Perfect Your British English Accent - English Pronunciation
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- Speak English with a perfect British English accent
- Gain an additional, more universal, British English accent, to use whenever you need it
- Enjoy greater confidence for public speaking in English
- Make business presentations in English with boosted confidence
- Actors will be able to apply for roles requiring a standard, neutral RP British English accent
- Speak English at intermediate level or better
This British English accent course is for you if :
You want to speak RP British English, also known as NSE (Neutral Standard English) and taught at UK drama schools
You want to "switch on" a standard, neutral British English accent at any time
You feel self-conscious about the way you speak English
People criticize you for your presentation skills
You want to boost your confidence for public speaking
Are you interested in :
Perfecting your neutral British English accent
Correcting a speech impediment
Improving your presentation skills
Boosting your confidence for public speaking
Making a great best man speech... but you're terrified!
Are you an actor, interested in:
Getting roles that require standard, neutral, RP British English, also known as NSE (Neutral Standard English) and taught at UK drama schools
Period speech for actors
English accents for American and other non-UK actors
Speech for voice-overs
- Students of English
- Professionals who present in English, including executives, public speakers, TV broadcasters
- People who want to soften their accent
- American and other non-UK actors who want a neutral British English accent
- UK actors who want to add a standard, neutral, RP British English accent to their skillset
- Anyone who wants to make their spoken English as clear and effective as possible
In this webinar, we will mainly focus on the 5 long simple vowels or monophthongs - but during certain exercises I will also refer to elements that we will cover in more detail in future webinars. For example, I might ask you to listen out for certain consonant sounds or draw your attention to common faults or mistakes. So with all the exercises, try to repeat everything you hear and not just the vowel sounds.
As we go along, you will notice that English spellings are often very confusing and unhelpful when it comes to correct pronunciation so I will try to offer as many different spelling variations of the same vowel sounds as I can. I also recommend that you familiarise yourself with the basics of the International Phonetic Alphabet. I will show you the phonetic symbols for each sound in Standard British English Pronunciation as we go. The Longman Pronunciation Dictionary is also an invaluable reference.
Monophthongs are single sounds. Eventually, we will learn those vowel sounds which are made up of 2 or 3 different sounds, but we will start with these 5 long simple vowels. These are very good to start with because we can make them last as long as we wish and they will still sound correct.
AH is the most open of all the vowel sounds – your jaw is open, your lips are open, and the back of your mouth is open. Rest the tip of your tongue against the backs of your bottom front teeth and gently open your jaw.
Relax your lips. Your tongue will pull back a little and you will feel the sound in the back of your mouth.
Try yawning on the sound and feel how open you can stretch your jaw and the back of your mouth and the top of your throat.
The OO sound needs a relaxed tongue but your lips should be rounded and pushed forward as though you’re about to whistle.
You will feel your jaw is nearly closed and that the back of your tongue lifts up towards your soft palate – this is the movable part of the roof of your mouth that raises whenever you yawn.
Also, try to anticipate this whistling lip position and don’t let the surrounding consonants distort the vowel in any way. If you slide into the OO position too late, then the vowel will be distorted.
For the ER sound, relax your lips, allow your jaw to be half-open and feel that the centre of your tongue lifts up a little bit.
A common fault with this sound is that it can be mispronounced in a way that pushes it closer to the AH vowel – so “girl” becomes “garl”. To avoid this, relax your lips, half open your jaw, and raise the middle of your tongue.
Welcome to the second webinar in which we will cover the seven short simple vowels or monophthongs.
These sounds are a little trickier than the five sounds we learned last time because, as students try to listen to themselves and to get them right, there is a temptation to stretch them. This doesn’t always matter, but, as we will see, now and then it can cause problems.
For the A vowel, your lips are neutral, released and relaxed but the front of your tongue is slightly raised. The danger with this vowel is that here in the UK it can become dulled or blunted – so that A in “cat” sounds closer to “U” in “cut”. Other accents – for example the German accent – can push this sound towards “E” as in “get”. So “cat” might sound like “ket”.
“A” is a sound that CAN be safely lengthened – and this can create quite an effective emphasis as in the phrase “the seven ages of MAN”, for example.
When the A sound is correct, it is often described as sounding nice and “bright”. Keep this idea of a bright sound as we work through the exercises.
The I sound again has neutral, relaxed lips but this time the front of your tongue is raised a bit further – to just under the fully raised position for the long EE sound. Try moving from the high EE position to the slightly lower I position: EE/I EE/I EE/I
Can you feel that slight but vital tongue movement? And can you hear what a difference it makes to the sound?
