In this podcast I interview Pronunciation expert Georgina Taylor – from . Georgina is a speech pathologist and has an amazing online course to help students perfect their pronunciation.
Here are 3 quick tips to get started:
- Slow down. -This improves pronunciation, accuracy, and coherence.
- Volume. -Try to speak a little bit louder, you will help the examiner understand what you are communicating.
- Mouth position. -Look at a good speaker and try to copy them, become aware of your own problems by looking in the mirror.
In this podcast we learn:
A technique to centre your attention on HOW to say the words rather than WHAT to say.
One phrase to practice every morning (this phrase contains the most important sounds in the English language).
How to improve your pronunciation at home.
Why you should learn in this order: 1. The sound, 2. The word, 3. The word in the sentence.
What Spanish, Farsi and Mandarin speakers should do to improve their pronunciation.
Have a listen .
Then go and check out and sign up to watch the 5 free training videos!Click to read transcript
You’re now listening to the IELTS Podcast.
Today I’ve got a pronunciation expert and she’s from Australia. She’s a speech pathologist. I’m very pleased and she’s joining us from Star Pronunciation. Very good course, I’ve heard, for students who want to improve their pronunciation. So that’s starpronunciation.com.
Ben: Welcome to the podcast, Georgina. How are you?
Georgina: Thanks, Ben. I’m really well.
Ben: Great. Okay. Could you just tell us a bit about yourself and about your qualifications and about Star Pronunciation as well?
Georgina: Absolutely. So look, basically, I did a course in speech pathology where we learn all about pronunciation and also communication. And after my course I specialized in accents and English pronunciation. And I worked with people one-on-one for around 10 years. All people from non-English speaking backgrounds who wanted to speak English more clearly.
Some of the students found that they were unclear and some of them just wanted to neutralize their accents so they sounded more like an English native speaker. And most of the time they wanted to do this for work purposes, or for improving their pronunciation for IELTS score and for study.
So I did that face-to-face for around 10 years, which was fantastic. I did it in groups, and I did it individually. And a couple of years ago, I had really long waiting list. And I had a lot of people ringing me from other parts of Australia, or New Zealand. And people saying “I want to come and take your training.” And I thought it’s time to move all of our training online.
So I spent a couple of years. It took me a lot longer than I had originally planned. It took me over 2 years to move all of our programs onto the internet and onto video training tutorials. So basically I’ve created different courses for speakers of different languages because for pronunciation it’s really important that you have training that is specifically for your need as a speaker of a certain language. So people who speak Mandarin will do a different course to someone who speaks Russian or Korean, for example.
So we’ve been doing that for a couple of years now and our students are mainly based in Australia or in the U.K. but they’re all around the world as well. And we’re getting great feedback and it’s really exciting. And we have email contact and phone contact with our students as well. So that’s what we’re up to.
Ben: Wow that sounds great. Fantastic. That’s awesome. And while you were talking you said something about neutralize the accents. That sounded interesting. Can you just expand a bit on that, please?
Georgina: Yeah, sure. So basically some people, when they are learning English, find that they have difficulty pronouncing some sounds in English. And also maybe have difficulty with the rhythms and stresses, and this gives them a really strong accent. And I find that that’s making some of their speech unclear. So some people are asking them to repeat themselves or just sometimes they’re getting a blank look. And they can tell that the listener has not easily understood them.
So those people who want to lessen that accent and become more clear, and that’s basically about neutralizing. So we’re bringing people more towards making their speech more like an English native speaker. So it’s easier for listeners to understand.
Ben: I see. Do you have a system or a procedure to bring it in-line to bring it nearer to a native speaker?
Georgina: Yeah. So I guess the first step always an assessment or helping the student understand which areas of their pronunciation need to be changed. In fact, in English there’s `quite a few areas that are really important for speech clarity. And they are weight of speech, volume of speech, the way that you move your mouth. There are also the sounds that are really really important. So vowel sounds and consonant sounds, and also the stresses and rhythms and the way that we use the pitch and tone of the voice in English.
