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Crash Course in American English Pronunciation & Slang: Interview With Anthony from AmericanAnthony.com!

by Robby on April 15, 2012

Speak English Like an American

I’ve been fascinated with all things American since my childhood and it’s also one of the reasons why I started learning the English language at the age of 10.

To this day, however, I haven’t mastered the American English pronunciation and I don’t think it’s that important for me personally.

Well, considering that I’m living in Ireland it’s hardly surprising I wouldn’t find a practical application for an American accent! :grin:

Anyhow, I haven’t made it my goal to speak with a near-native Irish English pronunciation either. You see, I’ve been struggling with my English fluency for years and I’ve actually found that when I try to speak with a native English accent, it may have a detrimental effect on my ability to speak English fluently.

Having said that, I often speak with different English accents when I’m on my own. And, truth be told, I’m getting better at it! Still, when I’m speaking with others in real-life, I revert back to my normal foreign accent because it’s easier for me to speak that way.

Many foreign English speakers, however, aspire to adopt a certain native English accent such as British or American, and many of them are very successful in doing so.

If your dream is to sound like natural American speaker and you believe it’s what you have to do, there’s a person I’d like you to meet – Anthony Krese!

American Anthony

He’s an English teacher and on his website called AmericanAnthony.com he focuses on teaching foreign English speakers American slang and accent. In other words – he makes foreigners sound like native American English speakers!

In many ways mine and Anthony’s approach to English learning and improving is very similar. We both understand that real-life English is different from the one you’ll learn in textbooks. We also realize that plenty of foreigners lack in the department of socializing skills when it comes to speaking in English in informal settings.

And while I believe that my foreign origin is actually an advantage when it comes to advising other foreigners on overcoming English fluency related issues in terms of mental aspects, Anthony has a natural edge of being a native English speaker when teaching how to speak like an American.

Therefore I think it’s only fair that I turn to a professional for advice on how to speak with an American accent so that we all can learn some new tips and tricks and take Anthony’s advice on board!

So let’s get started!

Anthony, here’s the first question for you…

1. Where in the States are you from? I noticed you speak with a specific accent when I checked out video lessons on your website – do you mind telling us what is your accent called? Also, which one of the American accents is the most popular one among foreigner English speakers? The Californian one, maybe?

I’m from Michigan. So you may hear hints of a Midwest accent. I’m not sure which accent is the most popular, but I’d say foreigners are probably most familiar with Midwest accents. These accents are all slight variations of Standard American English. For example, President Obama has a Midwest accent.

2. Taking into account the ongoing globalization and Americanization, do you think American English could be considered to be the standard version of the English language? Surely if the majority of English learners learnt to speak with an American accent, they’d be understood anywhere in the world!

Without trying to sound arrogant, I think American English is the de facto Standard English at this point. Not because it’s better, but it simply has a wider reach due to Hollywood and the American music industry. Therefore, it’s probably the most recognizable and easy to understand for the majority of native and non-native English speakers.

3. How easy or difficult is it to learn American pronunciation? Personally I find it difficult to speak freely with a different accent than my own. What is the key to be able to switch over to American or start speaking with an American accent for a foreigner?

The key to improving pronunciation is listening and repeating over and over. Little by little, you’ll build muscle memory of the particular sounds, stress, intonation and irregularities of the American accent. Therefore, it’s probably more useful to think about it as a process and not something you can switch on.

Whether or not it’s difficult is relative to the learner. If you don’t mind repeating a task over and over, then you’ll probably find improving your pronunciation isn’t so hard. If you like more theoretical study, then you’ll probably find practicing pronunciation tedious and difficult.

4. What are the basics of mastering American English accent and pronunciation? Are there any basic sounds, mouth, lip and tongue placements or any other technical tricks that ensure student’s success as an American English speaker?

The main areas accent (or pronunciation) coaches focus on are vowel / consonant sounds, stress, intonation and reductions.

