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The American Speech Music

The American Speech Music

25 Mar 2016 Mehdi Safavi

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A couple of days ago, a young man called me and asked if I could teach him how to speak more efficient English even though he was already at an advanced level of English! He said after living in the US for years, he was not able to make himself understood because Americans could not understand his accent.

One of the main differences between the way an Amercian talks and the way the rest of the world talks is that we don't really move our lips. So, when an American says, "Read my lips!" what does he really mean? We create most of our sounds in the throat, using our tongue very actively. If you hold your fingers over your lips or clench your jaws when you practice speaking American English, you will find yourself much closer to native-sounding speech than if you try to pronounce every... single... sound... very... carefully.

Intonation, or speech music, is the sound that you hear when a conversation is too far away to be clearly audible but close enough for you to tell the nationality of the speakers. The American intonation dictates liaisons and pronunciation, and it indicates mood and meaning. Without intonation, your speech would be flat, mechanical, and very confusing for your listener. What is the Amercian intonation pattern? How is it different from other languages? Foa egzampuru, eefu you hea ah Jahpahneezu pahsohn speakingu Ingurishu, the sound would be very choppy, mechanical, and unemotional to an American. Za sem vey vis Cheuman piplles, it sounds too stiff. A mahn frohm Paree ohn zee ahzer ahnd, eez intonashon goes up at zee end ov evree sentence, and has such a strong intonation that he sounds romantic and highly emotional, but this may not be appropriate for a lecture or a business meeting in English.


American intonation dos and don'ts

Do not speak word by word! Bob... is... on... the... phone. If you speak word by word, as many people who learned "printed" English do, you'll end up sounding mechanical and foreign. You may have noticed the same thing happens in your own language: When someone reads a speech, even a native speaker, it sounds stiff and stilted, quite different from a normal conversational tone.


Connect words to form sound groups.

This is where you're going to start doing something completely different than what you have done in your previous English studies. This part is the most difficult for many people because it goes against everything they've been taught. Instead of thinking of each word as a unit, think of sound units. These sound units may or may not correspond to a word written on a page. Native speakers don't say Bob is on the phone, but say [bäbizän the foun].



This lesson is taken from this book: American Accent Training by Ann Cook