So I guess the first step is really working out which areas of the pronunciation does the student need to change or need to correct in order to make them more correctly. So definitely, that’s the first step. And then after that, there’s definitely systems we need to help the student make the sounds and the speech patterns correctly. And then we give them loads and loads and loads of practice, and way to get confident with using their new speech sound and new speech patterns. While they’re practicing but most importantly while they’re out and about in their everyday life or in an IELTS exam.
Ben: Right. Okay, I’ve got 2 questions. The first one: You said that there were quite a few different areas for English speakers… Sorry… non-native speakers who want to speak English. I think the first one you said was it rate, or speed, or pitch. Which one was it? You made a list. You said…
Georgina: The first one that I ever talk about is rate or speed of speech.
Ben: Just as a general tip. Would you recommend speakers who are having difficulty being understood, just to slow down? That’s a good technique to start off with from the base, yeah?
Georgina: Yeah. Absolutely. And I often have students that speak quite quickly and they might do this as they speak quickly in their first language or they might be doing this to sound more fluent in English. And often when non-native speakers speed up, their pronunciation changes a little bit. So what happens is their vowels become shorter and their pitch becomes even flatter. And their pronunciation gets a little bit worse.
So I do often recommend for people to slow down and take their time. And often they will find that their pronunciation improves. But often other things improve too. Like their grammar and word choice. So my first port of call, the first thing I check with the list, “Are they using a good rate of speech, or are they speaking too fast?”
Ben: Right. Yeah. I’ve discovered similar things because here in Spain, the locals, especially the region where I live, they speak incredibly fast in their own language and they try and maintain the speed when they speak in English. And it ends up really really difficult to understand. Because as you said, the vowel sounds they change. The word choice isn’t the optimum word choice. And it becomes really stressed and it’s really difficult to understand them. So the first part of call I used, tell them to slow down. It’s exactly what happens, just what you said. The word choice increases and the clarity improves, and then altogether the whole message can be understood. The communication improves.
And the second part of call. Which one’s the second part of call? The first was speed, alright? And then the second?
Georgina: The second one that I usually check is volume. So I’m making sure that the person’s using a voice that’s loud enough to be easily understood. Some people, when they’re speaking in English, kind of lack confidence and they might make their speech a little bit quieter. And often students say to me “Oh, when I don’t know a word in English. I just say it really quietly and hope that their listener will understand.” That’s the worst thing that they can do. So really they need to give the listener all the help that they can, and slow it down and say it clearly, and give the listener time. So using a good volume is so important. And these are things that are important for native speakers too. Obviously speaking too fast and speaking not loud enough is really a problem. If you do speak quietly, lots of practice using a louder voice.
Ben: Yes. It’s got so many more advantages if you just speak louder. You’ll be more confident and it’s clearer. It’s more effective as well. And the third point? Which was the third point?
Georgina: So the third point is the way that you move your mouth when you speak English. So I often find that non-native speakers will use a mouth position that’s similar to their first language. So I have a lot of Mandarin speakers, for example, or Japanese speakers, or Russian speakers, they use a very closed mouth position.
Now this is a problem because in English, we have a lot of open sounds. We have sounds like “o” and “a” and “eh” and “ow” that need us to open and move our mouths. If you try and make those sounds without moving your jaw, it means that they’ll be quite unclear.
So I always say to people, “Move your mouth, start to open and double check that you are moving and opening your mouth because if I spoke English this, with my mouth closed… So I’ll just repeat that. If spoke English like that with my mouth closed it’s really unclear. And I found a lot of them are actually doing what we call mumbling. So that’s a really easy, quick thing that people can do to improve.
Ben: And I imagine they could do this by looking in the mirror and seeing, and physically checking if they are opening their mouth to the sounds.