Many of the technical “tricks” are used to improve the production of vowel and consonant sounds. For example, many people struggle with the American ‘r’ sound. The “trick” here is to round your lips and push them forward (as if you were going to blow a kiss). Most students tend to spread the lips and pull them back.

5. What nationality students you deal most with? Are there any particular challenges they’re facing when mastering American slang and accent?

I’ve taught mostly Asian students, in particular Japanese. Without getting too technical, the Japanese language is often characterized as more monotone than English. Of course, the students carry over this “flat” accent into English. Also, English has more intricate tongue, teeth and lip movements than Japanese. Therefore, preforming sounds like “b”, “f”, “v” and “th” feel strange and are more difficult for them to execute.

6. I’ve noticed that in real life the ‘th’ sound isn’t always pronounced with the tongue between the teeth. For example, New York dialect speakers pronounce the ‘th’ sound rather as ‘t’ or ‘d’ respectively. How adamant are you that your students pronounce the ‘th’ sound perfectly?

In general, I’ll never demand perfection at the cost of a student’s confidence or loss of valuable time covering other necessary topics. In other words, if trying to master something begins to have a negative effect, it’s time to move on.

That being said, if we think about mastering pronunciation as a process rather than an event, learning becomes a lot less demanding. I don’t expect students to perform perfectly after an explanation and a few rounds of repetition.

For example, imagine you had never played basketball before. I take you to the park, demonstrate how to shoot, and then hand the ball over to you. It would be ridiculous for me to expect you to begin immediately scoring with ease.

7. Do you also help to improve your students’ English grammar in your private tutoring sessions or are they entirely devoted to improving their accent and learning slang expressions?

At this point, I’m only offering American pronunciation / accent training.

8. On what do you put more emphasis during your English language tutoring sessions – pronunciation or slang?

I don’t do any private tutoring specifically on American slang. Students can learn quite a bit of slang from my videos, tweets, Facebook updates and products. I welcome any questions they might have via social media or e-mail.

9. How important is it to know American slang expressions and phrases to a foreigner living in the country? And how prominent is slang in daily conversations at work, on the street and in college?

Honestly, it would be almost impossible to function smoothly at home, work, school, and just about anywhere else without some basic knowledge of slang and the American accent as well.

In fact, I’ve seen quite a few students shocked once they began living overseas. The textbook English they learned just wasn’t enough to function smoothly in America.

This is not just an American phenomenon. When I was living in New Zealand it took quite a while until I fully grasped the accent and local slang. Of course, it was a struggle!

10. If a foreign English speaker focuses on learning American English phrases, slang expressions and has a good foundation of basic grammar, is he or she going to become a fluent English speaker without advanced grammar studies? My belief is that with frequent spoken practice it’s absolutely possible; what’s your honest opinion on this?

I agree with you. I don’t believe you need knowledge of advanced grammar to become a fluent English speaker. My wife and my current colleague are good examples of this. We could classify them both as advanced English speakers. However, neither of them has studied very advanced grammar. They’ve essentially learned English by speaking / practicing it.

American Anthony is a certified English Instructor specializing in pronunciation, American slang and the American Accent. He has over 5 years of teaching experience in Taiwan, Japan, China and on the Internet. He’s currently teaching full-time in Japan.

* * *

Thanks Anthony for taking your time answering my questions!

I’m sure everyone who’s interested in learning to speak English like Americans will find your answers informative and helpful!

Also, I have a feeling that some of you may definitely want to check out Anthony’s website and see how he can improve your English pronunciation, am I not right?

Chat to you soon again,

Robby ;-)

 

  • zayn

    i meant im still trying to adapt american english to the full. since im particularly interested in english i also learn other regional english accents such as cockney accent, california accent as well as NY dialect. i think its an advantage to be able to speak in a particular regional accent. as for upper midwest accent, its to a lesser extent different to whats considered typical standard american accent. it gets more different as u go further north within the midwest and the more rural the area.

