29 May 2020
Today on Ask a Teacher, we answer a question from Igor in Russia. He writes,
Question: I'd like to speak with an American accent. Could you give me advice on how to improve it? Thank you so much.
An accent is more than simply the way one says individual words. It is also the way speakers use three things: intonation, pacing and stress. Intonation is the rise and fall in one's voice when speaking. Pacing is how fast you are speaking. And stress is the word or words you play up, or emphasize, when you talk.
If you want to sound more like an American when you speak, there are a few sounds that experts say make up the American accent.
The thing most people notice is that many Americans pronounce the "r" sound at the end of words, like "butter." And, in American English, the "t" in the middle of a word is often said like the letter "d."
Try making the "r" sound in these three words: better, door, poor.
Another of these sounds is the short "a" sound you hear in words like "cat." To make this sound, pull your lips back as if you are smiling, but keep your mouth open.
Try making this short "a" sound in these words: dad, map, tag.
Another sound you should watch for is the short "o," as heard in the words "bot" and "cod." Your lips do not need to be round to produce this "o" sound.
Try saying this sound in mom, got, and pop.
Practice makes perfect
The most important way to improve your accent is to keep on speaking and listening to American English. Try to hear the rhythm, or "music," of the language as you listen to Americans. The pace, or speed, should be slower than other accents. And it is not necessary to sound exactly like a native speaker. As long as you speak clearly enough to be understood, most Americans enjoy hearing a foreign accent. It makes you sound a little mysterious!
Our website has several Education Tips stories on pronunciation, as well as the new video series "How to Pronounce." To learn more, see Keep Your Identity While Changing Your Accent, our story about a program that helps students change their accents.
What question do you have about English? Send us an email at email@example.com.
And that's Ask a Teacher for this week.
I'm Jill Robbins.
Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
accent – n. a way of saying the words of a given language
emphasize – v. to give special attention to when speaking or writing
lips – n. (pl) the two soft parts that surround the mouth