January 13, 2020 English Learning
3 Ways to Make your English more Understandable and Natural
Hi, there! We’re Dilo en Inglés, a couple of bilingual sisters who have been helping Spanish-speakers improve their English for over a decade. We fully understand the challenges non-native speakers face when learning English especially when it comes to pronunciation.
Today, we want to talk to you about what makes English sound unnatural and what you can do to fix it.
DO I NEED TO GET RID OF MY ACCENT?
By far, the most frequently asked question we get about pronunciation is, “Do I need to get rid of my accent?” The answer is, “No, not in the workplace or elsewhere.” Having an accent is not an indication of knowledge or experience. But, there is something else that makes most people’s English sound awkward, labored, and not natural: the wrong pace and rhythm.
Most non-native English speakers use their native language’s rhythm to speak in English that is unrecognizable to English ears. This can lead to misunderstandings and awkward encounters which, in the workplace, isn’t the best.
So, how can you fix it? Here are three ways to make your English more understandable and natural by mimicking English’s natural pace and rhythm.
- TAKE A DEEP BREATH
Breathing is essential to speaking any language. Without breathing we wouldn’t be able to say anything, but proper breathing also impacts other areas when it comes to speaking naturally.
One of the main problems our Spanish-speaking students have is lung capacity and breath control. This makes their pronunciation more challenging and their English choppy and, at times, confusing.
To help our students control their inhalation, increase their lung capacity, and control their rate of exhalation, we ask them to add this simple exercise to their practice:
- Inhale all the air you can
- Release the air slowly by saying an S sound (aim for 20 seconds)
- Repeat 2 or 3 more times
- Do this daily before your speaking practice. Evaluate your progress after one week.
- STRESS MATTERS
We’re not talking about sweaty-stress. We’re talking about syllable stress, and not just any syllable stress. In English, we put stress on the main syllable of “important” words like nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
By emphasizing these syllables at regular intervals, we create a specific rhythm. We call it the “English drum beat.”
Follow these steps to imitate the drum beat:
- Pick any sentence (4-10 words long)
- Identify the nouns, main verbs, adjectives, adverbs, negatives, and questions words
- Underline the main syllable in each of these words
- Read the sentence emphasizing the syllable you underlined. Try to say those syllables at equally spaced intervals.
Pro tip: To know which syllable carries the stress in a word, check a dictionary. Pay attention to the stress marks because they will indicate primary stress (ˈ or ′) – and secondary stress – (ˌ or ′). In the beginning, it is okay to focus solely on the primary stresses.
To learn more about “important” words versus non-important words, check out our post Secretos de Pronunciacion – Palabras de Contenido y Función
- CONNECT YOUR SPEECH
As with any language, each English letter has a specific sound or sounds. But, when we start putting together letters and words, those basic sounds can change.
In English, we call this “connected speech.” Connected speech is the main reason many non-native speakers have trouble understanding spoken English versus written English.
The good news is that connected speech has a few basic rules that can help your English sound more natural. The most common ones are:
- If a word ending in a consonant sound is followed by a word beginning with a vowel sound, the consonant sound migrates to the second word: “an apple” = “a napple.”
- If a word ending in a consonant sound is followed by a word beginning in the same consonant sound, you only say the consonant once: “come make” = commake.
- If a word ending in a vowel is followed by a word beginning with a vowel, we commonly add a “y” o “w” sound between the two words: I am = Iyam.
We go into greater detail about the rest of the rules in our post Secretos de Pronunciación: Connected Speech.
Thank you for spending a few minutes with us learning how you can make your English more understandable and natural. If you’re a native Spanish speaker, you can visit our website for more information and tips about English learning.
We’re a couple of bilingual sisters who teach English in Spanish.