Translations of British words to American words

You may have learned some British words that are almost never used by Americans. To talk like an American, and reduce confusion, here are the translations:

films are movies

cinema is movie theater (the sign on the building might say cinema)

serials are TV shows

flat is apartment

football is soccer

Lift is elevator

tram is trolley (these are rare in America)

pharmacy or chemist is drug store (but the sign on the building might say pharmacy)

supermarket is grocery store

torch is flashlight

rubbish is trash or garbage

on holiday is on vacation

accommodation is hotel, or apartment, or home, or where you’re staying, or where you live

surname is last name

colleagues are coworkers

zed is zee (the letter z, in Canada it is zed)

C.V. is resume

sphere is field (in business or academics)

when discussing numbers above or below zero: plus and minus are positive and negative

indicator is turn signal

underground is subway

petrol is gasoline or gas

tap is faucet (but we drink tap water)

zebra crossing is crosswalk

gastronomy is cuisine

Keep your lips and cheeks relaxed

In American English, most of the work is done by the tongue. The lips have to work for some sounds. The cheeks never do any work.

Check to see whether you’re tensing up muscles in your cheeks. Your cheeks need to be completely relaxed when speaking American English; if they aren’t relaxed, the sound won’t be right.

Also make sure your lips stay relaxed except for the sounds that require your lips to do something.

How to say the unvoiced th

Th makes a voiced or unvoiced sound, depending on the word. The only difference is that one is voiced, and the other is unvoiced.

To make the unvoiced th sound, exhale through your mouth (do not hum).  As you’re exhaling, slowly bring your tongue towards your teeth, until your tongue is lightly touching your teeth, and you can feel air moving against your tongue.  Since it’s unvoiced, it’s a quiet sound.

This is a soft action; don’t do anything forceful when saying the th. Also the th is not a short sound; make it somewhat long. (The th is a sound that is possible to hold continuously, as long as you have air in your lungs.)

Some sentences to practice the unvoiced th sound (“the” has a voiced th, but all the other examples of th in these sentences are unvoiced):

The athlete ran three thousand meters to the north.

 

I think the thin thief ran north with the cloth underneath his arm.

It is his thirteenth birthday today.

You can clean your teeth with a thin toothpick.

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of the month of November.

Bite through the turkey thigh with your teeth.

Thousands of thimbles protected his thumb through thick and thin when he was handling the thistles.

Through thick and thin, the two remained loyal.

How to say the voiced th

Th makes a voiced or unvoiced sound, depending on the word. The only difference is that one is voiced, and the other is unvoiced.

To make the voiced th sound, open your mouth slightly, and make a vowel sound. As you’re making the vowel sound, slowly bring your tongue towards your teeth. When the sound changes, and your tongue starts to vibrate, you are making the th sound. The tip of your tongue will be between your teeth, almost touching your teeth.

This is a soft action; don’t do anything forceful when saying the th. Also the th is not a short sound; make it somewhat long. (The th is a sound that is possible to hold continuously, as long as you have air in your lungs.)

Some sentences to practice the voiced th sound: (“with” has the unvoiced th sound, but the other examples of th in these sentences are all voiced.)

Their mother was gathering the clothing together.
They’ve had a lot of bother with the weather.
They’d rather gather those berries with their mother.
There’s their brother, together with their father.
Therefore they’d rather go together.
They should ask their father or their mother.
There is another feather over there.
They’d rather bathe with their clothing on.

Am I talking fast enough?

Am I talking fast enough to sound fluent?

Actually, you might sound more fluent if you slow down. If you try to talk fast you’ll make more mistakes, and it’ll be difficult to understand you.

How fast native speakers talk varies. Americans use “uh” “um” and “like” or even “let me think” while we are thinking; use things like that a lot if you want. (On a test like ielts or toefl using things like “um” or “uh” is a bad idea, but otherwise it’s normal.)

Talk at a comfortable speed for you, and (reasonable) Americans will be able to easily understand you, will enjoy talking to you, and will quickly be impressed with how advanced your English is.

Intonation and Sentence Stress

English has a melody and a rhythm. To sound like an American and be easily understood, you’ll need to learn the melody and rhythm of English. Also this melody and rhythm changes depending on the situation, for example a statement can be made into a question using intonation, and emotion is often expressed with intonation.

If you sing or play a musical instrument this will be easy for you. I also think it will be easy for speakers of Latin and Germanic languages. But having (supposedly) no musical ability isn’t a reason not to try learning the music of English; there are Americans who think they have no musical abilities, no sense of pitch or rhythm, and in fact they might not be able to carry a tune (sing on pitch); but they speak English with perfect intonation and rhythm. (Most Americans aren’t even aware of how musical spoken English is.)

The important thing to focus on is sentence stress; which words in a sentence or phrase get stressed. Stressed words are louder and higher in pitch.

As would be expected, the words that get stressed are the important words. These are the content words; if you remove a content word from a sentence, you’ll be missing something essential. Nouns, primary verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and negative words (can’t, wouldn’t, don’t) get stress. Think of stressed words as words that need to be heard clearly. Consider, for example, that at least nine out of ten times, numbers get stress. Also, stress is used when clarifying or specifying. For example: “Are the violets red?” “No, the roses are red.” The most stressed word in the second sentence is “roses.” Obviously, intonation can only be heard. But it’s important enough that when writing, bold and italic fonts are used on some words, in addition to emoticons, as ways to communicate what would normally be indicated by intonation.

