What does it mean to speak English like an American?
Is this something that you are interested in doing and wondering where to even begin? Improving your accent can boost your confidence and improve certain aspects of your life, but learning an American accent can be life-changing. In this article, we will provide you with some proven tips to help you on your journey to speaking like a native and also what exactly the American accent is and why it is so important. Let us first explore how the American accent is in a class all its own and why it is more widely in demand than say, a British English accent.
Defining the American accent by one particular sound is quite simplistic as America consists of many different accents depending on the various regions and cultures found in America. What most of us refer to as the “American accent” is the General American accent, sometimes called Network English or Newscaster English. Newscaster English is generally what accent most Americans speak with and what is used worldwide in business.
Now, what exactly sets the American Accent apart from say, the British Accent? The American English accent is rhotic, whereas the British accent is not. What is rhotic? This means that Americans pronounce the “r” sound in all words, including after vowels. Some examples are words like, after, weather, and car. Speakers from the U.K. are not rhotic speakers, so they do not.
There are some other particular features of the American accent/pronunciation, such as unrounded vowels, vowel breaking, and yod-dropping. All of which we will cover in this article.
Why Should You Learn the American Accent
As a non-native English speaker, it may seem daunting and maybe even impossible to get rid of your accent and learn the American accent, but the hard part is learning the language in the first place! Learning a second language is a huge accomplishment, especially when you are doing so in a new country and navigating a whole new way of life and culture. That is why learning the American accent is so important as it will not only make you easier to understand, but give you the confidence to speak to anyone, anywhere, and about anything. It will also reduce the number of times people ask you to repeat yourself dramatically!
1- You Can Make More Money!
Research shows that speaking English with an accent people aren’t used to hearing can cause you to lose job opportunities and even miss out on getting a higher salary. So even though you might already be employed, the way you speak English may be preventing you from advancing in your career.
Today’s job market is as competitive as ever, and setting yourself apart from the competition can sometimes feel impossible. The dreaded job interview is usually the place where you get to make a great first impression that will help you stand out, but a hard to understand accent will almost certainly make you stand out in the wrong way. That is not to say that you are not more than qualified to receive the job that you are interviewing for, but studies show that people are less likely to trust people who they cannot understand, simply because they are harder to understand.
2- Everyone will see you as a genius!
Research also shows that when people hear someone speaking with an accent that’s hard for them to understand, they subconsciously assume that person is less credible and less reliable. Even the most open-minded and accepting people are affected by this so if you can speak in a way that’s clear and understandable, everyone will automatically assume that you’re more intelligent and trustworthy.
3- You can make more friends!
When it’s hard for people to understand you, it’s almost impossible to really connect on a deeper level with anyone. So it can be hard to make friends and find people to date if you want better relationships, you need to be able to communicate clearly.
In addition to the professional and personal development advantages of reducing your accent, there are the more fun aspects of speaking like a native English speaker. It will improve your social life in terms of making friends, new connections, and maybe even beginning romantic relationships. After all, communication is the biggest key to any successful human connections, and this is especially true when attempting to find common ground with someone from a different background and culture from you.
4- You kids won’t be ashamed!
This once for all you parents out there! Did you know that researchers have found that children whose parents don’t speak English fluently feel ashamed and self-conscious? These feelings of embarrassment can affect their performance in school and may affect your family life as well.
5- Everyone can improve their fluency and accent!
But don’t worry, research has also shown that people of any age are able to improve their pronunciation with the right type of training. So not only is it possible for you to improve speaking clear in fluent English will make you sound even better than a native speaker because everyone will be so impressed with you for learning to speak another language so well.
That leads us to the more uncomfortable, but very real aspect of prejudice that many non-native English speakers face on a day to day basis. Being turned away from jobs that you are more than qualified for, being treated differently just because of the way you speak, or not being trusted, can all be very disheartening. While American Accent training can be beneficial on many different levels, this is quite possibly the most life-changing benefit of speaking like a native English speaker.
How Long Does it Take to Get an American Accent
Let’s face it, people are busy! So one of the biggest obstacles that people convince themselves of when trying to decide if they should do something like American accent training is a lack of time. They want to know, “How long is this going to take?” Well, the real, honest answer is that the time will vary for every single person.
- Your understanding of what sounds and patterns you need to improve-there are specific sounds that are hard for native speakers of almost all languages when they are speaking in American English. For instance, voiced or voiceless dental sounds (th sound), consonant clusters, or pitch. An accent coach can be imperative in finding what sounds are most challenging for you specifically.