“I” is one of those sounds that it is better to avoid lengthening too much – otherwise “sit in the seat” could sound more like “seat in the seat”.
The oo vowel is a lip vowel and so the lips should be in a rounded position but not as closely rounded as the whistling OO lip position and the back of the tongue is raised.
When I first started my training I had a problem with this sound – because my lips were too relaxed, when I tried to say “Look at the good book.” It sounded more like: “Lerk at the gerd berk.” Try to keep your lips nicely rounded for “oo” as in “book”.
This next sound is in many ways the KEY to British Standard English Pronunciation because it occurs again and again and again. It is the neutral vowel or schwa: “uh” as in “another”.
The lips are neutral and the centre of the tongue is half raised. You will find this sound not only in most unstressed syllables, but it is also to be found in 4 of the 8 diphthongs and in all 5 of the triphthongs.
The “uh” sound is particularly important to American speakers when they learn the British accent. Generally, it will be a mistake with this sound which will give away an American speaker.
We will start with the word “another” where the neutral vowel is both the first and third syllable.
In this Webinar we will use the 12 vowel sounds that you have learnt so far to create the remaining 13 compound vowels: which are the 8 diphthongs (or vowels made up of two sounds) and the 5 triphthongs (or vowels made up of 3 parts).
Simply put, this is where things start to get really exciting and where you will begin to totally transform the way that you speak and, most importantly, how you feel about the way that you speak. You will hear sounds that I hope will surprise and inspire you - and you will begin to see many practical steps that you can take which will make your speech create the absolute maximum impact.
Many speakers fall into the trap of shortening or squashing vowel sounds.
Think about how much meaning we can convey just by our voice and our vocal tone alone - for example a simple “MMM” can convey…
That tastes great: “MMM”
I hadn’t thought of that: “MMM”
I wish you’d just shut up and get on with it!: “MMM”
This is why it is vital to know the full values of these sounds so that, when you wish to really drive a point home, then you can do so in the most dynamic and effective way.
As you learn these sounds don’t feel that they have to be full value every time you say them in normal conversation. I will teach you their full values so that you can allow these full-value sounds to come into their own whenever they are emphasised, when they are the most important or emotive words of a sentence or presentation.
We will start with the 3 Lip Diphthongs and this first one was always referred to by my speech teacher as “The Killer”. This is because it is mostly very straightforward and easy – until it is followed by an “L” and then it can get quite seriously distorted.
So, are you ready to learn the identity of the vowel sound known as “The Killer”?! It is… OH as in OH, NO!
This is a falling diphthong and you start in the neutral vowel position, the one for “uh” with your lips relaxed and the centre of your tongue half raised. Then, you MOVE to the “oo” position as in “book” rounding the lips and raising the back of the tongue.
Very posh speakers can start this vowel with “E” as in “Glen” instead of the neutral vowel, and this gives us “E-oo”. They might even use the neutral vowel at the end of the sound instead of “oo” which gives us “AIR”. So instead of “Oh, hello!” you might hear: “Air, hell-air!” Other speakers are more used to saying “aw” as in “for” or “o” as in “coffee” and they can therefore find “OH” a bit tricky.
Can you start to see how you can use phonetics to move from this Standard accent to any other accent in the world? Whenever I learn a new accent from scratch, I often can’t hear precisely what I should be doing when I start work – that is until I compare the new target accent to the equivalent sounds in Standard English – then I am quickly able to get a real handle on the new sounds. So this course not only teaches you speech, but it also teaches you how to hear and reproduce speech much more accurately.
When “OH” is followed by “L” as in “old” there is a danger that the neutral starting sound will become “o” as in “hot coffee” which gives us “old”. Some of the very best professional speakers can be completely undone by just this one sound – I hear it over and over again.
Students will then often over correct and try to sound “more posh” – and so we’ll hear “e-old”.
Try to surgically transplant the correct “OH” sound into the words which have the “L” sound after it. For example:
OH go gold
OH toe told
OH bow bold
Be on your guard against “The Killer” as we work through the exercises
When you see this sound transcribed phonetically, it is written as the first half of the symbol for A as in “cat” followed by the symbol for oo as in “book”.
This might encourage us to produce quite a harsh sound. Something like “A-oo” – the sort of sound Henry Higgins hears from his poor student Eliza Doolittle whenever he frightens or upsets her.
To make a less harsh and more open sound, make your starting position closer to AH as in “heart”. Don’t linger on it – move straight on to the short “oo” sound as quickly as you can.
The third lip diphthong is OY as in “voice” which is made by combining AW as in door and I as in sit:
I often refer to this as the classic English greeting when abroad: “OY! Can I get chips with this?!”
