Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New York at Christmas is one of the most beautiful sights in the world--the city is lit up twenty four hours a day with multicolored Christmas lights, thousands and thousands of them, from Harlem to Wall Street. People watch movies like "Miracle on 34th Street" and "It's a Wonderful Life". We give to the poor and the homeless, and we are grateful for the things we ourselves have.

Pronounciation tip: Christmas is pronounced with a hard "k" sound at the beginning: Krismas (the 't' has no sound; it is silent.) But often in English, the 'ch' is a voiceless 'j'--take the front of your tongue, put it to the roof of your mouth, and vocalize in the back of your throat using your vocal cords--say, "judge" or "joker". Now try it without your vocal cords, just using your mouth and throat to shape the sound, so there is no vibration when you put your hand to your throat. Try "joker" without your vocal cords. It should come out "choker"! Now, try "jeer"--sounded with the buzz at your throat, with your vocal cords. Now try "cheer"--same word, sounded without your vocal cords.

Again, I am going to post some YouTube vids, or at least some sound samples, as soon as I am able. Stay tuned! ("Stay tuned" means, keep watching this blog--it comes from something radio hosts would say--"Don't touch that dial!" meaning, "don't change the radio station!")

Monday, November 9, 2009

If you are a native Arabic speaker or a native Hebrew speaker, or a speaker of Persian or Pashto, you should be aware that the glottal stop as an accented consonant--ie the "ch" in the Hebrew "chrain" (horseradish) or "chai" (life or the number 18)--or the "h" in the city name Bahrain or the "ch" in the Arabic for "after tomorrow" (baad bachra) does not exist in American English as a separate consonant.

Those of you used to greeting people with "shalom alechem" or "was salaam aleichem" will find that when Americans do pronounce these words they come out as "shalom alaikum" or "salam aleikum". If you are learning English and your native tongue is Arabic or Persian or Hebrew or Pashto, you'll find that you'll have to get rid of the glottal stop to truly sound American or unaccented.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hi everybody! I'll be in New Brunswick at Rutgers Busch Campus today, but here's a quick one. If you are a Spanish speaker, you might have trouble with the "x" sound--you'll tend to pronounce "express train", "espress train". Or you'll say "masimum" instead of "maximum".

This is an easy fix because the "x" sound isn't really a sound on its own--it is a combination of two consonants--either "k" and "s", so "maximum" is actually pronounced, "maksimum" or "g" and "s", so "express" is actually pronounced "eggspress".

The only time this changes in English is when you have "X" at the beginning of a word, as in "Xavier" or "Xander"--both proper names of people. In this case, "x" is pronounced as "z"--as in "Zavier" and "Zander".

Clear as mud? (That's American humor. Mud is not clear.)

You folks take care. Feel free to call me at (732) 637-7398. I am an accent reduction specialist who teaches techniques to help you reduce your accent and be happier doing business and living in America. Call me today!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hi I'm David Berlin, an ESL/Accent Reduction tutor from New Jersey. I work and travel to clients all over New Jersey and Manhattan, from the Jersey Shore to New Brunswick to Basking Ridge to Midtown. Check out my website at https://sites.google.com/site/davidberlinesl/. I'd love to work with you to help you reduce your accent and make your speech more intelligible to American speakers.

A quick tip for those of you who may not understand the difference between a "voiced" consonant and a "voiceless" consonant. Put the tips of your index finger and middle finger to the center of your throat. Hum a happy tune. Vivaldi's "La Primavera" would be nice, but it could also be Raag Maru Bihag or the Mittsu no Dansho. Even a sad, bittersweet Nanguan will do.

Feel that? No, not the music. Your throat. Do you feel how your throat buzzes against the tips of your fingers when you hum music? (If it doesn't, try humming something you recall from American radio or television). That humming is produced by your larynx (collquially called your "voicebox") and your vocal cords, which are bands of muscle in your throat that connect your windpipe, which leads into your lungs, to your diaphragm, which is the chest muscle that assists breathing. When your vocal cords vibrate and you feel that buzzing sound in your throat with the tips of your fingers, you are making a *voiced* sound. Examples of *voiced* consonants include:

  • "v" as in Victor
  • "g" as in gear
  • "d" as in dear
When you make those sounds with your fingers at your throat, you can feel your vocal cords vibrate.

However, not all sounds in English involve the use of your vocal cords! The ones that don't are called *voiceless* consonants. They are made the same way (usually) as the voiced consonants except you produce them with your lips, oral cavity (mouth insides), and tongue and you don't use your vocal cords.

The corresponding *voiceless* consonants in English to the ones above are:

  • "f'" as in "feel" (contrast against "v" as in "veal")
  • "k" as in "kill" (contrast against "g" as in "gill", the bioapparatus a fish uses to breathe)
  • "t" as in "tear" (contrast against "d" as in "dear').
Try saying this minimal pairs to get a sense of the difference between voiced and voiceless consonants. Pay attention to the first sound in each word--the first letter of each word pair (minimal pair) is voiced, the second is voiceless.

veal feel
gill kill
dear tear

I'll get an explicatory video up on YouTube as soon as I am able. Until then, good luck, stay safe, and for goodness' sake, *enjoy* America! We have so much to offer!