This follows up on the previous 2 postings 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 the specific pronunciation challenges faced by Chinese clients and share some success stories.


MARK: One thing that I like to talk about at the beginning of my classes is some of the fundamental differences in the way in which we enable different muscle groups and different parts of the mouth and the head to make the sounds. And some of the fundamental differences that I notice between the two, well, whether you are talking about Cantonese and Mandarin in English is the fact that we will use much more lip movement, or forward movement, in English that might not be as frequent in Cantonese or Mandarin. Similarly, when it comes to accent, there’s usually a great deal of focus on continuing the voice throughout. Meaning that in English we tend to keep the voice production going and don’t stop that vocal production. Whereas if you’re talking about a language, particularly Cantonese, the voice can stop frequently throughout the phrasing.

HEATHER: There are a couple of other issues and one is linking. Instead of saying each word separately and stopping at the end. Chinese will often let go at the end of the sound. So they’ll say ‘the last-uh time.’ Instead of ‘the last time’. So it’s the “uh” which is the extra sound. And they’ll do it so much in the sentence that when we listen — our mind in the back is counting syllables, unconsciously — and, if there is an accent issue also, it’s really hard to understand sometimes because there are so many extra syllables and their mind can’t figure it out. So that’s related to linking.

MARK: (Referring to the /aw/ vowel of BROWN) This is something that always comes up with the class. That has a lot to do with the movement of the lips that I mentioned earlier or inversely the dropping of the jaw which can be very frequent in the Chinese voice. And so when the jaw drops too much in this particular sound, then we lose it. And we don’t quite get that — it comes across as ‘brawn’ or ‘brong.’ Also we don’t have very many nasal or throat closing sounds and so when we hear that frequently, it changes the quality of the sound and we don’t quite get it. And so where we might hear ‘brong’ with the closing throat at the end, it’s an oral sound, in fact it needs to come through the mouth as ‘brown’ and that’s one of the things that is constantly coming up and of course, anything that rhymes with brown — for example “downtown” — can be very challenging. It’s something that we cannot quite get. That will have an impact on somebody’s ability to be understood.

HEATHER: You are also talking about different dialects. So for example depending on where you’re from in China, you might mix up N and L, right, that’s a big one. And S and SH. L and R are a big issue. L and R are the typical ones that everybody knows. And W and V, that’s also a very common one.

MARK: Again, depending on your region. Some people are very successful and others’ not so much.

INTERVIEWER: Details? Can you specify?

HEATHER: I think the Southern Chinese seem to have issues with S and Sh. Isn’t that right?


HEATHER: I’m not sure about the N and L.  I can’t remember where that comes from. L is everybody. But not everybody says L like an N. And some people do, it’s the same thing, they can’t hear the difference between N and L. And that’s the nasal thing you (Mark) were talking about also, that sound coming through the nose instead of through the mouth.

MARK: One thing that comes up in our classes is actually a lot easier than you think. And very often when we get to that topic in class, you get the trepidation, the nerves: “Oh, we’re going to look at the L!” We just need to kind of relax and do it, so we do a lot of relaxation and things like that to help people facilitate the sounds.

HEATHER: Also I’m going to say that a lot of people don’t move their face at all.  And so what you get is a lot of sound like this, it’s all at the back of the throat and it’s very unclear instead of it coming forward, and the movement, you can see I move my face a lot more, the upper part of my face.

MARK: Right, cheeks and lips are engaged quite a lot in English sounds and so that movement of physical vocabulary that we have there is very articulate and so we might just have more muscle articulation and specification going on in those areas that Heather identified. And so that’s one of the approaches that we take when looking at some of these sounds.


INTERVIEWER: Can you give some examples on your success with students?

MARK: I can give you two examples and I’ll start with somebody we were talking about earlier. He works in the food, health and safety industry and this is somebody who worked in the CPAC program when Heather was instructing at that time and who came here to Voice to Word who worked on speech refinement and communication refinement one-on-one after the CPAC course.

This person was Cantonese-speaking. She was from Hong Kong. And she found a tremendous amount of benefit in both Heather’s class and the course that she took here because she was able to build on her skill and take her speech delivery – such as pronunciation and other aspects of speech like rhythm and intonation – and build on those to then look at conversation skills. Conversation skills are things that involve the ability to negotiate, the ability to compromise, handling objections, how to ask questions and probe as well to find out more about people, all sorts of conversational skills that are culturally appropriate here in Canada.

She found that the skills she gained from both courses were tremendous because she was able to then deal with her clients better. She found that when she put the phone down it was: “Ah, that went really well, that conversation. I managed to solve that or I found a solution or I was able to put an end to that conversation.” Sometimes there’s closure that needs to take place, some kind of agreement. And so she found that she was able to do that a lot more and in a culturally appropriate way. And so we thought that was great.  (Listen to this client talk of her experience at our February 2012 Anniversary Celebration)

Also, not a Chinese client, but a French client – in fact, he has just been awarded the most successful immigrant in Canada in 2011. And his industry is communications, computer communication, IT. But of course, his success was because he was able to gain promotions in management positions and we all know that as soon as we get to management positions, our speaking skills become tremendously important.

HEATHER: Actually, I have two new students that I’ve been asked to train through a company. They’re both Chinese, one is Chinese Vietnamese and the other one’s Chinese. It’s the same situation. They’ve been promoted but they have some issues with clarity,  speech clarity, speech pronunciation, but also approach, like how to say things. And the cultural thing comes in there because of the fear of giving feedback to superiors, not wanting to say what you think to someone who’s at a higher level.  And the other person is, actually she needs to be giving presentations and she’s not got good rhythm, she doesn’t stress things properly so it’s hard to listen and focus on what she’s saying. We’re just starting but right from the beginning, it was really interesting to see that one of them has been here for 20 years and she didn’t think there were any cultural issues until we actually started delving   into them and then she went: “Yes, actually you’re right. I don’t give any feedback to my bosses.” And she wants to be able to do that because that’s expected here. And she just held back. A lot of times it’s because of language but it’s also culture and sometimes you think it’s language but actually it’s a cultural thing, the hierarchy. So she’s working on that.

HEATHER: One of the big things that I think we work on is building confidence because if you don’t understand me, it’s your fault. If I don’t understand you, it’s your fault, right? That’s what you think, right? Because you have that insecurity and not being sure how to do it. And I don’t because it’s my native language. So a lot of times, people come just for that feeling of lack of confidence. They just don’t know. And they don’t know how to improve it. So it’s the two things. They don’t know: Is it a problem with their communication? And if it is, what can they do?

MARK: And awareness, as well. Confidence, awareness, that really comes out of it. You know, everybody seems to get that from the programs, even if it’s hard for them to identify what has changed, they can usually say: “Well, now that that I’ve taken this course, I feel much more aware of what’s going on and I feel much more confident about what I’m doing.” And so those two things are usually present at least.