- The time you spend on focused practice-you can use things like audiobooks, online lessons, or accent reduction sessions with a pronunciation coach who can give you tailored feedback and guidance, and arranging your learning time accordingly (short study times, every day)
- Stress, rhythm, intonation-these topics are crucial if you want to speak American English fluently because they are directly related to the core of your speech.
- Your listening skills-in order to reduce your accent and pronounce the sounds and patterns of American English, you need to be able to hear the differences between the sounds of your native language and American English, which is not as easy as it seems.
- Your eagerness to learn-enthusiasm is the key to success. You cannot be successful if you do something you hate. This is especially the case in an American accent Training because it requires consistent practicing and plenty of time.
- Continuous Practice and Feedback with an Accent Coach-One of the significant points in accent reduction is practicing and receiving feedback. You can do a lot on your own, but you also need someone to guide you. Working with an accent coach can have lots of benefits. Whenever you need help, your accent coach will be ready to give feedback, speeding up your progress significantly.
So, how long does it take? It is hard to say the exact amount of time because your progress depends on many factors, as we pointed out above. However, most people who have worked with a pronunciation coach in an accent reduction program saw improvement in 6 to 8 weeks after a lot of practice and dedication. After about 6 months of training, you will notice a significant difference in the way you speak English.
How to Speak with the Perfect American Accent
Speaking with the perfect American accent consists of many parts, which is why it is crucial to have some guidance and accessible help along the way. The first and possibly the most obvious way to do this is to make sure you are pronouncing English words correctly. Two of the essential sounds to master early on in your American accent training, are the “r” and “t” sounds. Here are some tips on how to pronounce these correctly and effectively. Keep in mind that as you progress in your accent training, you will learn more about these sounds and how they may change in particular words.
- R sound– Raise the tip of your tongue and curl it back behind the tooth ridge while keeping the back of your tongue low. If you look in the mirror, your lips should be rounded, opened enough that you should be able to insert your finger into your mouth.
- T sound (unvoiced) tea, today, still– Press the tip of your tongue against the tooth ridge to prevent the air from leaving the vocal tract.
- T sound (voiced) chicken, much, teacher- Press the tip of your tongue against the tooth ridge. The sound is pronounced when the air is released with friction.
When it comes to the pronunciation of vowels, these are among the hardest sounds to master. To make these sounds correctly, they must be made with an open vocal tract. Vowel sounds are categorized into three main categories:
Long Vowels (vowels sounding like the letter name)
- A (make, way, bay) You can make this sound if you form your mouth into a wide, narrow shape.
- E (heat, beet, greed) Keep your tongue high and form your mouth into a wide, narrow shape.
- I (bite, fight, light) this sounds ends in a brief “y” sound.
- O (so, both, go)
- U (cute, amuse) Pull your lips into a small circle and raise the back of the tongue to a high position.
Short Vowels (most frequent sound for a single vowel spelling)
- A (cat, bat, that) Hold your lips apart and push the front of your tongue further forward.
- E (bed, red, fed) Keep your lips and jaw loose and hold the middle of the tongue slightly rounded upwards.
- I (sit, fit, bit) Keep your lips and your tongue neutral and relaxed and make the sound at the back of your throat.
- O (top, mop) Hold your jaw more open and keep the back of your tongue lower than for any other vowel sound.
- U (sun, fun, run) Relax the body of your tongue and keep it low in the mouth. Keep the jaw in a neutral position.
Other Vowels (the remaining vowel sounds)
- U (put) Raise the back of the tongue to a mid-high position and pull your lips into a loose circle.
- OO sound (soon) Pull your lips into a small circle and raise the back of the tongue to a high position.
- Aw sound (dog) Push your tongue back and keep it low slightly rounding upward.
- Oi sound (join)
- Ow sound (down)
The pronunciation of the correct consonant sounds is also essential in improving your American accent. To make the consonant sounds, push air through a small opening in the vocal tract or by building up the air in the vocal tract and then releasing it. Consonants may be voiced or unvoiced.
Many consonants sound come in pairs. For example, both the P and B sounds can be made in the same place in the mouth with the tongue in the same position. The only difference is that P is an unvoiced sound (no vibration of the vocal cords), while B is a voiced sound (vocal cords vibrate). Put your hand on your throat as you say the pairs below to feel the difference.
Some great tips to help you with mastering correct pronunciation is to make use of some great online tools like the ZiziFox dictionary. This free platform provides you with the American pronunciation of English words by utilizing YouTube videos of native speakers demonstrating not only the correct pronunciation but using the necessary words you need in context. This allows you to see and hear the word spoken numerous times in a variety of ways. Another great resource is ChatterFox and their AI coaching services. You receive instant feedback on your pronunciation and will get personalized tips and guidance according to your specific problem areas.