  • zayn

    hi! i speak english as a 2nd language. im malaysian and in our education, written english is based on british english mostly due to the countrys colonisation by britain. so im used to speaking with an RP accent everytime when i speak english. but now im adapting a General American accent which is a major accent of american english and its also related to a generalized midwestern accent. at first i found it pretty hard to switch to the accent but later i got used to it gradually. influence from american tv programmes and films, malaysians are also familiar with lots of american english vocabularies not taught at schools and speak in a local accent influenced by american pronunciations. the fact i speak in american accent proves to be different from others.

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Finally got round to the American accent: 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpBrnktLTpU

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Yes, I would imagine that plays a big part of one’s ability to speak like a native. 

    I find it strange every time someone spots little hints of the Irish accent in my speech… I’ve been told a million times that my accent is too hard and I should improve it, and I always respond to that sort of commentary by saying that I choose fluency over pronunciation any day.

    Apparently I’m also adopting accent of those I speak with on a daily basis and who knows – maybe a few years down the line I’ll be able to make people believe I’m an Irishman? ;-)))

  • http://www.espressoenglish.net/ Espresso English

    I think it also depends on how similar (or different) your native language is to your second language, and how many of the sounds overlap vs. how many are completely new or very different.

    You’re in Ireland, right? I heard some Irish flavor in your last video ;-) Looking forward to seeing your American one! I can’t really “do” different Brazilian accents (though I can identify them).

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    That’s all right, it happens! ;-)

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Well, you see – the thing is I’ve been living in an English speaking country for 10 years. While there weren’t too many opportunities for me to speak in English in the very beginning, I’ve spent the last 6 years in a working environment where I have to speak ALL the time.

    I’m quite perceptive by nature, and I don’t consider myself being bad for details.

    I can also speak with quite a good American accent if I really set my mind to it.

    But here’s the problem – I find it hard to speak about the actual topic at hand IF I’m trying to focus on reducing my accent; it’s as if I can’t focus on both – perfect pronunciation AND the actual content of my speech.

    Reading in English with American accent presents no problems to me, and I’ll actually make a video and post it here to show the difference…

    It took you 3 years in the country to be mistaken for a local. 

    I can’t make the same claim after 10 years. Maybe it’s different for different people, who knows!

  • http://www.espressoenglish.net/ Espresso English

    Argh, paragraph formatting FAIL :-(

  • http://www.espressoenglish.net/ Espresso English

    1. Eight years, three of which have been living in Brazil. 

    Before I arrived, I studied by myself and got up to around a pre-intermediate level. Then when I got here, I took 3 months of intensive (15 hr/week) classes. 

    I haven’t officially studied since… though one day I’ll probably take some private lessons so that someone can correct any bad habits I may have picked up over the years!2. Hmm, not consciously, but sometimes I’d pick up on something and make a mental note to try to say it that way in the future. For example, “café” (coffee) in Portuguese isn’t pronounced like caf-FAY, it’s more like caf-FEH. I’d also learn from other foreigners who I’d notice pronounced things not quite correctly, for example, “sim” (yes) is not equal to the English word “seem.” In the Portuguese “sim” you actually don’t close your lips at the end, you just nasalize the “i” (thus making it different from the Spanish “si”)

    Maybe I’m a geek, but I notice things like that ;-)

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Do you mind if I ask you two questions?

    1. How many years have you been speaking Portuguese?

    2. Where you consciously trying to eliminate your foreign English accent or it happened naturally?

    Thanks,

    Robby

  • http://www.espressoenglish.net/ Espresso English

    Regarding complete accent elimination – I think it’d be possible, and the ease of the process would also depend on how good the person’s “ear” is for hearing (and then reproducing) very small, subtle differences in pronunciation. Maybe some of the celebrities like their accents, though, and haven’t found them to be an impediment to their communication!

