English Language Lessons

Tips and training suggestions for learning English as a foreign language.

Archive for December, 2007

Accent Reduction and Clear Communication

Posted by englishlessons on December 27, 2007

English Skills Series

What do you say to a nonnative speaker of English who wants to get rid of his/her accent?

Accent reduction is a more realistic goal for nonnative speakers of English than accent elimination. The goal is to make speech more intelligible for effective communication. There are many factors that contribute to an accent in English. Incorrect stress can be an important contributing factor. Using correct stress in English is critical to being understood as English is a stress-timed language.

Placing the stress on the wrong syllable in a word in English can cause confusion. For example, the word “suburb” has two syllables, and the stress is on the first syllable. If the speaker stresses the second syllable of the word “suburb,” and says “suburb,” the listener may hear “superb,” a similar word with a very different meaning that has second syllable stress.

What are some ways to reduce an accent?

There are many ways to reduce an accent if English is not your first language. It’s good to use tools for structured and unstructured practice in English:

1. There are many options for unstructured practice. Watching films and listening to podcasts in English will build your listening comprehension and give you models for pronunciation. Whenever possible, talking with native speakers is great practice.

2. Our interactive programs, Pronunciation In English and Idioms in English, offer structured practice to improve both listening and pronunciation skills in English. Both programs focus on stress, intonation and rhythm in English. These interactive programs feature multiple native speaker models and immediate feedback on practice activities. The immediate feedback on answers guides users in correcting mistakes.

What else gets in the way of clear communication?

Sometimes, mistakes in syntax/grammar can cause miscommunication. This is true in spoken English as well as written English. For example, in the following sentence a mistake with the modal “would” makes the meaning unclear: “I would get back to you by the end of the business day.” The speaker meant, “I will get back to you by the end of the business day.” Targeting common mistakes in writing can translate to more effective communication in conversations and email.

What are some ways to improve syntax/grammar in English?

It’s good to work with tools for structured and unstructured practice.

1. An option for unstructured practice is reading for pleasure in English. It’s important to choose topics that interest you at a reading level that is not too difficult. Sometimes, people push to read material that is very challenging for them and then get frustrated and give up. Choosing reading material that is easier will keep you reading as it will be more enjoyable.

2. Our interactive writing program, Writing in English, offers structured practice to improve syntax/grammar in English. It focuses on common errors for nonnative writers of English. The interactive lessons and practices with immediate feedback on answers guide users in identifying and correcting common errors.

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