Use Reductions and Contractions
Contractions are short forms of other words that people often use when speaking in an informal setting. This is often why many non-native English speakers think native speakers very quickly. Reductions and contractions shorten sentences, making speech sound much faster. Below are some very commonly used informal contractions that you can use to sound more fluent and more like a native English speaker:
When learning English as a foreign language, you tend to focus more on pronouncing every syllable of the words clearly; that’s why you speak slower than native English speakers. Americans, however, don’t need to pay extra attention to their pronunciation because they’re using natural English that contains useful speech techniques such as reduction. Reductions are the reduced forms of certain words and phrases in American English. They’re essential in spoken English because they help the speaker speak more quickly and sound more natural.
Reduction of You & And
You > In some cases, YOU is reduced to JU in American English. A perfect example of this reduction is “Wouldju,” meaning “would you,” which already may sound familiar to you from movies and tv shows. It can also be reduced to CHU. For instance, when we pronounce the phrase “Won’t you,” we change the y sound to chu and say “Wonchu”.
- Would you (wouldju) mind if I left work a little bit early today? > In this sentence, we don’t say the y sound in you; instead, we pronounce it with the j sound. The reason for this is because d sound in would blends with the j sound to make it easier to pronounce and sound more natural.
- Won’t you (wonchu) be cold without a jacket?
And > You may have heard of the reduction of AND to the N sound before. It’s a very commonly used reduction in American English, for example:
- Spic’n span (Spic and Span)
This phrase means “super clean”, and the n sound is the reduction of and. Here is another example:
- We’re gonna get a dog first n (and) then see if we want kids.
Reduction of Did You
One of the most common reductions of the word you is did you. You may be confused about these reductions when you speak with native English speakers because they may sound unfamiliar to you. Americans often reduce did you in different ways to speed up their speech, and here are some examples of these reductions:
Reduction of DON’T
Don’t / Doesn’t Know (Dunno) > We use ” don’t / doesn’t know” to express that someone does not know of something or someone. “Dunno” is an informal short form of “don’t / doesn’t know. “
- I don’t know what to do (I dunno what to do)
- She doesn’t know how much I love her (She dunno how much I love her)
Reduction of the word OF
Kind of (kinduh) > The word ‘of’ seems like a simple word, but Americans can make it even easier to say by using reductions. In spoken English, ‘of’ is often reduced to one sound, which is similar to saying ‘uh.’ For example, the phrase ‘kind of’ is reduced to ‘kinduh.’
- I’m kind[uh] tired, I think I’ll stay home tonight.
Lot of (Loduh) > Loduh is the reduced form of the phrase ‘lot of.’ In this case, not only is the word ‘of’ reduced to ‘uh’ but also the stop t in the word ‘lot’ changes to the flap t, which is similar to the d sound. So, it nearly sounds like LODUH when you say it out loud.
- I have a lot of friends in New York (I have a lod[uh] friends in New York).
Out of (Ouduh) > Ouduh, is the reduction of the phrase ‘out of.’ It is similar to the previous example in that the stop t in the word ‘out’ is also changed to the flap t, and the final word ‘of’ is pronounced like ‘uh.’
- Let’s get out of here (Let’s get oud[uh] here)
Sort of (Sorduh) > This one is the reduction of the phrase ‘sort of.’
- I sort of screwed that up (I sord[uh] screwed that up)
Type of (Typuh)
- What type of milk do you want? (What typ[uh] milk do you want?)
Front of (Fronna)
- If you pay extra money, you can skip to the front of the line at the airport. (If you pay extra money, you can skip to the fronna the line at the airport.)
Using Word Linking
Word Linking is the way Native English speakers join words together to speak faster, more naturally, and fluently. If you are just learning English or trying to improve your American accent, you may not be familiar with linking at all. If you are not linking your words, not only will you not be speaking as fast as the Native speakers around you, but you will much harder to understand in a fast-moving conversation.
Consonant To Vowel (CTV)
Consonant to vowel (CTV) linking is the most frequently recurring word linking pattern in English. Here are some examples of these:
Say [way cup] and you will be saying [wake up]
Say [sto peating] and you will be saying [stop eating]
Say [That sit] and you will be saying [That’s it]
Consonant To Consonant (CTC)
While CTV is the most common word linking pattern in spoken English, CTC is the most difficult to apply as it involves loads of details and presents a number of exceptions. Here are a few examples:
Stop Playing > Explanation:
Say/hold first consonant longer /p/ (this is done by keeping your lips closed for a little longer before starting the 2nd word).
