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Polish your English pronunciation by focusing on “keywords.”

Home » Blog » Speaking Skills » Polish your English pronunciation by focusing on “keywords.”

Meet Eduardo, a financial manager whose English pronunciation could not be understood on the telephone. Eduardo had grown up speaking English that was intelligible in the country he was from.  But now, when speaking to the bank’s monolingual shareholders who reside in the midwest, his customers demanded that he speak  more clearly. To do this, he needed to slow down, improve his  pronunciation, and use correct English word stress.

To polish your English pronunciation, professionals should make up a list of frequently used keywords and phrases and focus just on these keywords. Keywords quickly identify who you are and what you do, the name of your company, your department or division and are the words you use most often, for example: “transaction, funds, collect, customer, and deposit.”

When Eduardo said the name of his department “Payable Through Accounts,” customers had  difficulty understanding him.  Polishing his English pronunciation, involved engaging his articulators: lips, jaw, tongue, gum ridge, soft palate,vocal cords and breath in a way that make it easier to be understood. English speaking listeners, especially monolingual ones, are attuned to  hearing certain word stress patterns that create a “melody” of English that is recognizable to them.  Without the melody, intelligibility is affected and communication breaks down. Speaking too fast makes speech difficult to be understood no matter what language you’re speaking and slows communication down rather than speeding it up. For this financial manager, dividing the name of  the department he managed “Payable through Accounts ” was the first step in making  words more understandable. To reference how syllables are broken down, use  www.dictionary.com or a regular dictionary. dictionary.com also provides a very handy app with a free portable dictionary, pronunciation guide, and audible pronunciation samples.

Word stress  in “payable” looks like this: “PAY uh bul.”  Stress on the first syllable “PAY” is created by  using greater energy or breath from the lungs to raise the pitch on the syllable, making the syllable longer, the vowel clearer and easier to hear.  The other two syllables represent unstressed syllables, less energy or breath and lower pitch. The rising and lowering of pitch levels with duration of sound creates patterns that are a rhythmic representation of words such as:

PAY uh bul  or    — – -        3 syllables    /pei ə bəl/

To allow a syllable to stand out or be more prominent, the surrounding syllables are spoken with less energy, shorter duration, lower pitch and less clarity. For speakers of languages that pronounce every syllable equally, not stressing a syllable requires getting used to. The “not” stressed syllable often sounds like “uh”  or /ə/. This unstressed syllable is part of  the word stress pattern so that the first syllable can contrast with the 2nd and 3rd syllable and stand out. Words that have the same word stress pattern as “PAY uh bul” are: AN i mal, EN er gy, POS si ble.

The pronunciation of  initial /p/ in English is spoken with aspiration which mean a little puff of air is released. Practice this by tearing of a piece of thin paper 1”x 5” and putting in front of your mouth when your say words that start with a /p/ like “pay, price, paper.”  The flap of paper should blow away from your mouth when “p” is spoken. In English, /b/ also is pronounced with greater emphasis on stopping air from being released from the mouth.   Spanish speakers tend to pronounce /b/ with softer articulation and less force to stop air from being released. The final /l/  in “payable”  (remember the “e” is silent) presents a hidden sound (the vowel that is not seen) but is an important feature of all final /l/ words such as “feel, coal, real” that increases intelligibility.

THROUGH   —         1 syllable      /thru/

English spelling patterns also make matters worse.  Speakers look at this word and think they must pronounce every letter. How do  you pronounce “ough” anyway?  Once they know that the “gh” is silent and “ou” is only one vowel sound, not two. They’re  only working on /th/ and /r/ and /u/: three sounds, that’s it!

For “through” we also had to work on the /th/ sound which is unfamiliar for most speakers of languages other than English. Few languages possess this sound. The /th/ sound is said with a continuous flow of air over the tongue and with the upper teeth resting on the tongue.  Many speakers find this feels very unnatural; they feel self conscious about having their tongue be so visible as they speak. With practice, speakers begin to feel more relaxed about pronouncing  the /th/ sound and soon use it regularly in words such as: “three, think, thing, that, and thanks.”

ACCOUNT    -  —   2 syllables     /ə  kownt/

Word stress for “account”  is made up of an unstressed syllable then a stressed syllable. Greater energy or breath fuels the second syllable and makes it stand out! In addition, speakers needs to clearly pronounce the first /k/ and last /t/ consonant sound for “kownt”.   Speakers whose native language does not pronounce final consonants at the end of words or syllables will need to practice articulating final consonants as they are critical to determining meaning in English and to being understood.

So Eduardo’s department name  “Payable Through Accounts”  sounds like this:

/PAY uh bul  thru ə  kownt/

From the keyword list he compiled, Eduardo had other vocabulary words to work on and with his success at polishing the pronunciation of his department name, he was determined to continue improving his English pronunciation. Focusing on the English pronunciation of  keywords  is a way to boost your ability to communicate and conduct business more successfully.  Whether you are speaking with customers or preparing to make a presentation to shareholders,  mastering the pronunciation of your profession’s most frequently used words is a way to ensure that you are able to confidently deliver your message and control business communication.

2 Comments
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