Accent Reduction: 3 Steps to Finding your Challenge Sounds

What are Challenge Sounds?

Do you experience “Challenge Sounds”?  Non-native Speakers of English sometimes encounter difficulty pronouncing specific English speech sounds. When accented speakers encounter this, for our purposes, we will call these “challenge sounds.”  These challenge sounds are English speech sounds that consistently give you trouble.  They are sounds that are not in your native language.

How to Identify Challenge  Sounds

As a non-native English speaker, you can learn your challenge sounds by tuning in to the responses of your NATIVE English-speaking COMMUNICATION PARTNERS.  When your communication partners show signs that they don’t understand, take mental (or even written) notes.  To review direct and hidden requests that communication partners may be making for you to repair communication breakdown, see the FREE Master your Accent: Master your Life Success Kit.  Notice what words your partner has trouble understanding.  Then see if there is a specific sound in the word that is “challenging.”

3 Steps to Finding your Challenge Sounds

  1. Ask your communication partner if the word she heard sounded like a different word.  This may give you insight into the specific speech sound that is challenging.  For example, if your communication partner says “I didn’t understand what you said,” you can ask, Can you tell me what information you DID understand?  This not only gives you clues on where the breakdown specifically occurred. It also gives you the opportunity to REPEAT the information and then ask “Is there a specific word that you noticed I said inaccurately?” Your communication partner may say, for example, “When you said “voluntary,” it sounded like “woluntary.”  You’ve identified that there is a difference in your pronunciation and the native English pronunciation.  You replaced the “v” with a “w.
  2. Once you become aware of a word that is pronounced inaccurately, you can start a word list containing your “challenge sound.”  You can then use these words with your accent modification specialist during training.  When you are interacting with native English speakers, continue to ask the question “Is there a certain word you heard me say inaccurately?”  You can then ask “How did it sound when I said it?”  See if there is a pattern to your pronunciation.
  3. Continue building your Challenge Sound word list.  Write down the words as you hear them in your every day speech.  Are you consistently replacing a specific English speech sound with another native English speech sound?  Are there OTHER English sounds that you are replacing? Do you say “d” instead of voiced “th” as in the word “this?”  Do you say “dis” instead of “this?”  Start writing words you hear or say that have “th”.  If we are following the examples in this article, you would have a “v” list and a “th” list.

NOTE: The voiced “Th” is a common challenge sound for speakers of:

Amharic, Arabic, Burmese, Cantonese, Catalan, French, Czech, Dutch, Farsi, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Ibo, Ilokano, Indonesian,  Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malayalam, Malyasian, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Taiwanese, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese, and Yoruba.

“V” is a common challenge sound for speakers of:

Canton, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Hungarian, Ilokano, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Malayalam, Malaysian, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, and Urdu.

In summary, add to your accent modification toolbox by beginning the search for your “Challenge Sounds”.  Bring your Challenge Sound word list to your next accent modification session.  Your accent reduction specialist will be able to support you in mastering the English pronunciation of these Challenge Sounds.

If “th” is one of your challenge sounds, view the American English Voiced “Th” Instruction and Practice Video.  The printed article for this video is at Master the Voiced “Th”.

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