Georgina: Absolutely. Yeah. Definitely.
Ben: And a good teacher as well would spot that they have to ask the student to open their mouth, and just spot that their mouth is closed while they’re speaking.
Georgina: That’s right. Yeah. Absolutely. So checking in the mirror is a really good idea and all. So I encourage students to pick a native English speaker that they think speaks really well. So it might be Barrack Obama or somebody that speaks really well. It might be a news reader. And have a look at their mouth. You’ll notice that you can often see their tongue inside their mouth. And that’s what we’re aiming for. Good opening and good movement of the mouth.
Ben: I see. And in your course if you found that a student had that specific problem, do you give them a list of words to read and to pronounce until it’s perfect? Is that how you would word?
Georgina: Yeah. So really what we do, is we give students some sentences and things to practice, and words. But in our course, we tend to identify which vowels are difficult for the student, and we encourage them to practice opening and moving their mouths while they’re working on these other areas as well. So yeah, definitely we look at listening and repeating, and becoming more of those is definitely something that’s part of the course.
Ben: Could you just give me like the top 3 mistakes if I give you maybe 3 or 4 nationalities. If you could give me the top 4 mistakes and how they could improve that? Would that be okay?
Georgina: Absolutely. Yeah, that sounds good.
Ben: Awesome. Great. Okay, let’s go. Let’s first start with Spanish speakers.
Georgina: Yes. Sure. Okay. So Spanish speakers? I do get a bit excited so I might give you more than 3 or 4, sorry. But really, Spanish speakers… Most of my Spanish speakers I would be encouraging to work on word stress. So where we put the emphasis in a multi-syllable word in English. Spanish speakers tend to use very flat pitch or flat tone. So they would tend to make words quite flat. In English, we need to stress one syllable and that’s so important for speaking clearly. If you use flat word stress, it means that the listener would have difficulty understanding you. So that would be one area I that I definitely recommend for Spanish speakers.
Ben: Sorry to interrupt Georgi. Could you give me an example?
Georgina: Sure. Absolutely. So let’s take the word for example, “necessary.” A Spanish speaker would tend to put even stress on each syllable. They would say “necessary.” So the stress sounds like duh duh duh duh… duh duh duh duh. Now when a native speaker says that, we put all of the stress on the first syllable, “necessary.” So the stress sounds like this: Laa la la la, “necessary.”
Now some people might find that hard to hear. It does take a little practice to take the pitch of the voice. And this might be something that students have never thought about before. But it is hugely important for speaking clearly. It’s actually one of the most important areas that affect how well, how easily native speakers recognize a word.
Ben: And a good way to teach this would be to exaggerate it when you actually speak it?
Georgina: Yeah. To become more aware of the up and down of the voice when native speakers are speaking. And also, really focusing on where the emphasis is in multi-syllable words. You can use the International Phonetic Alphabet in the dictionary to check that. But listening to the music of English is really really helpful for improving your word stress.
Ben: A teacher just a while back. She said she spoke about the song of English. That’s how she described it. She studied music and she’d realized that English has a certain song to it.
Okay. So what was another area for Spanish speakers?
Georgina: So another area would be, say, vowel sounds for example. Spanish speakers. In Spanish, there are only short vowels. So you’ve got “o” “a” as an example. Now in English, we have vowel “o.” So often… Which is a double vowel. So the vowel “o” actually has 2 mouth positions. It has “o” and then “oo.” If I join them together, it makes the vowel “o.” Like in the word “phone.” Now a native speaker of Spanish would often say “fon,” instead of “phone.” So they use a short vowel there instead of a double vowel.
Georgina: That’s… Yeah. Vowel sounds are important.
Ben: Sorry. Can I just check? With “o” you said there’s 2 sounds. There’s “o” as in “Oh my God,” for example.
