Welcome to American Accent Training. This book and CD set is designed to get you started on your
American accent. We'll follow the book and go through the 13 lessons and all the exercises step by
step. Everything is explained and a complete Answer Key may be found in the back of the text.
What Is Accent?
Accent is a combination of three main components: intonation (speech music), liaisons (word
connections), and pronunciation (the spoken sounds of vowels, consonants, and combinations). As
you go along, you'll notice that you're being asked to look at accent in a different way. You'll also
realize that the grammar you studied before and this accent you're studying now are completely
Part of the difference is that grammar and vocabulary are systematic and structured— the letter of
the language. Accent, on the other hand, is free form, intuitive, and creative— more the spirit of the
language. So, thinking of music, feeling, and flow, let your mouth relax into the American accent.
Can I Learn a New Accent?
Can a person actually learn a new accent? Many people feel that after a certain age, it's just not
possible. Can classical musicians play jazz? If they practice, of course they can! For your American
accent, it's just a matter of learning and practicing techniques this book and CD set will teach you. It
is up to you to use them or not. How well you do depends mainly on how open and willing you are
to sounding different from the way you have sounded all your life.
A very important thing you need to remember is that you can use your accent to say what you mean
and how you mean it. Word stress conveys meaning through tone or feeling, which can be much
more important than the actual words that you use. We'll cover the expression of these feelings
through intonation in the first lesson.
You may have noticed that I talk fast and often run my words together. You've probably heard
enough "English-teacher English"—where ... everything ... is ... pronounced without having to listen
too carefully. That's why on the CDs we're going to talk just like the native speakers that we are, in a
normal conversational tone.
Native speakers may often tell people who are learning English to "slow down" and to "speak
clearly." This is meant with the best of intentions, but it is exactly the opposite of what a student
really needs to do. If you speak fairly quickly and with strong intonation, you will be understood
more easily. To illustrate this point, you will hear a Vietnamese student first trying to speak slowly
and carefully and then repeating the same words quickly and with strong intonation. Studying, this
exercise took her only about two minutes to practice, but the difference makes her sound as if she
had been in America for many years.
V Please listen. You will hear the same words twice. Hello, my name is Muoi. I'm taking American
You may have to listen to this CD a couple of times to catch everything. To help you, every word on
the CD is also written in the book. By seeing and hearing simultaneously, you'll learn to reconcile
the differences between the appearance of English (spelling) and the sound of English
(pronunciation and the other aspects of accent).
The CD leaves a rather short pause for you to repeat into. The point of this is to get you responding
quickly and without spending too much time thinking about your response.
Accent versus Pronunciation
Many people equate accent with pronunciation. I don't feel this to be true at all. America is a big
country, and while the pronunciation varies from the East Coast to the West Coast, from the southern
to the northern states, two components that are uniquely American stay basically the same—the
speech music, or intonation, and the word connections or liaisons. Throughout this program, we will
focus on them. In the latter part of the book we will work on pronunciation concepts, such as Cat?
Caught? Cut? and Betty Bought a Bit of Better Butter; we also will work our way through some of
the difficult sounds, such as TH, the American R, the L, V, and Z.
"Which Accent Is Correct?"
American Accent Training was created to help people "sound American" for lectures, interviews,
teaching, business situations, and general daily communication. Although America has many
regional pronunciation differences, the accent you will learn is that of standard American English as
spoken and understood by the majority of educated native speakers in the United States. Don't worry
that you will sound slangy or too casual because you most definitely won't. This is the way a
professor lectures to a class, the way a national newscaster broadcasts, the way that is most
comfortable and familiar to the majority of native speakers.
"Why Is My Accent So Bad?"
Learners can be seriously hampered by a negative outlook, so I'll address this very important point
early. First, your accent is not bad; it is nonstandard to the American ear. There is a joke that goes:
What do you call a person who can speak three languages? Trilingual. What do you call a person
who can speak two languages? Bilingual. What do you call a person who can only speak one
Every language is equally valid or good, so every accent is good. The average American, however,
truly does have a hard time understanding a nonstandard accent. George Bernard Shaw said that the
English and Americans are two people divided by the same language!
Some students learn to overpronounce English because they naturally want to say the word as it is
written. Too often an English teacher may allow this, perhaps thinking that colloquial American
English is unsophisticated, unrefined, or even incorrect. Not so at all! Just as you don't say the T in
listen, the TT in better is pronounced D, bedder. Any other pronunciation will sound foreign,
strange, wrong, or different to a native speaker.
Less Than It Appears ... More Than It Appears
As you will see in Exercise 1-21, Squeezed-Out Syllables, on page 18, some words appear to
have three or more syllables, but all of them are not actually spoken. For example, business is
not (bi/zi/ness), but rather (birz/ness).
Just when you get used to eliminating whole syllables from words, you're going to come across
other words that look as if they have only one syllable, but really need to be said with as many as
three! In addition, the inserted syllables are filled with letters that are not in the written word. I'll
give you two examples of this strange phenomenon. Pool looks like a nice, one-syllable word,
but if you say it this way, at best, it will sound like pull, and at worst will be unintelligible to
your listener. For clear comprehension, you need to say three syllables (pu/wuh/luh). Where did
that W come from? It's certainly not written down anywhere, but it is there just as definitely as
the P is there. The second example is a word like feel. If you say just the letters that you see, it
will sound more like fill. You need to say (fee/yuh/luh). Is that really a Y? Yes. These
mysterious semivowels are explained under Liaisons in Chapter 2. They can appear either inside
a word as you have seen, or between words as you will learn.
Language Is Fluent and Fluid
Just like your own language, conversational English has a very smooth, fluid sound. Imagine that
you are walking along a dry riverbed with your eyes closed. Every time you come to a rock, you
trip over it, stop, continue, and trip over the next rock. This is how the average foreigner speaks
English. It is slow, awkward, and even painful. Now imagine that you are a great river rushing
through that same riverbed—rocks are no problem, are they? You just slide over and around
them without ever breaking your smooth flow. It is this feeling that I want you to capture in
Changing your old speech habits is very similar to changing from a stick shift to an automatic
transmission. Yes, you continue to reach for the gearshift for a while and your foot still tries to
find the clutch pedal, but this soon phases itself out. In the same way, you may still say
"telephone call" (kohl) instead of (kahl) for a while, but this too will soon pass.
You will also have to think about your speech more than you do now. In the same way that you
were very aware and self-conscious when you first learned to drive, you will eventually relax
and deal with the various components simultaneously.
A new accent is an adventure. Be bold! Exaggerate wildly! You may worry that Americans will
laugh at you for putting on an accent, but I guarantee you, they won't even notice. They'll just
think that you've finally learned to "talk right." Good luck with your new accent!