“Why is ‘of’ Pronounced ‘uhv’? WHY?!”: Perspectives from Your Accent Modification Tutor

face_expression_surprise-1090238Ah, yes, the really sensible “why” questions about all the things in English that defy rules, guidelines, intuition, and frustrate accent modification students to no end. Often, when I start teaching accent modification to a new student, and I witness their frustration at the lack of reasoned guidelines, I have an urge to apologize for the strain of it all. I really do understand it, being a secondary speaker of print-to-speech logical languages like Spanish and French. And sometimes I do apologize, wincing, “Yes, I’m so sorry. It makes no sense.” And I nod into the student’s shock and dismay at what they’ve been saying “wrong” for twenty-five years, as if I’ve just told them that there are no rules anywhere about anything that matters.

And we know this “unruliness” of English is everywhere the student is or wants to be: in verbs, in nouns, in adjectives, at work, in friendships, on the phone, in person, in job interviews, in hopes, plans, and in the future. The unruliness is in casual or relaxed speech, and in formal talk. It’s everywhere, indeed.

Here is an interesting thing to consider, though, around the illogic of English pronunciation: Although it produces plentiful “uh-ohs,” embarrassed look-backs, and a sense of trickiness, it also pushes all students’ minds to stay wide open in listening and gathering information. It keeps the mind and the ears yawning wide. And, if there is a curiosity about it, which we encourage, the unruliness can be met with great expectation and humor. In real fact, some of the great enemies of learning anything are lock-down, predictability, dread, and caution, while some of the greatest friends of learning anything are openness, curiosity, a touch of whimsy, surprise, and enjoyment.

So I encourage Accent Modification learners this way: Try not to take these revelations like a sucker punch, but like a kooky kind of gift. A gift that you have opened up, and exclaimed, “Wow! That’s wonderful! Thank you! I’ve always wanted one of these! How great! What is it?!”

Indeed, that gift is the numerous ways of pronouncing “oo,” and “ea,” and “ough.” It’s “good” and “food.” It’s “bead” and “head.”  It’s “tough,” and it’s “cough,” and “through.”  And, yes, it’s “what!?” pronounced as “wuht!?” And these gifts, these challenges, keep the student the merest bit off-center, the merest bit off-balance, which requires the student to pay close attention or risk toppling. If the student pays close attention, they will sip up all sorts of unruly examples in an ordinary day.

Sure! Here’s what it is: It’s “of,” “bargain,” “create,” and “know” (versus “now”) among piles of other gifts. Open them and…..enjoy!

© 2015-2019 Helen Kobek and helenkobek.com. All rights reserved.

 

Accent Modification: Your Brain Takes Up the Cause for You!

brain-5It happens with movie stars’ names, and it happens with the accent modification process. Okay, let’s start with the movie star: You’re trying to think of the name of a famous actress in a movie you just saw. You’re thinking, “She played the main character, she’s famous, in lots of movies, big smile…good grief… I can’t believe I can’t remember her name…” You think about it actively for about ten minutes, and then, frustrated, you give up, thinking, “Oh, well. It’ll come to me.” AND YOU’RE RIGHT! It WILL come to you! YOUR BRAIN DOESN’T GIVE UP!!! Your brain, frankly, doesn’t like ambiguity one bit.

At an odd time, OUT OF THE BLUE, like at 2 o’clock in the morning, or the next day while you’re having a lively conversation with someone about, say, the best fertilizer. And you shout, “JULIA ROBERTS! IT’S JULIA ROBERTS! Oh yay!” And you know, quite profoundly, that YOUR BRAIN NEVER GAVE UP ON THE PROCESS OF FIGURING IT OUT FOR YOU. Sure, the person you’re talking with about fertilizer won’t have a clue what Julia Roberts has to do with fertilizer, but, once you explain what just came to you, they’ll recognize the phenomenon. We all recognize the phenomenon: The brain takes up the cause.

That’s how accent modification works. The brain KEEPS working at the issue even when you’re not doing it actively. Once the brain knows what it needs to work on, it does it. It works between lessons. It works nights and weekends. It works while you are thinking about other things. The brain likes to makes things clear, so when you have decided to work on your accent, and we assess and go towards new sounds, the brain TAKES UP THE CAUSE.

Sometimes we will be working on a specific speech context (say, “r” in a consonant blend) and I notice something else that we needn’t focus on, but is important for you to get to work on. I’ll commonly say, “I’d like us to give this to your brain to work on. Don’t worry about.” And I explain what I think the brain would do well to take up the cause on, and your brain goes off and does it. It’s kind of like multi-tasking, but more truly brilliant. And next lesson, the student comes in, having made progress on that matter, without consciously working on it!

It’s a wonderful thing, really. And it’s based on real neurobiology, and on good, ongoing, repeated assessing of your speech, along with focused, clear, creative teaching, and an interactive learning process. Working together, all three of us: You, me, and your magnificent, active, lively brain.

I look forward to helping your brain take up your cause: being understood all the time!

© 2015-2019 Helen Kobek and helenkobek.com. All rights reserved.

 

English Pronunciation Training Goals: Should You Modify or Should You Eliminate?

change-948008_960_720“I want to have no foreign accent at all. Help me eliminate my accent!” I often hear new accent modification students say. It makes sense that anyone who has trouble being understood would think they need to get rid of their non-Standard American accent in order to be understood, but it’s really not true at all. You can be understood all the time and still have your accent, your culture, your own voice.

In fact, everyone has an accent. So there’s no such thing as eliminating an accent. We all speak, and we all speak in our culturally-trained way, or even in a modified way. But we all have an accent. And I love and appreciate different accents – accents reflect who we are, where we come from, what our lives are like. A variety of accents in our world makes this world more interesting, from where I sit. Indeed, the idea of living in a world in which everyone sounds the same seems rather dull to me! But we will work together to modify the accent you have.

So, as we move along in accent modification (English pronunciation) lessons, we emphasize working on the priority sounds that make you understood, tweaking the sounds that get in the way. We assess as we go along, we shift our techniques as you improve. And you do improve – in a short period of time (usually a couple of months), you will notice people are asking you to repeat yourself less and less. People are asking you, “Where are you from?” as their first question less often.  This change is heartening for students. Your confidence builds. You know that, when you speak, engage, start conversations, it will be easier and easier.

Of course, if you absolutely must get to a place of sounding Standard American (perhaps you aspire to be a radio announcer with certain characteristics, or your workplace insists on it), we can get you there, too. This is a personal choice, which I support the student to make. And, commonly, a student starts accent modification lessons wanting to eliminate rather than modify, and then changes that goal as they notice improvement in communication with others. And, conversely, sometimes a student starts wanting to modify toward being understood, becomes heartened by their progress, and decides to move their goal towards the Standard American accent. Both are infinitely doable. The latter (moving to a fully Standard American English accent) does take longer – up to two years.

Whatever your choice, I’m here, with decades of experience, to help you reach your goal.

© 2015-2019 Helen Kobek and helenkobek.com. All rights reserved.