Learning to adjust your accent is a lot like learning to play an instrument. We need to fine tune listening skills, exercise muscles that aren’t used much, smooth out transitions between sounds, add dynamics, etc. And, very importantly, it takes focus, repetition and more repetition.
All of us have developed patterns of speech. The tongue tends to relax into one position; it tends to make contact with certain areas of the mouth and not with others; it likes to move in some ways and not others. We habitually hold our jaw in a particular manner; we move our lips in set ways; the range of volume and pitch we use is dictated largely by linguistic patterns appropriate to our native language.
When we attempt to change our accent, all this needs to be re-learned.
While, in many ways, learning an instrument is similar to learning a new accent, in this article, I’d like to focus on one aspect – transitioning between sounds.
TRANSITIONING BETWEEN SOUNDS
If you have ever studied guitar or piano, you will know that when you move from one chord to another, at first you almost crawl to the next position, slowing placing the fingers in the correct place. It takes time at first so there is a gap between each chord. The usual approach is to practice just that particular movement until you can move between one position and the next seamlessly.
If you imagine the chord being the tongue position for a certain sound, transitioning between sounds can be practiced in the same manner. For example, moving into TH from different positions can be difficult. To pronounce the word MONTH, we need to move seamlessly from N to TH. We make the N by placing the pad of the tip of the tongue on the ridge behind the teeth. And we make the TH by placing the tongue at the tip of the upper teeth and blowing. So rather than making the N, stopping and then placing the tongue in the new position to make the TH, we need to practice that transition itself. This transition happens within words but also between them.
Once you have isolated the transition causing difficulty, practice that movement alone. In this case, it means moving between N and TH using the least effort possible. Once you feel you can do it slowly with no gap, then find words and phrases that have that transition. So some examples are ANTHEM, ENTHUSIASM, LABYRINTH, etc. Then practice the same transition between words: IN THE, ON THOSE, WIN THAT, etc. Finally, put these words into short phrases and try to maintain the same seamless transition.
- The cards are IN THE drawer.
- Put the label ON THOSE boxes
- I’d like to WIN THAT prize.
Using this methodology can help to retrain your habitual movements so that your language is smooth and, therefore, easier to understand.