This is fairly straightforward but again, when this sound is followed by an “L” it can develop an extra neutral vowel after it – so “boil” can become “boy-ul”. Try to make the “L” as lightly as possible.
AIR as in “fair” – which we make by combining “e” as in “Glen” with the neutral vowel “uh” as in “actor”. E-uh AIR.
This sound is very frequently just cut clean in half. Instead of “The air there is fair.” We hear “The e the…”. Many students can find this sound very difficult to make – not because it is difficult in itself, but because they are just not used to making it.
An easy way to make this vowel is to say “ever” and then say it again without the “v”: AIR.
Consonant sounds are made in many different ways but many speakers go wrong because they do not use their voice when they should use their voice.
Consonant sounds can be voiced - as in Z: “ZZZ” - you can hear my voice, can’t you? “ZZZ”.
Or consonant sounds can be unvoiced - as in S: “SSS” - you just hear the hissing “SSS” sound with no voice behind it.
However, the S sound is sometimes voiced and is pronounced as a voiced Z sound. The word spelled U.S.E. is pronounced YOOS when it appears in its noun form and YOOZ when it appears in its verb form.
“I will not use this because it has no use.”
If the S sound is unvoiced when it should be voiced then a speaker will be what voice teachers call sibilant - their speech is too “hissy” and is often perceived as “weak sounding”.
As I said, many problems can occur because speakers do not use their voice when they should. Remember that the voice can communicate so much emotional information or meaning. Think about how many messages can be communicated with a simple “MM” sound.
That tastes good: “MMM”
I finally understand: “MMM”
Hurry up with the lesson: “MMM”
One sure and certain way to improve the impact of our speech is to make sure that the voice is used whenever it should be used.
All our consonant lessons will also include a reminder of all 25 of the vowel sounds.
The first consonant sound we will cover is “B” as in “BIB”. This is a plosive consonant sound which simply means that the flow of air is stopped and then suddenly released: “B”
Take special care with consonant sounds at the ends of words, that you don’t do too much with your voice so that it sounds like you have added an extra neutral vowel after it: so, in the following drill, take care to say “BEEB” and not “BEEBER”.
Continuing with the plosives we have:
T which is not voiced and also its voiced equivalent D. Compare the two sounds and listen for the voice in the D sound:
T/D T/D T/D T/D
To make the T sound, press the tip of your tongue against the alveolar ridge – the gum line just above and behind your two front teeth – and sharply release the pressure: T T T
The important thing to watch out for with this sound is that we do not release too much breath because that can make it sound like a T with an S after it. We want to hear: T and not Ts
Compare: YET and YETs
Another common fault with the “T” sound is that it can be dropped from the ends of words. This can result in lazy or confusing speech.
The consonant C can sometimes be pronounced “S” as in “since” but here we are looking at the hard, plosive, unvoiced “K” sound indicated by both the letters C and K. So that’s “K” as in “can”. And we are also looking at its voiced equivalent “G” as in “get”.
Compare the two sounds:
K/G K/G K/G
The “K” sound with all the vowels.
Another unvoiced and voiced pair of sounds are “FFF” usually denoted by the letter F and “VVV” denoted by the letter V. Sometimes the letter F can require a voiced “VVV” sound as in the word “of”. The double F in “off” has the unvoiced “FFF” sound.
As ever, you can always refer to a dictionary’s pronunciation guide to help clear up any confusions: try http://geni.us/DFYAk or Google for the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (Glen is one of the voices!)
The unvoiced “FFF” sound is made by pushing a continuous flow of air between your lower lip and your top front teeth. It is a labiodental fricative sound. Let’s practice it with all the vowels.
The “H” sound denoted by the letter aitch is called a glottal fricative sound and is made by breathing out through a slightly narrowed opening at the very back of your mouth and the top of your throat.
This is achieved by slightly closing up your airway so that the air hisses slightly: “HHH”. If you yawn your throat open, and breathe out then the flow of air should b almost silent. Experiment by breathing out through your mouth silently and then making this slight change so that you can hear the “HHH” sound.
The name of the letter H is often mispronounced as “haitch” by many native British speakers – this is understandable but, perhaps counterintuitively, the name of this letter doesn’t contain the “HHH” sound that it represents. However, English is “a living language” so if enough people say haitch then it could become what’s called “an acceptable variant” – but I hope not!
Sometimes the letter H is silent as in Honour.
But, as ever, consult your trusty dictionary to double check any confusing pronunciation problems!