Georgina: Well that would be the double vowel. That would be the diphthong. So the sound “o” in “phone” can be broken down into 2 parts. The first part is “o” with an open big circle of the lips. And the second part of that vowel is then “oo.” So the lips move from “o” to “oo.”
Ben: And then a third point that Spanish students…
Georgina: A third point? Sure. Would be say for example the sound “v” like in the words “very” and “victor.” So many Spanish speakers confuse the sounds “v” and “b.” So they might say “bery” instead of “very.” Or they might say “Nobember” instead of “November.” So that would be a third area that would be a problem for Spanish speakers.
Ben: For Farsi speakers?
Georgina: Sure. So for Farsi speakers, again, they tend to use quite flat stress or incorrect stress. So for example a Farsi speaker might say “product” instead of “product.” They would tend to use incorrect stress in a lot of English words. So I would be recommending and helping them to use correct word stress and correct stress across the sentence.
They also make some of the long and double vowels in English too short. So for example the double vowel “a” which is the vowel “ai” and then the vowel “ee” smoothly joined together. They would tend to make shorter. So in a word like “pain” it might sound a little bit more like “pen.” So I would be working on some vowel sounds with them as well.
And the third area often Farsi speakers have difficulty with the sounds “v” and “w.” So where the Spanish speakers confuse the sound “v” with “b,” the Farsi speakers confuses the sounds “v” and “w.” So they might say “wery” instead of “very,” or they might say “avare” instead of “aware.” So they confuse “v” and “w” there. They would be 3 of the things that I would work on amongst other things, with the speaker of Farsi or Persian.
Ben: Right. That’s interesting. And the final group I’d like to ask you would be Chinese.
Georgina: Right. Great. So we have a lot of Mandarin and Cantonese speakers in our courses. And again, they tend to… word stress and sentence stress is a really important area. Often, Mandarin speakers have learned at school where the stress is in a word. But they haven’t has a lot of practice with actually using it. So they have the knowledge there, which is great. They know often where the stress is in a word. But when it actually comes to using it, they often use stress that’s a little bit flatter than a native speaker.
So they might say a word like “realize,” they might say it more like “relize.” Very flat. So I would be working with them on improving their pronunciation of word stress and the use of sentence stress.
Vowel sounds as well. They often have difficulties with the diphthong vowels “a” and “o” like with other speakers. But often the vowel “e” is a little bit too short as well. So they might say things like “spick” instead of “speak,” and “wick” instead of “weak.”
Yeah. And with regards to consonant sounds, often they have a little bit of difficulty with word endings. So pronouncing with endings in their words. And most speakers of Asian languages do often to improve this a little bit.
For example, a word like “bike.” They might say “bike.” Or a word like “face” they might leave the end sound of and say “fay.” And this often means that they have difficulty making past tense endings correctly. So they might say things like “work” instead of “worked,” or “miss” instead of “missed.” So word endings is another area as well.
Ben: Yeah. The word endings is incredibly important. Because if you get that wrong, you get the tense wrong, and it’s going to damage what you want to say, incredibly.
Georgina: Exactly. And these are.. It’s often a really obvious mistake to people when people don’t use correct word endings, and also correct past tense endings, and correct plural endings. If people leave those off it’s very obvious. And it makes the speaker… It can leave a poor impression of somebody’s English skills.
Ben: Yeah. So it’s even more important in the exam situation.
Ben: Okay. Is there a way a student can get that under control so they don’t make these mistakes?
Georgina: Yeah. Absolutely. There are lots of things that you can do. And I think the first step is really becoming very aware of your pronunciation. It’s really important to get to know your own pronunciation. Start to listen very carefully. Most people up until a certain point have really been focusing on what they’re saying, not how they’re saying it. So I really encourage people when they make the decision “Okay, pronunciation is something I need to work on.” They really need to start to focus on how they’re speaking, and how they’re making sounds, and using the pitch and tone of their voice. So that’s the first thing they should do.
