Thursday, June 22, 2017

American English Pronunciation for Indian IT Professionals: online course

     I keep meeting guys like this:  "I had 4 interviews with Google (or other high tech company) and they were about to hire me (because I'm so talented at what i do) but at the last minute they dropped me because of my 'communication skills.'  They couldn't understand my Indian accent."

    See if you can quickly solve these word puzzles.  If not, my course (American English Pronunciation for Indian IT Professionals) will definitely help your pronunciation (and teach you the rules behind these puzzles.)  If you're curious about the answers, find them on Smooth English Facebook page.

1.Gowoutinfindayello wapple. 
2.Wha rin the were ruld aryu struddingoff to?
3.Pudidinthechruckbifor ri leave furreno. 
4.I feeyul thudee really yappreshiyatesme.
5.Iyalways hope tubeyon time tu skoowul.
6.The newatturney at my yoffice has bluewize.
7.Tri yagin nafter riduwit.

     After earning a master's degree in teaching ESL with a focus on teaching pronunciation, I taught ESL and accent reduction in Silicon Valley for over a decade.  I have worked with many high tech engineers and managers from India and dedicate this course to them.  Students from different language backgrounds make different types of errors in English. Therefore, I am making separate courses for learners from different language backgrounds.  This will save your time because you won't have to wade through material that is irrelevant to you. 

     There are three types of students who could use this course.  First, students who have already studied with me or in other accent reduction classes can use this course to review.  Second, for new students, the most economical way to reduce your accent is to learn a few sections of this course on your own and then schedule a private lesson to make sure you are producing the sounds correctly.  Third, you can use this course to practice at the same time you are taking private lessons.  Students often think they are producing a sound correctly but almost always need a private lesson to fine-tune their production.

     No one student is likely to make all the errors accounted for in this course.  These errors are gathered from academic articles describing English learner errors  and private data collected from the pre-test recordings of over 50 of my past Indian students.  Their language backgrounds included Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Punjabi, HindiBengali, MarathiMalayalam, and Punjabi.

    This course teaches pronunciation with advanced vocabulary words.  We are not just using standard words like "cat," "dog" or "go to the store."  The sentences for each target sound start with simple, everyday words but then each section ends with IT sentences, which revolve around the topic of information technology, business or computers.  Words you use at work related to software and IT will be used in the course.  This makes it different from other courses, which tend to use very basic, mundane vocabulary.

    The course is interactive.  At any time you can ask me a question, and I'll get back to you.  You won't be on your own.

     This first published course covers vowels. This link will allow you to buy the course, which consists of one hour of information-packed video, as well as written summaries and quizzes, for only $45.  Consonants will be in a separate course.      

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Rules for Predicting S or Z sound (besides 3rd person/plural endings)

Many sources have published the rules for pronouncing s or z at the end of a 3rd person singular or plural word.  Fewer sources have published other rules governing S and Z.  This is what I've come up with:

1)      The following letter combinations often make the “S” sound: ce, ci, cy, x, psy, consonant +se, cc +e, i or y, sc, ss and s
a.      Ce: Ice, rice, price, entrance, since, face, trace, peace, place, niece, procedure, necessary, police, office, license, cent, certain, receive, cell
b.      Ci: Accident, decision, circulate, acid, aerobicize, anglicize, annunciate, carcinogen, cigar, anticipate, homicide, society, athleticism, calcium, cinch, circus, civil, crucify, decimal, docile
                                                               i.      Exceptions: (sh instead) ancient, commercial, artificial, social, appreciate, atrocious, suspicious
c.      Cy: Lucy, lacy, fancy, juicy, cylinder, cycle, vacancy, conspiracy, cymbal, cyanide, cyber, cypress, cyst
d.      X + consonant, unstressed vowel or final X: excavate, exceed, exhale, axle, expire, expert, expect, extreme, extra, next, elixir, toxic, axon, fix
                                                               i.      Exception: (sh instead) sexual, luxury, complexion
e.      Ps (beginning of word): Psychology, pseudo, psalm, psyllium
f.        Consonant +se: Course, worse, disperse, hoarse, corpse, eclipse, tense, expense, censor, rinse, immense, defense, Farsi, absent, false, curtsey
                                                               i.      Exception: observe, birdseye, cleanse
g.      Cc + e, i or y: accent, accept, accident, success, eccentric, accessory, vaccine
                                                               i.      Exception: bocci, soccer, cappuccino
h.      Sc: ascent, crescent, descend, disciple, fascinate, fluorescent, isosceles, luminescent, miscellaneous, muscle, obscene, resuscitate, scenario, scene, scent, science, scissors
i.        Ss: lesson, gloss, chess, bassoon, assign, assist, assassinate, address
j.        s: soft, escape, small, statistics, mistake, chemistry, minister, register, miniscule, slow, snow, spout, spray, display, squeak, sweet

