronounced almost like KaDie, water like waDer.
‘R’ pronunciation: There are varying observations on the sound of ‘R’:
-Let the sound of R flow; don’t put too much stress on this sound especially in the middle or in the end of a word.
-Don’t totally chewing up the sound of ‘R’ in other cases. Practice the stress on this sound, and listen to how your American/English friends use it. In ‘Robert’, the stress is on first R; let the second ‘r’ flow, without any pronounced stress.
2. ‘Vs’ and ‘Ws’ sound: This is a common problem for many Asians and Europeans, so don’t take it personally. There is a clear difference between ‘w’ and ‘v’ sounds. Even though most of Indians understand the difference, the distinction is often not carried out in spoken English. Let us try this:
-For the sound of ‘v’, place lower lip gently on the upper teeth and say the word. Don’t press it hard, you should be able to exhale through, while making the sound. Most of us find this hardest to get used to.
-For ‘w’ sound, it’s a different than ‘v’, the lips are supposed to be rounded and puckered like when we say ‘u’, and with no contact between the teeth and tongue. Move your lips in the forward direction as you vocalize the sound.
-The key distinction between the w/v sound and the ‘B’ sound is the fact that the lips are closed when we start to vocalize ‘B’.
3. ‘S’ and “sh’ pronunciation: Some of the new comers have this issue. The problem is not how to make the sound what when to use what sound. Learn the difference in pronunciation.
-The difference in the sound of ‘Sue’ and ‘Shoe’ should be easy to follow.
-‘s’ as ‘s’ or as ‘z’: ‘S’ in Sam (the sound is ‘s’), or in ‘is’ (the sound is like ‘z’).
4. ‘Th’ should not sound like ‘da’: Not a problem of speaking, but a habit. Put your tongue between your teeth to make ‘th’ sound.
5. The vowels are VERY important to pay attention to: If you are having difficulty with vowels, make sure to correct it. Buy a good book on pronunciation, or find some local or online resources to learn the pronunciations aspect. For example, the long vowels are supposed to take longer to vocalize compared to the short ones.
Short vowels: rat, leg, pig, Rob, bus: Don’t park on them, move on to next sound .
Long vowels: rate, he, side, robe, tune: Hang in there, don’t rush .
See the difference in ‘i’ sound in Sid (quick) vs. Side.
6. Not too fast or too slow: Speak slowly, but not too slow. The right pace comes with practice. Don’t chew up the words by going too fast.
7. Open the mouth properly while speaking: Let the sound come out properly while speaking. Don’t speak through the teeth or with half open mouth.
8. Syllable stress matters: Understand which parts of a word should take the stress and which ones not. This comes with listening and practicing.
9. Practice is a must: A regular practice- over and over- is very helpful. The best way to get rid of so-called ‘thick accent’ is by speaking and imitating local (American or English) style and slang. A few ways to practice are:
- Speak out loud, speak out often, and as much as possible
- Practice in front of a mirror, or with a friend. Make a game out of it.
- Watch TV to get exposure to the local dialects and speech mannerism.
- Record your audio, listen to it, and then practice to improve the pronunciation.
- Avoid false or fake accent
- Learn how to break the habit of speaking the Indian way.
10. Relax, look at the bigger picture: Well, not a tip, but a word of advice! Everybody has some sort of accent. We are all supposed to. It is the way we are raised, it is the way they speak in our neighborhood. So don’t lose your sleep over this. Instead, understand the issue, get some feedback from your friends on which areas you may need improvement, and work on it accordingly. While it may take a long time to lose the accent completely, we can improve it significantly over short period of time if we really try.
For more information on how to lose your accent (often considered as a ‘thick’ accent), and how to speak more like a native English speaker, refer to these posts from the recent past: