American English Accent and Pronunciation Work if you’re from India
We know, you have been studying English for many, many years, and you are super fluent in grammar, vocabulary and listening but when it’s time to speak, people often ask you to repeat yourself. How frustrating! Let me tell you something: there’s nothing wrong with your English skills. You might just have a little accent and what happens is that most Americans are not used to it. It’s not that you are not good at communicating, it’s just that there are some things that you can work on so you can get better, especially if you’re from India.
Nowadays, lots of Indians are deciding that they want to live in the United States of America – whether it is for work, to have a different lifestyle, or just because they want a change of scenery.
Even though most Indians speak fluent English – as India is the world’s second-largest English-speaking country – most people learn English with an Indian accent. We actually believe this is a native accent, but it’s also true that it can be challenging for Americans, Brits, and Aussies to understand the Indian accent. Therefore, many Indian people come to us for help, asking us, “I would like for others to understand me more easily in the USA/Britain/Australia…”
However, I’ve always thought that when it comes to speaking a different language, the best thing that one can do is to try their best to be understood. American English and Indian accents are very different, and this is the reason why lots of Indians living abroad are having trouble when communicating in their workplaces, buying things at the store, or even when making new friends.
If you’re one of these people who’s having a little bit of trouble with their Indian accent, don’t worry. I know how frustrating this can be. In today’s blog, we bring you American English pronunciation tips for Indian speakers.
Why do I have an Accent?
Accents are the way we sound when we speak. Every human person in the world is born with the ability to reproduce any sound in any language, but when we get to the age of 1, we have learned to ignore the sounds that are most important in our environment. While we keep growing up, we train our muscles to make the sounds that exist in our native language. This means that our muscles get used to those sounds.
When we want to learn a new language, since our muscles are already used to the sounds of our native language, what they do is imitate the sounds of the new one but with the settings of the one that we speak.
That’s why certain sounds are harder for people with different native languages because our muscle setting is trying to adapt to things that it usually does. That’s how accents are created. Also, that’s why there are a lot of different accents when it comes to foreigners learning English because each language has its own muscle setting, so each accent is different depending on which is our native one.
As said before, there’s nothing wrong with having an accent. But sometimes with certain languages, it causes a little bit of trouble at the moment of speaking English. So whether you want to get better at your speaking skills to communicate in a better way, or just because you’d like to get better at English, you can use the following tips next time you speak.
What Exactly is an Accent?
An accent (in the language world) is a combination of four main things: intonation, word connections (or liaisons), pronunciation, and voice quality in the spoken word.
And I know that this might be a little bit complicated to understand so I’ll make it easier for you: an accent is how we speak according to different factors that create a specific environment to sound a certain way whenever we speak or communicate ourselves by producing sounds.
The muscles that we use for speaking develop themselves in certain ways according to the language that we grow up speaking. When we start learning a new language, we’re asking our muscles to do things that they haven’t done before. Then, when it’s time for these same muscles to make new sounds for a new language, we try.
But oftentimes we compare the new sounds to the only sounds we know. We try to make the new sounds by moving our mouth muscles in the same way – the only way we know. That’s how accents are created.
Improving your communication is still possible. We suggest trying the tips outlined below.
American English Intonation
American English intonation is pretty simple to follow. When it comes to the Indian accents, there are certain aspects of some of the many and varied Indian dialects such as Hindi, Punjabi, etc. that are transferred to English. A kind of fluctuating rhythm and cadence that flows with little relation to meaning, which is almost the opposite of English. That is why intonation is our English pronunciation tip for Indian speakers.
The situation is that it is a bit tricky to get the average Indian learner to change this naturally as this concept does not exist in their language. Interestingly, most Indians always seem to understand the concept, but it’s always hard to put accent work into real-life practice, for anyone.
What happens here is that unlike Indian dialects, which tend to lower the pitch depending on what they want to say, the American intonation goes up to the most important part of the sentence (escalated intonation). In the sentence: “there is a fire” the most important part of the sentence is “fire”, so each word before “fire” has to be a pitch lower than the word before. Most Indian speakers will read this in an odabah odabah odabah rhythm and intonation.
Three ways to improve an Indian speaker’s intonation
- Try to raise your volume with each word you say according to the meaning of your sentence, but make sure you’re not screaming it all/emphasizing it all because this will end up being a little bit rude to your listeners.
- Try doing some pitch work by using the little sound that kids make when they commit a mistake: “Uh-Oh.” As you can notice, the first syllable is in a higher pitch than the second one. Add this pitch scheme to some words until you get used to how it sounds, and then start mixing this with some escalated intonation sentences.
