This follows up on the previous posting drawing on edited excerpts from an interview with Voice to Word Director and Trainer, Heather Chetwynd, and Trainer Mark Prince. This interview (which can be heard in full on our resource page)  focused on pronunciation for Chinese clients and, in this part, Mark and Heather discuss issues related to home practice, language at home and native-like pronunciation.


INTERVIEWER: We think the pronunciation is so difficult but now we can break it down – group it in small steps and then go one by one. So then becomes easier.

MARK: That’s right. And the key is exercising. You can take one single exercise or, as I like to call them, tools. Our job is to provide professionals with tools, show them how to use them effectively and then basically just send them on their way and say, “Go ahead, now use that tool. Try to use it as frequently as possible and, hopefully, there will be some change in behaviour.” So exercising is really the key. It’s up to the professional. We put an enormous emphasis on how you exercise and how often you exercise.

HEATHER: And it doesn’t stop at the end of the course. It has to keep going.

INTERVIEWER: For how long should one practice?


INTERVIEWER: Years means two, three or more?

HEATHER: It depends on a lot of things. It depends on the ability of the person, it depends on how much they actually focus, how much they’re open to change, how set in their ways they are, how long they’ve been speaking English, and so on. And also, do they live in English? If they don’t live in English, it’s harder. If they go home and speak their native language and all their social life is in their native language, it’s really hard to change and it’s just so easy to slip back.


MARK: That’s right. And to that point about switching, a lot of people in our community go home and they don’t speak English and that presents challenges, as Heather says. Part of what we do the course is develop awareness and emphasize the importance of awareness. And if you are switching from one language to another on a day-to-day basis, that awareness is there to help you understand the difference between the habits you have in your native language and the habits that you could adapt in your second language, in English, and to know the difference between those two things, and to have a very  heightened awareness of that as you go from one to the other.

HEATHER: I think it’s good to speak your own language at home with your family. I’m not recommending you don’t do that but I am that recommending that people have friends who speak English and that they socialize in English and try to integrate it into their life outside of work because if you only work in English and nothing else, it’s very limited. And it won’t stick very well.

MARK: Often the conversations we have at work can be repeated or similar in some way. I think what Heather is suggesting is that we look at a variety of conversations that we can have as opposed to just work conversations.


INTERVIEWER: Many Chinese people get frustrated when they hear that we cannot speak like native speakers. We will never reach that level because we are already adult, if you have not started before certain years, or twelve years old, you can never reach that goal.

MARK: And that’s not unique to Chinese speakers, that’s something that’s shared by people from all over the world who don’t speak English as their first language.

INTERVIEWER: And you think it’s true, this saying?

HEATHER: Well, basically I don’t think it’s impossible to come very close to speaking like a native Canadian, for example. But I think it’s very unrealistic and almost impossible. I think that someone who is highly, highly skilled with really good audio abilities and a lot of focus and puts a lot of work into it may be able to come close. I’m going to give you an example of someone – he was a native speaker of English from Jamaica.  And he came here and he learned —  he had accent coach because he was a radio announcer…  So he could sound almost Canadian on the radio but when he was off the radio he couldn’t speak like that. It took him about 18 years before he could actually talk like that and that’s a native speaker.

So it’s not easy, it’s very difficult. And what’s the point, really?  If you want to be able communicate well, it’s much more related to stress, intonation and just clarity which is really important. I’ve seen with Chinese people, for example, Chinese who speak pretty well in English but they feel Canadian, they feel North American, it’s much more the style that they have and they’ve taken on the culture in a lot of ways; they don’t have any problem getting jobs. It’s the other ones where we can feel the difference, their cultural expression is very different. And so people see them as foreigners. It’s not the accent that people react to necessarily as long as they’re clear. It’s actually the way they behave which I think is much more relevant when you’re getting for a job and making friends.

MARK: And you know as an actor, I can understand how challenging it could be to have a completely different sound, so much so that it is native sounding, because sometimes I sense that people feel that it needs to come from me and if I use this Canadian accent then I will be putting it on and faking it. And as an actor, I can understand that because faking it is not what you want to do. It needs to come from you, it needs to be your voice, your words and your ideas. And that’s really important in our work, too, making sure that we find comfort levels for all of our clients so that they feel like they can replicate these sounds socially and comfortably, and appropriately, too. And it’s a matter of striking that fine balance, it’s based on the individual. Some people like to take risks. They’ll say; “Yeah, I’ll try that. I’ll put that on and see how it feels.” Other people, they might just want to take baby steps to that. And so you have to appeal to that sensibility in the individual.