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8 Ways to Sound More Like an American When You Speak English

As the founder of a company that provides corporate language training, I work with lots of international professionals who have relocated to the U.S.

Many of these professionals have studied English extensively. They even have experience using English at work. But then they run into problems when they come to the U.S. That’s because they haven’t talked much with U.S. English speakers before. They may have never realized before that they have a strong accent when speaking English. But now their accent is causing communication problems at work. Others are having trouble understanding them. Their confidence wanes, and they start giving less input in meetings because so many people ask them to repeat what they’ve said.

Most of our clients have been working in a corporate setting in the U.S. for 5-plus years. They have not asked for support because they fear that it would make them seem as if can’t do the job. But that’s not true. Admitting you want to improve shows your strength.

My company helps these professionals improve their accents. We point out the pronunciation mistakes they didn’t realize they were making. Their reaction is always the same: “Why didn’t someone tell me this before?”

Today, I want to share some advice for pronouncing English more like a native U.S. speaker of the language. You may have never heard some of these tips before. But following them will help you reduce your accent when speaking English.

1. says

You might think that the word “says” is pronounced just like the word “say,” but with an S on the end. That’s not the case, though. The most common pronunciation of “says” in U.S. English is “sez.”

2. would, should, could

In each of these words, the L is silent. “Would” sounds like the word “wood” — like the wood from a tree. Also, listen to how native speakers use this word. Most of the time, they use the conjugation. For example, “I’d like” and “I would’ve eaten.”

3. salmon

This is another case where the L is silent. To pronounce “salmon” correctly in U.S. English, say the name “Sam” and then add “mon” — as in the first syllable of the word “money.”

4. thumb, tomb, comb

In these words, the B is silent. (Yes, silent letters in English are a real pain!)

5. “schwa” words

The “schwa” sound is the most common one in the English language. It’s also the most mispronounced sound!

Think of schwa as the sound Americans make when they are thinking: Uhhhh.

For example, in the word “intelligent,” the second I is pronounced “uh.”

6. t + y

When one word ends with T and the next word starts with Y, Americans will often run the words together, making a CH sound.

For example, “Don’t you agree?” is often pronounced “Don-chew agree?” Of course, it’s not incorrect if you pronounce “don’t” and “you” as distinct words. But you will sound more like an American if you are able to run the words together.

7. d + y

This tip is similar to the last one. When one word ends with a D and the next word starts with a Y, it turns into a J sound. Pay attention to this the next time you watch a U.S. show on Netflix. No one is saying “Did. (Big breath.) you?” They are saying “Di-jew?” Again, the first pronunciation isn’t wrong. But the second one is easier to say. And you’ll be able to flow through the words with more ease.

8. Drop some syllables

One thing that makes you stand out as a non-native English speaker in the U.S. is carefully pronouncing every syllable of some common words that U.S. speakers typically compress. For example, despite how the word “comfortable” is spelled, you won’t hear U.S. English speakers pronouncing it “Cum-for-tuh-bull.” Instead, their pronunciation sounds more like “Cumf-ter-b’l.”

Here are a few more examples:

  • Interesting – In-truh-sting
  • Different – Diff-ruhnt
  • Every – EV-ree
  • Family – FAEM-lee

I hope these tips will soon have you speaking English more like a U.S. native. To keep improving your accent, be sure to get plenty of conversation practice with your U.S. colleagues and friends and to pay attention to how English is spoken in what you read and watch.

Written by Micah Bellieu for EnglishClub February 2019
Micah Bellieu is the founder and CEO of Fluency Corp. Based in Dallas, Texas, Fluency Corp has provided language training to clients including Google and Samsung.

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