2)      The following letter combinations often make the “Z” sound:
a.      X + stressed vowel: examine, example, exact, exist, executive, exotic, exude, exuberant, exult
                                                               i.      Exception: ation words: taxation. relaxation
b.      S is between two vowel sounds: music, reason, season, cousin, disease, easy, posie, resign, isn’t, present, physician, position, positive, president, preside, visit, physique
                                                               i.      Exception:  second vowel sound begins plural or 3rd person ending or other suffix:  leases, places, nooses, houses (noun), defenses, busing, curiosity
                                                             ii.      Exception: (zh instead) ambrosia, corrosion
                                                            iii.      Exception: atherosclerosis
c.      Vowel + se: use (verb), these, lose, cause, because, choose, phase, tease, raise, cruise 
                                                               i.      exceptions: promise, house (noun), use (noun), close (adj.), mouse, lease, loose, moose, noose, caboose, chartreuse, dose
d.      ZZ:  dizzy, puzzle, fuzz
                                                               i.      Exception: (Italian words) pizza, pizzicato
e.      Z: Zipper, crazy, doze, razor
f.        Other: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, lens

3)      S can be silent:  aisle, island, isle, debris, Arkansas, Illinois, rendezvous, corps

4)   Z can be silent: rendezvous, laissez-faire

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Invisible Y before some long U sounds

Invisible Y Before Some Long U Sounds

(After P, B, K, G, F, V, H and M, there always seems to be a Y sound before the long U unless the long U is spelled "oo" or "ou" as in papoose, cougar, acoustic, gooey or food. (exception = buoy, jacuzzi, guru, hula, and other foreign words. also "move") 
There also seems to be a Y sound after L and N if the L or N occurs at the end of a stressed syllable. example: value, cellular, salutation- but not salute or illuminate 
continue, venue - but not manure, nuclear ) 

Beginning of Word:  (Insert a y before eu, ew, u vowel) Unicorn.  Utensil.  Ewe.  Unison. Eulogy.

P:  Computer.  Pewter.  Puke.  Reputation.  Puny.  Population.  Copulate.  Impunity.  Putrid.  Amputate.  Pure.  Opulence.    Pupil.  Puberty.  Scapula.  Stipulate.  Spew.  Deputy, Puget Sound   (But no Y in: Papoose, spoon)

B:  Rebuke.  Beauty.  Busey.  Tribunal.  Tribute.  Abuse.  Distribute.  Nebula.  Ambulance.  Attribute.  Bugle.  Butane.  Fabulous.  Debutant.  Nebulizer.  Bureaucrat.  Tabulate.  Tribulations.  Tubular  (But no Y in: Buoy, boost, boomerang)

