“An accountant at our company says she studied pronunciation previously. Unfortunately, her speech is still unclear. How can she get what she learned into her day-to-day speech?”
1. Develop a short pronunciation practice habit – piggyback it on a habit you already have
2. Keep a list of words & phrases you commonly use at work to practice with – use post-it notes
3. Choose a pronunciation focus for a specified period – specific vocabulary or sound, etc.
4. Use a timer when practicing – don’t rush; focus on establishing the new habit
5. Add words, creating short phrases that make sense – integrate thought & pronunciation
You’ve invested in accent modification training. It is not only a significant monetary investment but also a considerable time investment. And you may feel squeezed for time. You resentfully block off a few hours on your days off, Saturday and Sunday, but during the week, you are having difficulty prioritizing your homework. This is a common problem for many professionals, especially these days with endless Zoom meetings and restructuring resulting in heavier workloads. My clients often start our sessions off by saying they had no time to practice. But speaking more clearly is vital to their professional and personal success. If only there were more hours in the day! If only you could see some progress!
Taking training without practicing can lead to minimal improvement. This is frustrating for the employee, the manager who requested it, HR who has set up the program, etc. And if you see little progress, it is demoralizing. But establishing an effective, practical and doable approach to home practice will make all the difference and support you in moving what is studied into a new pronunciation habit.
- Develop a daily pronunciation practice habit
How can you make your pronunciation practice more effective? How can you get what you learn into your daily speech? One of the most effective approaches is to develop a daily pronunciation practice habit. You don’t need a lot of time. Five to 15 minutes a day is better than two hours on the weekend. Daily repetition is key and especially earlier on in the day. This is because as the words and sounds you practiced in the morning come up during daily conversation, your brain clicks in, reminding you to pay attention to the pronunciation.
“But I don’t have time in the morning!” you say with exasperation. Everyone can find 5 minutes. Get up five minutes earlier. Do it right after you brush your teeth and while you are still in front of the mirror so you can watch your lip movement. Or find another already established habit to “piggy-back” the new habit on. (‘Piggyback’ means to carry someone on your back but here it is used idiomatically, meaning to attach the new habit to an old one which makes it easier to remember and do daily.)
- Keep a list of words & phrases you commonly use at work to practice with – use post-it notes
You’ve learned how to make a specific sound, perhaps the V-W contrast or the B-V contrast. You can read words and phrases using the correct pronunciation. But once you look away from the handout, you say “I did that very vell.” Or “I did that berry well.”
This is normal. Learning how to produce a sound is not the same as using it in your speech. When you are reading, you see the letter and that reminds you of the sound. And you are not creating meaning – the words are right there in front of you, put together by whoever produced the handout. In contrast, when you speak, your brain is distracted by your creative thought process and doesn’t focus on a new skill which is not yet habitual.
One way to jog the brain while it creates phrases is to drill common word combinations that you use daily. Make a list of words and phrases you use at work that include what is being learned. Then practice them daily, first simply the words, then adding logical words before and after. To remind yourself of vocabulary you use frequently, write the words on post-it notes and stick them up on your computer or somewhere you will notice them regularly.
- Choose a pronunciation focus for a specified period – specific vocabulary or sound, etc.
For professionals learning to adjust their accent and speak more clearly, there is a lot to learn. In addition to individual sounds – the TH-Z contrast for example, or the difference between BIT and BEET – you learn how volume and pitch affect clarity, how to combine sounds which are beside each other in a phrase, how to reduce vowels, and many other aspects of clear speech. It can feel like pronunciation overload!
Spending time on what you study is critical, but it is also important to choose a focus for your short daily practice habit. I suggest selecting specific vocabulary you plan to use in an upcoming presentation, for example, or a sound you struggle with that is interfering with your clarity. Decide to work on it for at least 5 minutes a day for a specific time frame – perhaps for a week or maybe 10 days. Then you can switch to another area of focus. Over time, you can rotate between new and old sounds and vocabulary, gradually developing greater awareness and skill while forming new habits.
- Use a timer when practicing – don’t rush; focus on establishing the new habit
When developing a practice habit, keep it short. The shorter the time, the easier it is to keep it regular and not skip a session. But if you are doing this in the morning, a feeling of time pressure can interfere with your focus. For this reason, I suggest using a timer – your phone, an app, a physical timer, whatever works for you. Know that you have five minutes, set the timer and begin your session. Be careful not to rush. This practice must be done slowly and with attention. You do not have to finish anything; you just need to produce the sounds correctly and clearly. Using a timer allows you to almost fall into a meditative state and focus your ‘flashlight’ clearly on the skill you are practicing.
- Add words, creating short phrases that make sense – integrate thought & pronunciation
Finally, I believe this is the most important step towards integrating a new way of speaking into your day-to-day speech. This is the process of practicing the integration of creative thought with new speech habits. As mentioned earlier, it is one thing to know how to make a sound and quite another to be actively using the new way when communicating with others.
Clearly, when we are expressing ourselves, when we are communicating ideas and thoughts, we use our creative expression which involves paying attention to WHAT we say rather than HOW we make the sounds. We need an intermediary step which allows us to practice this integration. This is done by using the practice words and phrases and adding complementary words that make sense. Short bite-sized phrases allow for repetition and prolonged focus on the sounds being reviewed.
Developing the practice habit is important since language training and improvement is a lifelong process. It is easy to fall back into the habits we have from our native language. Developing the practice habit will support ongoing learning and improvement long after you have stopped your weekly accent reduction sessions.
Please contact me with comments, suggestions, ideas for new blog posts and interest in training. I welcome your input.