- Start making the stressed words longer in a sentence to stop with the obadah rhythm, and start getting a “peaks and valleys” intonation. (For example, The beeeeest way to get goooood results is to praaaaactice all the time). This is a good exercise when listening to something and repeating it. It can be a TV show, some music, or even the things that you hear in the street!
Remember that in American English, most emotion is found in the intonation. It’s very important that you follow the correct intonation patterns whenever you’re speaking in English. If you want to practice a little bit more, watch this video.
Common American English pronunciation mistakes made by Indian Speakers
Reversed “V” and “W”
Indians tend to reverse this sound in most of their sentences. Most Indian English speakers don’t make a clear /w/ sound as they don’t round their lips enough. This creates a little bit of confusion as they end up making a /V/ sound, which when followed by a word with an actual “V” the sounds naturally end up mixed.
For example: “These were reversed” is pronounced like /dese vere rewersed/.
Try to round your lips and put them slightly forward (we say, purse your lips) so you can get a better pronunciation and make a nice clear American /w/ sound. Your teeth shouldn’t touch your lips. Practice with the following words: week, Wednesday, and woman. You can also think of the “W” as a “double oo”.
Now that you’ve mastered this sound, you can move on to say it clearly in sentences. For example: “These were reversed.” Right now, the “V” sound must come naturally, but if this doesn’t happen, you can try substituting the letters in actual sentences, so you can notice how the sentence changes when you make a correct pronunciation.
- He vent to the store. – He went to the store.
- I’ll be back in a vile. – I’ll be back in a while.
- He closed the vent. – He closed the went.
The Indian British “R”
Most people that learn English in India, end up having a more British accent. If this is your case, just keep reading.
As the American “R” is a sound that happens mostly inside our mouths, a good exercise to help you get better at it, is to hold your hand out flat with your palms up, this resembles the position of your tongue at the beginning of your “R” pronunciation (/ah/). When you get to the second part of the pronunciation (/er/), you will keep your fingers out – do not curl them up or move them to the back of your hand.
This is basically what your tongue should be doing inside of your mouth: not curling up, not touching the roof of the mouth, and not touching the top teeth. If anything, you can push it against the front bottom teeth, to make sure it doesn’t touch anything else. Try practicing this motion with your hands and your tongue at the same time. Once you get used to this motion you can try saying the following words: “war”, “curl”, “grass”, “rat”, “coral”, “mirror”.
The “Th” sound
The American “TH” is often one of the sounds that vary a lot in any foreign language, when it’s pronounced by an Indian speaker, both unvoiced and voiced, usually sounds like a “D”.
The correct way of producing the “TH” sound in American English:
Your tongue tip must touch behind your front teeth or right at the bottom of the top front teeth – gently. The air should come in between your teeth and tongue.
For the voiced sound in words like “the” or “this,” you need to add a little bit of throat vibration – you will feel the tongue tickle because it is vibrating against the top front teeth.
For the unvoiced sound, you just pronounce the words, for example: “Think” or “teeth”. You can see the correct tongue position here.
Here are a few words you can practice with:
- Voiced “TH”: mother, father, brother, the, other, although
- Unvoiced “TH”: moth, bath, math, both, author, month, think
Top Mispronounced EnglishWords by Indian Speakers
Here is a list of the 15 most common incorrectly pronounced words for Indian people and how to correctly pronounce them.
- Bicycle: bai-si-kul
- Vehicle: vee-i-hul
- Picture: pik-cher
- Relative: rel-uh-tive
- Niche: neesh
- Develop: d-vay-lup
- Suite: sweet
- Cocoa: koh-koh
- Police: pu-leece
- Sour: sower
- Often: off-en
- Video: vid-i-yoh
- Asthma: az-ma
- Women: wih-men
What comes next?
I know that what I’m about to say can sound a little bit cliché, but right now, the only thing to do is practice – especially with our English pronunciation tips for Indian speakers. It’s very important for us to remember that changing our pronunciation is like a trip, and we need to travel through it to get to our goals. With pronunciation, the best way to get better at it is by speaking a lot and being aware of the way we do it.
There are also plenty of ways that can also be helpful whenever we are on a language journey. We can practice by listening to podcasts, or maybe by watching our favorite TV show and repeating everything we hear.
The thing is that practice makes better, and along with these tips, you’ll be easier to understand for Americans (but again, only if you feel you need to).
Also, getting a language coach is an amazing idea as they will help you in a more personalized way. Try one of our amazing English tutors and save 20% off your first month of classes with code TF20.
It doesn’t matter what you choose to do, just keep talking and practicing as much as you can and you’ll notice some improvement pretty soon. Good luck and start speaking!