Now let’s look at the unvoiced and voiced pair “SH” and “ZH”. Phonetically, the symbol for “SH” is a sort of elongated “S” and the symbol for “ZH” is a cross between a “Z” and the number 3. These sounds are postalveolar, meaning the tip of your tongue should be just beyond the alveolar ridge, and fricative which means there is a continuous flow of air. Make sure the flow of air is focused straight ahead and doesn’t escape over the sides of your tongue:
SH/ZH SH/ZH SH/ZH
Another pair of voiced and unvoiced sounds is CH and DZH. Phonetically, CH is written as T followed by the symbol for SH. T plus SH gives us CH as in
Church Match Nature
Notice that this sound isn’t only indicated by a C and H spelling.
DZH is written phonetically as D followed by the symbol for ZH. D plus ZH gives us DZH as in
Judge German Age Soldier
Again, notice that this sound can be found in several different spellings!
Where both these sounds can go wrong is when a speaker lets air escape over the sides of their tongue into the sides of their mouth which can sound like this…
To correct this, focus the flow of air straight into the alveolar ridge (the gum line just above your front teeth).
This is a tricky pair of sounds because although they are always spelled the same way, “T.H.”, they can be pronounced as either voiced: “TH” or unvoiced. As ever, if you are confused, the dictionary will always help you. Phonetically, the voiced “TH”, as in This, symbol is a sort of “o” with a little “x” on top and the unvoiced “TH”, as in Thing, symbol is a zero with a horizontal line through the middle.
Where this sound can go wrong is when the unvoiced “TH” wrongly becomes a “FFF” sound so that “thing” is mispronounced as “fing”.
Also, the voiced “TH” can wrongly become a “V” so “this and that” become “vis and vat”. Watch out for these common mistakes!
This pair of sounds are not linked quite as obviously as the pairs we have studied so far – but the movement of the tongue that is needed to make each sound is very similar. These sounds are “L” and “R”.
To make the “L” sound, the tip of your tongue brushes over the alveolar ridge like this:
L L L L L
In the warm up video one of the exercises uses the “L” sound to help isolate the tongue from the jaw to create a more open sound.
The sounds “M”, “N” and “NG” are nasal sounds – so called because the sound of the voice is pushed into your nasal resonating cavities. These are excellent sounds to use when you want to improve the resonance of your voice.
Humming on a “MMM” sound with your lips together and your teeth apart will allow you to really feel a strong, buzzing, tickling vibration and resonance in the bones of the mask of your face.
The “M” sound is a bilabial nasal sound meaning that you use both lips which you press gently together: “MMM”
Our final pair of voiced and unvoiced sounds are “S” and “Z”.
These sounds are alveolar fricatives so the breath is channeled straight forward into the alveolar ridge: “SSS” “ZZZ”
The “S” sound can become slushy and move towards a “SH” sound. This happens particularly when the S is followed by a T so “street” can become “shtreet” and “strong” can become “shtrong”. This bad habit is very easy to fall into so please be on your guard and please: stay strong!
A very common speech fault is sibilance. Sibilance is a term used by speech teachers to describe speech which is too full of the unvoiced “S” sound because it is missing too much of the voiced “Z” sound. Simply put, you are sibilant if you have too much “SSS” in your speech and not enough “ZZZ”! Watch out for the voiced “S” which is pronounced as a “Z” as in, well, as in the word “AS”! The rule is that if an “S” follows a voiced sound then it becomes voiced.
Examples Mums House (this is the verb form) Cars Homes
Use (the noun form) House (the noun form) Nurse (all forms!) Nursing
Also, do not fall into the habit of stretching an unvoiced “S” at the end of a word like “yes” so that it becomes “yesss”. To be safe, you should make a final “S” last for no longer than a final “T”.
Compare “yet” and “yes”
The letter X can also make a voiced “Z” sound as in
Xylophone Xenophobia Xavier and Xanthe
More commonly though, the letter X makes a “K” plus a “S” sound, so the word “six” would be written phonetically as s, the short vowel I, the letter k and the letter s. S I K S – six. Because of these hidden multiple sounds, the letter X can create some real tongue twisters for speakers and so I will be including it in the drills for this section – but, as ever, a dictionary, or particularly a pronunciation dictionary, should clear up any confusions.
This pair of sounds are approximant sounds. “W” and “Y”.
These consonant sounds are almost vowels.
“W” is made with a tiny “oo” sound and then moves to the vowel which follows it.
“Y” is made with a tiny “I” sound and then moves to the sound that follows it. Phonetically it is written as a lower case letter “j” which is distinct from the letter “Y” because this sound can be hidden in words like:
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