There’s quite a few things that they can do improve that. And one of them is recording their own speech. I do recommend that people record their speech and listen to it, and become more familiar with the sounds that they’re making or not making, so they can really get a feel for what areas of pronunciation they have difficulty with. And at this point a lot of my students say, “But I record my speech and I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know what to do next. I can’t hear my errors.” And I’ve actually created a tool on our website where people can record their speech and compare it to a native speaker. So that might be helpful for people.
Ben: And when they do that comparison, is it a visual comparison? Was it like a chart or is it just an audio comparison?
Georgina: So it is at this stage, an audio comparison. So what the student will be doing is recording each sound in English by itself, and in words, and listening to the native speaker. And I think it’s really helpful at this stage to actually just use audio. I find a lot of students rely on visual things, whereas; really for pronunciation, yes it is about the movement of the mouth. But when we’re getting to know pronunciation when we’re asking you to become aware of listening to your errors. It is important to really focus on the audio and how it sounds, in order to then understand which areas you need to improve.
Obviously, when it comes to changing that you will need some visual help, and definitely you’ll need to be able to see somebody else’s mouth to get the right positions of the mouth and tongue. But when it comes to actually becoming aware of “Hey, what am I doing? What do I need to change?” I think we need to focus on “What does it sound like?” And that’ll really improve your listening skills as well.
Ben: Yeah. I was going to say it’s good training for your ear as well, for your audio skills. Which is extremely important when you’re learning any language.
Now another point you said… I think it was around the time you said… you were talking about neutralizing the accent. You also mentioned that they need lots and lots and lots of practice. So recording themselves and doing the comparisons. Are there any other ways a student could practice to get their pronunciation up to scratch?
Georgina: Yeah. Absolutely. I think the biggest when you’re working on improving your spoken English is to try to speak as much as you can. Often when I ask students “What are you doing to improve your spoken English?” They say things like “Listening to podcast, watching T.V., watching movies…” Now, that’s all great. But you need to speak if you’re going to improve your spoken English. So really, my first step is always to say “Try to increase the amount English that you’re speaking every day.” Increase it by 15 minutes, half an hour a day.
Even if you’re speaking out loud to yourself. That’s a really good start. Because a lot of people say “I don’t have anybody to practice with. I don’t have any native speakers I can just go and chat to.” Well, that’s okay. Speak out loud to yourself. And what I do recommend is that… I think with pronunciation it is important to realize that you probably will need some specialized help in the area.
There’s obviously lots of things you can do to improve your pronunciation. Whether it be YouTube videos, books and CDs or whether you choose to do a comprehensive online course like ours. These are things. But really what you need to be looking out is finding something that gives you lots and lots and lots practice and lots of ideas for how you can become confident with using your new speech skills. Not just when you’re sitting in front of the computer practicing, but also when you’re out in your everyday life, speaking to your friends and your colleagues, and also practicing for IELTS exams.
Ben: Great advice that. Thank you Georgi. That is great. I’ve just got a few other questions now. Do you know of any powerful drills a student could do? Like maybe a list of words or something like that, which they could just do constantly to get all those words under control?
Georgina: Sure. There are… Basically I have 1 drill that I suggest that everybody does in the morning to get their mouths moving for English. So it’s really more something to help get their mouth into English mode. I think that it’s really important with English to… before doing drills… to improve vowels and consonants. I think you need to really have some good teaching to make sure that you’re making the sounds correctly and make sure that you have the awareness to check that you’re making them correctly, before you just start repeating lists and doing listen and repeat exercises.
So my drill that I recommend that everybody does in the morning when they wake up… Listen up all of you Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian speakers, Japanese speakers, and speakers of Slovak languages… They really need it. I recommend that when you get out of bed in the morning, you say this sentence 5 times opening and moving your mouth, and your lips and your jaw. I recommend you say:
“I saw sixty-six farmers laughing on the phone.”
Ben: “I saw sixty-six farmers laughing on the phone.” Right.