    My Portuguese has gotten to the point where people sometimes ask me if I’m from a different state in Brazil (and not from elsewhere) – woohoo! However, if I’m really tired or scatterbrained, then my pronunciation starts to go downhill. Luckily my husband is used to it (although he makes fun of me :-p)

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Being a foreigner myself I know firsthand how detrimental it can be to force yourself to speak with perfect pronunciation, fast and native-like. Basically if you’re trying to get it perfect, it’s a sure-fire way of getting a brain-freeze, and then… Well, you know what this blog is about anyway!

    So yes, I agree 100% with Anthony, you and everyone else who reckons that foreign accent doesn’t imply lack of fluency. 

    And you’re also correct by saying that it does come naturally over time – I’ve been getting comments sometimes from locals that I sound like a Kildare man (that’s the place I live).

    Having done this interview with Anthony, however, I’ve started having second thoughts about the whole accent and pronunciation thing…

    Could it be that under professional guidance it’s possible to get rid of one’s accent over the course of a year or so completely and make it one’s second nature? But then again – if that were the case, wouldn’t celebrities like Arnie and Banderas have gotten rid of their accents long ago considering they can afford the best speech therapists etc?

    All I can fall back upon is my own experience and it tells me – if you feel your speech is getting a bit messed up and you’re getting carried away, reign in your pronunciation a bit. And it helps! 

  • http://www.javiervallestero.tumblr.com/ Francisco Javier

    When I started learning English (many years ago) I also used to say “return” instead of “get back”. Then I realised that it sounded too formal and that in everyday English people usually say “get back”. 

    Of course, the first verb is correct but it seems learners need some time before they become familiar with phrasal verbs and how common they are in informal contexts.

  • http://www.espressoenglish.net/ Espresso English

    Fantastic interview!

    I particularly liked this: “In general, I’ll never demand perfection at the cost of a student’s confidence or loss of valuable time covering other necessary topics”

    I try to focus first on pronunciation problems that actually interfere with communication – for example, if the student is confusing “live” (“I live in Brazil”) and “live” (“This TV show is live from Rio de Janeiro”) – but as for perfection, I remind them that clear, fluent English does not necessarily mean elimination of their accent. I think the student’s accent will “naturally” start to conform to whatever English they spend the most time listening to.

    I also completely agree with #9, and would extend it not only to slang, but also to phrasal verbs. A simple example: a lot of my students say things like “When I returned from my trip…” – “returned” isn’t necessarily wrong, but it’s probably more common to say “When I got back from my trip…” – so when they hear a native speaker say the latter, they don’t catch the meaning if they’re not familiar with the phrasal verb “get back.”

    As for the different accents, I’m from the U.S. and I often have to use British books – which I think can provide a nice balance for my students to get used to hearing both. I sometimes call attention to the differences in, for example, the pronunciation of the “t” in words like “water” – not so much that the student will say it my way, but rather so that they will recognize the word whether they hear it with an American, British, or other accent.

  • Francisco Javier

    Thank you. This is a great blog for speakers of English as a foreign language (especially for those struggling with fluency). Highly recommended!

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Yes, Anthony was very kind to do this interview with me and I think anyone being interested in the American accent will learn something just by reading it alone!

    Speaking of the different accents – you already know my stance on the issue (we’ve had some heated debates on this in the past:-) – but for those who are particular about what accent they speak with of course geographical proximity to Britain or US would probably be the deciding factor.

    And I’d like to take this opportunity and thank you for being a long time contributor to my blog, you’ve made a lot of comments here!

  • Francisco Javier

    Great post, Robby. And many thanks to Anthony for kindly answering all your questions!

    I like the American accent but I always teach the British accent due to my proximity to the UK and the fact that most books on English as a foreign language in Europe focus on that variety.

    Of course, any variety (American, British, Australian, etc.) is perfectly acceptable and great for communicating in English.

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