K:  Cue.  Queue. Cute. Curious.  Incubate.  Cube.  Accuse.  Cupid.  Curator.  Accumulate.  Matriculate.  Articulate.  Speculate.  Innoculation.  Molecule.  Accurate.  Barbecue.  Calculus.  Obscure.  Procure.  Rescue.  Ridicule.  Secular.  Skewer. Vacuum,  Vascular.  Innocuous.  Mercury.  Excuse.  Occupy.  Mucus.  Binocular. Acuity, acupuncture (But no Y in:  coo, cool, coon, acoustic, cougar)

G:  Argue.  Singular.  Angular.  Regulate.  (But no Y in: guru, gooey, goofy, goose)

F:  Few.  Confusion.  Fuse.  Feud.  Fuel.  Fume.  Fuse.  Infusion.  Funeral.  Futile.  Refuge.  Refuse.  Diffuser.  Refute.  Coiffure.  Sulfuric, phew  (But no Y in food, fool)

V:  View.  Ovulation.  Interview.  (But no Y in voodoo)

H:  Huge.  Hugh.  Hue.  Humor.  Houston.  Human.  Humid.  (But no Y in hula)

L:  Value.  Cellular.  Volume.  Soluble.  Salutation.  Telluride.  Failure  (But no Y in salute, conclude, absolute, aluminum, lewd, illuminate) Notice that each word has a stressed syllable that ends in l.

M: Music.  Amuse.  Museum.  Mutant.  Mural.  Mutual.  Mule.  Mute.  Mucous. 
(But no Y in move, moo, moody)

N:  Continue.  Insinuate.  Venue.  Granular.  Manual.  Monument.  Minuet.  Sinuous.  Tenuous.  Tenure.  Annual.  Annuity (optional)  (But no Y is manure, nuclear, nude)  Notice that each word has a stressed syllable that ends in an N.


  1. He’s curious about how to do the computation.
  2. The deputy has a fabulous reputation at the tribunal.
  3. Everyone in the ambulance was confused.  Would he need his leg amputated?
  4. The levels of mercury are regulated in Houston.
  5. He refused to stipulate the requirements of his tenure in the interview.

When to use Voiced or Voiceless TH/th

When to use voiced or voiceless TH / th
1) In the initial position, the "TH" is voiced in "function words". This includes pronouns, articles, demonstrative adjectives, etc. The list is finite and not very long. They, them, their, theirs, the, this, that, these, those, then, than, though, although, thus, there, (therefore, thereby, etc.)
(Exception =  through)
2) In medial position, the "th" is voiced when followed by "er" or a final silent "e":  feather, mother, brother and breathe, teethe, seethe, writhe, etc. Note: "er" means the spelling, "er", not "or".
"author" is not voiced.   (Also, notice how well the rule works with:
south/ southern, north/northern.)
Exception = Katherine, ether, panther, anther,
3) Words with final thm are voiced: rhythm, algorithm, logarithm.   The following words have a voiceless th, silent th or alternate sound because the thm is not final or the spelling is “them” or “thom.”  voiceless th: arithmetic, anthem, xanthoma, birthmark, bathmat.  Silent th: Isthmian, Isthmus.  Z: asthma.   Exception = fathom (voiced TH)
4) "th" is final position is voiceless with one exception: "smooth".
5) Note:  I've come up with these rules through research and the input of other teachers.  If you find any more exceptions or know of other rules, please share.

Use the rules to determine how to pronounce the “th” in each of these words:

Th and TH list:

Together           Nothing           Thirst               Mother             Thursday
Those               fathom             Everything        These               Thing
There               Authority          Thin                 Then                 Thesaurus
Wrath               Bath                Katherine         ethereal             panther 
anther               algorithm         rhythm              bathmat             With                
Pathetic            Catheter          Faithful             Gothic               Lethal
Mathematics    Seethe             Teethe               Teeth                The     
Bother              Father             Mother             Leather             Feather
North               Northern          South               Southern          Atheist            
Author             Smooth             Myth                Either               Ether               
Isthmus             logarithm

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Rules and Examples for How to Pronounce -ng-

Rules and Examples for How to Pronounce -ng-

"ng" in a word can be pronounced -ng-, -ng-+-g-, -n-+-j-, or -ng-+-k-.  How do you know which one?

