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.

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

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

Vowels

Americans and Canadians like vowels. For good pronunciation and accent reduction, often vowels need to be held for a long time. Listen to some Americans talking, and pay attention to the length of the vowels. For example, listen to this scene from “Scary Movie”:

American English has 14 vowel sounds. The following words all have different vowel sounds and clearly sound different:

fall fell fill feel full fool file foul fail foil foal

hat hot hit heat hut hoot height hate

lack lock lick leak luck look Luke like lake

mat met mitt meet mutt moot might mate moat

Here’s a chart showing more lists of words like these: Vowel Chart

Learn English with an American Tutor

You can take lessons with me over Skype to improve your pronunciation or fluency.

I teach intermediate and advanced speakers of English. Lessons are 55 minutes.

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