Georgina: Excellent. And if you moved you mouth really well then, Ben. I could hear you’ve been moving your mouth. You’ve got all the sounds “sixty-six.” So we need to work… In English we need to be good at making consonant sound one after the other. And a lot of Asian speakers of Asian languages would find that challenging. So for example a Vietnamese or Thai might say, “sicty-sict” or they might say “sic-sic.” They tend to have difficulty making consonants cluster one after the other. So really feel the sounds as you say it and open your jaw and your mouth. “I saw sixty-six farmers laughing on the phone.” You should feel your jaw opening. Try it in front of the mirror and make sure that you’re opening and closing your jaw.
But as for drills on specific sounds, you really need to be making sure that you have the mouth position for the sound correct, before you go using it in a drill or doing listen and repeat exercises.
So there’s a few steps involved that I would recommend that people take before they start practicing words and sentences in drills.
Ben: The steps would be: First, get the sounds of the consonants and the vowels under control. And then possibly progress into sentences and words. But it would be in that order. First the sounds then the words. Not at the same time, or?
Georgina: No. Think of it like going from crawling to running. So words are broken down into smaller sections called sounds. If you’re getting the sounding correct, we need to correct your position first. Say, for example it is the sound “v” that you’re having difficulty with. We need to make sure that you’re 100% confident with how to position your mouth to make the sound “v” then we would put that into a word.
Practice it in a word because that’s the next step. And then we need to practice it in a phrase. And that’s often a big jump for people. Often, they can make it correctly in a word but when they go to put it into a phrase or a sentence, wow, things go back to where they were before. So really, they need to take each step and work up the ladder there. And often we find a problem that people… or something that’s not right that people do is when they’re practicing pronunciation, they might just practice the sound in a word. And over and over a word. And they expect that when they’re out in their IELTS exam, that they will be able to say it correctly in free speech.
Now, you know, there’s quite a few steps in between there. We need to practice study in phrases, we need to practice studying sentences, we need to practice studying free speech then. So there are few steps involved. It’s not as easy as just understanding the sound.
Ben: Okay. I see. It’s like a lot of things. If you… Once you get involved, once you get deeper into the subject, you realize there’s a lot more components than appears from outside. And the way to get control of this is to break it down into its tiny components and take it step-by-step instead of jumping to the obvious. Just break it down and get the basics under control, and then build from that good foundation.
Georgina: Absolutely. And that’s why I often recommend that students choose 1 or 2 areas to work on first, with their pronunciation. So identify 2 areas or 1 that they have difficulty with, and work on that first. I think some people try and work on lots of things at the one time, and that’s just too much. Changing pronunciation does take quite a lot of practice. So as you said, breaking it down into smaller steps is really important.
Ben: Yeah. It takes a lot of practice but the return on investment is incredible because suddenly you are understood and your effectiveness in communication maybe goes from 60 to 80/90%. Also, the way you speak and the pronunciation, it tells a lot about the person you are as well, I think.
Georgina: Absolutely. Yeah. And I think one thing that we keep hearing from our clients is that it really affects confidence. If people are not confident with the way they’re pronouncing, it affects the way that they speak and the way they communicate. We really find that when people improve with their confidence with speaking, it really is quite life-changing. It has a big effect and they find as they grow in confidence, and everything gets easier.
You think of how many times you speak during the day, and if somebody is worried every time that they speak whether they are going to be understood or not, and they let confidence with their pronunciation. It just has a huge effect. So yeah, that’s right. It really makes a massive difference.
www.starpronunciation.com. And we do have 5 free video tips which we’d love you to sign up to. It’s a really great starting point for people who are wanting to start to think about these areas and start to improve their English pronunciation and speech clarity. So you can do that at our website. Sign up for the 5 free tips, and email me anytime if you have any questions.
Thanks for listening to dichvugiadinh.info and remember to leave your email for updates.