Move Forward > Explanation:
Say/hold first consonant longer. The /v/ undergoes “assimilation” here, meaning that it assimilates into the /f/. Both sounds are produced by moving the lower lip against the upper teeth.
Get Going > Explanation:
Commonly, before consonants /p/,/b/, /k/, /g/, /r/, /m/ and /w/, consonant /t/ either becomes a glottal stop or simply assimilates into the consonants succeeding it. For example, [get going] sounds like [geggoing] or [fat brother] sounds like [fabbrother] or [white cake] sounds like [whiccake]. When producing a glottal stop, no tongue movement is necessary.
Vowel to Vowel (VTV)
This pattern involves connecting the words ending with a vowel to those that also begin with a vowel. Here are two examples:
- I understand > When vowels /aɪ/, /eɪ/, /ɔɪ/ or /iː/come before any other vowel, native speakers link them to the vowels succeeding them with consonant /j/. For example, [we eat] sounds like [we yeat] and [boy and girls] sounds like [bo yan girls] etc.
- So angry > When vowels /uː/ or /oʊ/ come before any other vowel, native speakers link them using consonant /w/. For example, [you are] sounds like [you ware] and [who is it] sounds like [who wiz it] etc.
Intonation is one of the essential keys to English fluency. This is the ‘rhythm’ of your speech, meaning that the way you say a sentence can change the meaning completely. Let’s take a look at the three ways correct intonation can not only improve your speech but how and when to use them.
Intonation in Questions
Intonation is about how we say things. Our voice can rise and fall during our speech, depending on the meaning we want to convey to the listener. Therefore, we can divide intonation into two patterns as rising and falling intonation.
Rising intonation is when the pitch and tone of your voice rise at the end of the words or sentences, whereas falling intonation is when they go down.
- Yes or No Questions: these questions can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Your intonation should go up at the end of the question.
- Open-ended Questions: these questions have longer answers instead of saying yes or no, your intonation falls at the end.
Intonation to Show Emotion
Rising and falling intonations can have different meanings, especially in showing emotions. For example, when you’re expressing an emotion that has high energy, you will use rising intonation to exhibit this energy. However, if you want to express emotion with low energy, you will lower the pitch of your voice by using falling intonation.
Intonation to Make a Statement
Intonation is critical when making statements of any kind! For strong statements falling intonation is what should be used. For example, the statement “If you don’t do your homework, there will be consequences!” The statement is strong, but not asking for a continued conversation about the statement. You are just trying to make a strong statement so that someone knows the information.
Word Stress and Sentence Stress
In American English, we put a prominent force (stress) on some syllables and no force on other syllables or words. Stress helps native speakers understand each other. So it is essential to know how to use it correctly.
Word stress is the idea that in a word with more than one syllable, one (or more than one) syllable will be stressed or accented. Take these three words: photograph, photographer, and photographic. Do they sound the same when spoken? No. Because ONE syllable in each word is stressed while the others are not.
Sentence stress is what gives English its rhythm or “beat.” Remember that word stress is the force on one syllable within a word. Sentence stress is the force on certain words within a sentence. Do we say every word with the same stress or force? No. We make the critical words BIG and the unimportant words small. The critical words in this sentence: WANT and GO.
Some other very useful tips include speaking slowly and exaggeratedly in front of a mirror. This way, you can see if your facial movements and the shape of your mouth are what they need to be. Also, speaking in full phrases and not individual words is very important in practicing intonation, word stress, and sentence stress. The ChatterFox IG page is full of short video clips that will help you with not only culturally appropriate phrases and their meanings but also has tons of content related to the correct pronunciations of commonly mispronounced words and phrases. The ChatterFox Youtube page is also an incredible resource with various playlists that will help you take your American accent training to a new level, like the English in 1 Minute Playlist.
Use ChatterFox American Accent App Coach
All of this information might prove to be daunting to some, and nearly impossible to grasp for others. But the key to improving your accent is not to try and learn all these things at once but to make them a natural part of your speech. For this, a program like ChatterFox is imperative. The program is broken up into modules, each consisting of specific sounds, phrases, and parts of the American English language, making the information easier to digest and grasp. As explained in this article, there is a lot to cover and learn to sound like a native English speaker. This is why the Pronunciation Coach feature is so amazing and will speed up the process of accent reduction. Your pronunciation coach will listen to recordings that you submit at the end of every module, and assess your improvement in various categories. These include your intonation, word and sentence stress, pronunciation, and anything else your coach thinks will be useful to you. Most students who use this feature of ChatterFox see a difference in their accent reduction in as little as 6 weeks, with most seeing a vast improvement in 8 weeks!