Ng: swing, swinger, swinging, ring, ringer, ringer, ringed, rang, rung, spring, sprang, sprung, springer, springy, springing, sting, stinging, stinger, string, stringing, stringy, hang, hanging, hanger, hangable, long, longness, long ago, fang, gang, gangster, king, pang, song, sing, sang, sung, singer, singing, tang, tango, tongs, tongue, tonguing, tongued, meringue, harangue, wing, wrong, wronger, wronging  (If a word ends in "ng" it is pronounced -ng-.  If a word ending in ng has a suffix, such as er, ing, ed, y, able) the pronunciation usually stays ng, and not ng+g)  exception:  longer, longest are pronounced ng+g.  Tongue, meringue, and harangue also end with the -ng- sound even though they contain "ngue"

Ng+g:  anger, anguish, finger, linger, angle, bangle, dangle, hunger, jungle, jingle, longer, longest, mangle, mingle, mongoose, kangaroo, flamingo, single, shingle, tangle, tingle, wrangle, bungalo, fungus, fungal, tango, strangle, bingo, Bengal, bungle, merengue, distingue (the syllable after the ng is not a suffix (but is part of the root) so you pronounce it ng+g)  exception:  longer, longest are pronounced ng+g

Either ng or ng+g: hangar, English, Singapore

N+j: angel, ginger, stingy, swinge, tinge, fringe, engine, lunge, singe, singer (that singes), tangent, tangible, manger, danger, ranger, stranger (nge#, nger#,ngen, ngible, and ngel are pronounced n+j)  # means the end of the word.

Either Ng+g or n+j: fungicide

Ng+k: stinker, funk, funky, junk, monk, monkey, tank, ankle, link, bank, extinct, function, uncle, sprinkle

Either Ng or Ng+k: function, extinct, angst, amongst

Thursday, May 9, 2013

new series of iPhone Apps for teaching American English Pronunciation

     Smooth English is releasing a series of iPhone and iPad Apps for teaching American English pronunciation and aural discrimination skills.  Check our App Store for new releases.  Each App will be targeted toward a specific language background because learners from different language backgrounds make different errors when speaking English.  Not only do they struggle with producing different sounds, but they make different types of errors for the same target sounds.  For instance, while a Vietnamese speaker may say -t- instead of the voiceless -th-, a French speaker would say -s- instead of the voiceless -th-,  That's why we are releasing so many versions of our App.  This way, learners do not have to waste time learning sounds they already know.

     Our first App was released May 8, 2013:  American English Pronunciation for Vietnamese.  You can watch my demo video.  I started with Vietnamese because from my teaching experiences, it seems that Vietnamese speakers have one of the highest levels of sound swapping stemming from their lack of exposure to the sounds of English.  Those growing up with the Vietnamese language never heard many of the sounds that exist in English.  If you didn't hear those sounds before puberty, it makes it much harder to recognize them and distinguish them from other sounds when you're older.  That's why Vietnamese adults who want to learn English need extra practice listening to the sounds of English. 

     But just listening to the radio or TV can be frustrating, and it doesn't give you feedback on whether you heard correctly.  With our App, you can listen to minimal pairs.  These are two words that are exactly the same except for the target sound you are working on.  For example, in one of my games:  you will hear "lap lab lab."  The user must determine which word was different.  It can be hard for Vietnamese speakers to hear the final voiced consonants.  If they choose the wrong answer, they can press replay over and over again until they hear it.  Plus, they will see the correct answer on the screen.  This is very focus listening practice with instant feedback that you can do anywhere, any time.  Even if you just have a minute, that's a minute of practice you can squeeze into your day while sitting on the train or between meetings.  Sound discrimination practice is best done for short ssession several times a day.