In a sentence, words vary in stress. For example, consider this sentence: “As you know I flew with this man Striker during the war.” The words that are stressed the most are Striker and war; you, know, and flew also receive stress.

You can listen to that sentence here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73UfgMoWv8E

There are usually a couple different ways of saying the intonation of a phrase without a significant change in what is being expressed; so if you say something differently than how you hear a native speaker say it, your intonation might still be correct.

Listen to American speech, and copy it. First, ignore the words, and just say “la” for each syllable, like you’re singing. It might be easier to hear the melody in female voices. Here’s a video to start with, this one has lots of questions:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVJvURqC8iY

Flap T

Often in ordinary American speech the T sounds like a D. This happens when the T is after a vowel or an R, and before an unstressed vowel. It also happens in some other cases. It’s optional to use the flap T, but sounds much more natural than a regular T.

These pairs of words sound the same in ordinary American speech:

catty caddy

latter ladder

waiter wader

waited waded

fated faded

Examples of words where the T is usually pronounced like a D:

Metal

Whatever

Butter

Party

Seventy

Eighty

City

Sometimes the next word changes a stop T to a flap T, for example:

“What” Here, “what” ends in a stop T

“What about” Here, “what” ends in a flap T, and “about” ends in a stop T

“What about it” Here, “what” ends in a flap T, “about” ends in a flap T and “it” ends in a stop T

See if you can find the flap Ts in this text (The answers are at the bottom):

Ball Lightning, from Wikipedia:

British occultist Aleister Crowley reported witnessing what he referred to as “globular electricity” during a thunderstorm on Lake Pasquaney in New Hampshire in 1916. He was sheltered in a small cottage when he “noticed, with what I can only describe as calm amazement, that a dazzling globe of electric fire, apparently between six and twelve inches (15–30 cm) in diameter, was stationary about six inches below and to the right of my right knee. As I looked at it, it exploded with a sharp report quite impossible to confuse with the continuous turmoil of the lightning, thunder and hail, or that of the lashed water and smashed wood which was creating a pandemonium outside the cottage. I felt a very slight shock in the middle of my right hand, which was closer to the globe than any other part of my body.”

R.C. Jennison

Jennison, of the Electronics Laboratory at the University of Kent, described his own observation of ball lightning:

I was seated near the front of the passenger cabin of an all-metal airliner (Eastern Airlines Flight EA 539) on a late night flight from New York to Washington. The aircraft encountered an electrical storm during which it was enveloped in a sudden bright and loud electrical discharge (0005 h EST, March 19, 1963). Some seconds after this a glowing sphere a little more than 20 cm in diameter emerged from the pilot’s cabin and passed down the aisle of the aircraft approximately 50 cm from me, maintaining the same height and course for the whole distance over which it could be observed.

Here are the words that have a flap T, in the order they appear in the text:

British, reported, electricity, cottage, noticed, what, that, 15, 30, cm, diameter, at, it, quite, that, water, creating, cottage, part

University, seated, metal, 539, Washington, 1963, little, cm, diameter, 50, cm, distance

Words with less syllables than it appears

It’s important to say all the syllables. But there are some words that have less syllables than you’d expect; the spelling of the words is misleading.

Vegetable only has three syllables, not four. You can skip the second E: veg-table
Hear vegetable.

Reference only has two syllables, not three. You can skip the second E: ref-rence
Hear reference

Laboratory only has four syllables, not five. You can skip the first O: lab-ratory
Hear laboratory

Temperature only has three syllables, not four. You can skip the A: temper-ture
Hear temperature

This also applies to the plural forms of each of these words.

Here are some more:

Jewelry only has two syllables, not three. You can skip the second E: jew-lry
Hear jewelry

Comfortable only has three syllables, not four. Pretend comfortable is spelled comfterble.
Hear comfortable

Should Of

The contraction of “should” and “have,” “should’ve,” sounds like “should of.” But remember to spell it “should’ve.” (Native speakers, including me, forget this sometimes and spell it “should of.”) The same thing is true for more contractions with the word “have”: “could’ve,” “would’ve,” and “must’ve” are some examples.

In casual speech these contractions are often further reduced to “shoulda,” “coulda,” and “woulda”; the “V” sound is left off.

Eating food or foot?

In English, Ds are almost always pronounced the same. A D at the end of a word is usually pronounced the same as a D in the middle or at the beginning of a word. For example, the D in “feed” is the same as the D in “feeding” or “feeds.” The D in “head” is pronounced the same as in “heading.” Both Ds in “headed” are pronounced the same. Both Ds in “did” are pronounced the same. The D in “dog” is the same as the D in “food.”

These words all sound different:
oat owed
pat pad
port poured
pot pod
quit quid
route rude
short shored
slight slide
sought sawed
tent tend
tight tied

An exception to this is for some verbs in the past tense, ending in ed, the D sounds like a T. For example diced, tasked, wiped, and watched.

In English, D is a voiced sound:
Voiced and Unvoiced Sounds