Some American-English sounds are challenging for speakers who don’t call English their first language. Do you want to know why? Did you ever wonder why it’s so hard to use an American accent when using English as a 2nd or 3rd language? Because each of English’s 26 letters doesn’t represent only 1 sound in Standard American English.
Let me explain: Take the vowels for instance. There are 5 vowel letters in the English language. A E I O U. Do each represent a single sound? Heaven’s no! Guess what? There are 16 vowel sounds in American English! All represented by only 5 vowels. No wonder it’s the hardest language to learn to pronounce!
Watch Ita Olsen in this video: 3 Amazing Tips to Sounding Smooth in Standard American English
Pronunciation Pitfalls in the American Accent
There are a few sounds that can be a great hindrance or a great asset to your getting your message across. They are below. Once you master them you’re well on your way to sounding Standard American English, feeling comfortable communicating in all situations, and not having people follow up with, “Where are you from?“
The following are the top pronunciation pitfalls & their solutions.
American Accent–The Flap Sound
This sound is made by lightly & quickly touching your tongue tip to the alveolar ridge (bumpy spot on the roof of your mouth behind your teeth) When do we make the flap sound? A lot! Whenever a t, tt, d, dd comes between 2 vowels in running speech! Not just in a word.
When you see the D (We’ll use the D to represent the flap sound, ok?) make sure you’re moving your tongue quickly & lightly over the alveolar ridge.
Try this aloud:
- butter –> buDer
- Robert is using the computer –> RoberDis using the compuDer
Look for the terms & phrases in your own life where you need to be using the flap sound and start to practice. It’s fun!
American Accent–The Doctor Sound
This is the sound the doctor asks you to make to see your throat. It’s an American favorite. You’ll find it peppered throughout the language, often in disguise!
Look at the word, “doctor.” There are 2 letter “o”s. Are they pronounced the same? Heyl no! The first “o” is pronounced like the “ah” the doctor wants you to say. The reason they choose that sound is because it causes your tongue to go down in your mouth really low thereby giving them a good view of your throat. If they ask you to say the “oo” sound your tongue will be in the way & they won’t be able to see your throat! 🙂
Let’s try these:
- common –> kaamin
- marketing –> maaerkiDing (it’s got the doctor sound & the flap sound!)
- Tom –> Taam
American Accent–the ER Sound
Another American favorite. Contrary to what you may have been told, this sound is not made by pursing your lips. You have to curl your tongue back inside your mouth. The resonance must occur inside your mouth.
But please remember that many “er” sounds are not emphasized in English as much as others. For example, in “mother”, “father” and “brother” the “er” sound should be very short & quiet. Only when the “er” is in a syllable of primary emphasis as in “work” or the first “er” of “burger.”
Apply the American Accent to Your Life
You’ll want to practice my examples, then you’ll want to get these sounds into your life. It’s not hard to do. Just give some thought to some of the terms & phrases you use regularly & practice them with the correct pronunciation.
There are a few more very common pronunciation errors for the American Accent & we’ll go over them over the next couple of weeks.