     Other activities on our App include listening to phrases that contain the target sounds.  Each sentence was recorded by native speakers of American English, using the proper rhythm and intonation of English.  App users can listen to the phrases repeatedly and pause to imitate the speaker.

     Party Room is a unique game where many words with the target sound are being said at the same time.  This simulates that feeling that the user is at a party with many distractions and multiple conversations.  Which words do you overhear?  Click on them to see if you're right!  This is a more advanced activity and requires very sharp listening skills.

     Our second release was American English pronunciation for Chinese.  It includes sounds not in the Vietnamese App, including -n- at the end of a word.  Did you near sleigh? or slain?  How about -ng- vs. -nk-?  Did you hear thing or think?

On June 3, 2013, American English Pronunciation for French was released.  It includes sounds such h, contrasted with no sound at all (hotter  vs. otter) and j contrasted with -zh- (a Cajun vs. occasion).

On June 13, 2013, we released American English Pronunciation for Japanese.  It includes -r- vs. -l-, -f- vs. --h-, -zh- vs. -sh- and -er-, among many other sounds.  Did you hear confusion or Confucian?  phone or hone?

     We've also released Consonant Clusters in English Pronunciation.  This particular App is designed for all English learners, regardless of language background.  It contains more difficult sounds that most English learners need to practice.  It includes the same activities as above for consonant clusters (such as -kch-, -ksh, kstr), consonant blends (such as -bl- and -thr-), past tense -ed- endings and plural or 3rd person singular endings -s-.   Listening to past tense vs. present tense is a very subtle listening experience.  Learners need all the practice they can get so they can understand and learn to produce the endings correctly.  The same goes for -s- vs. -z- endings.  Learners can thoroughly practice learning when to use -s- or -z- or -iz- at the end of a word.

     In designing these Apps, great care was taken in selecting the words to be recorded.  Words with target sounds at the beginning, middle and end of the word were all chosen.  Words with target sounds after and before a variety of other sounds were chosen.  This way learners can hear the sounds in as many environments as possible.  Sometimes, a learner can say -sh- after one vowel but not another.  This App will catch all possible situations and not leave the learner stranded.

     Let us know if you have any feedback on our Apps.  Please review us on the Apple Apps store, so others can find and use our Apps too.  Let us know how our App compares to others for honing your English sound discrimination skills.  Let us know if your confidence in hearing and producing all the sounds of English is improving.  We'd love to hear from you.  Look for Apps for Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, German and Russian coming soon.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Study Tips for Accent Reduction Students

1. At your lesson, pick 5-10 difficult words or phrases and write each on a sticky note.  Post the notes near your computer at work.  Then you'll look at them several times a day.  Look at them before you take a walk down the hall to the restroom.  Then practice saying them on your break.  After a week, check with your teacher or a native speaker how you're doing with each word/phrase on your sticky note.  Once you're doing it right, toss the sticky note.

2.  When you say a word or phrase that was misunderstood (you were asked to repeat yourself), write the word/phrase on a sticky note.  Then go ask a native speaker how to say the word/phrase.  Ask if you can record them using your smartphone.  Now you have the recording and your sticky note to remind you to practice!

3.  Check out some children's read aloud books from the library.  Practice reading them aloud.  Children's books are written in a way that sounds great when read aloud.  Some children's books come with audio recordings.  Read along, listen and imitate!

4.  Don't try to incorporate all the pronunciation rules you're learning into your everyday speech all at once.  Alot 5 minutes at a time to practice.  Agree with yourself that for this 5 minutes, while I'm talking to a colleage, I will just work on my linking.  Or for this 5 minutes, while I'm talking to a friend, I will just work on making all my -th- sounds clear.

5.  When you're listening to native speakers in person or on the radio or TV,  of course you need to pay attention to the content of what they're saying, but make a play to spend a couple minutes at a time listening for one fo the rules you're studying.  For example, for the next 2 minutes, I will listen for their disappearing H, or H elision.  Did he say, "She has her own house" or "She has er own house"?