As I mentioned in my last post on Indian accent reduction, India is in some ways an English speaking country already. Unfortunately, while Indian English is the standard for some 125 million English users in India, this regional form of English can be hard for Americans to understand. The biggest differences between Indian English and American English are related to pacing and intonation. I gave some pointers on these two skills in my earlier post.
Now that I’ve covered pacing and intonation, let’s talk about pronunciation. Although there are nearly 800 different native languages in India, these languages differ from English in some surprisingly similar ways. American pronunciation of consonants can be especially hard for Indian English speakers. Below are some tips on consonant “trouble spots,” with audio examples.
- The expression of “r” as a “rhotic” sound, not a “rolled” sound. Indians pronounce “r” by “rolling” it, while Americans pronounce R deeper in the back of their mouth—this American kind of “r” is called “rhotic.” To hear the difference between rolled and rhotic R pronunciation, listen to me read the sentence “R is rhotic, not rolled,” first with rolled Rs, and then in the rhotic American way:
- The difference between “r,” “t” and “d.” In many Indian languages, the equivalents to these three consonant sounds are very similar. In English, they’re much more distinct. And while “r” is made in the back of the throat, “t” and “d” are made by tapping the tongue against the upper front teeth; “t” is voiceless, but “d” is voiced. To hear the differences between these sounds, listen carefully as I say the following words:
red, Ted, dead:
fear, feet, feed
- The difference between the “s”, “z” and “sh” sounds. “S” is voiceless. You make the “s” sound by pushing your tongue against the tip of your upper front teeth, and “hissing” without using your voice. “Z” is voiced—it’s just like the “s” except that you use your vocal cords as you hiss. “Sh” is also voiceless, but is made differently than “s.” For “sh”, put your tongue further back in your mouth, above your front teeth, and don’t push too hard against the mouth. Instead, leave more room for air to push out. Then hiss.If these instructions on what to do with your tongue and mouth are a little confusing, don’t worry— tongue and mouth awareness are tricky, even a little unnatural, for everyone. I’m about to give you an audio track where you can hear the difference between these three sounds and all the other sounds in this post. But first…
- Be aware of the differences between unvoiced “th”, voiced “th” and “d.” “Th,” both voiced and unvoiced, is made by putting your tongue between your upper and lower front teeth and hissing. As I mentioned before, “d” is voiced, and is made by tapping your tongue against your upper front teeth. And now:
Words and audio track for “s,” “sh”, “z,” voiceless “th,” voiced “th,” “r,” “t,” and “d”
- Example words:
- Voiceless “th”: thick, with
- Voiced “th”: this
- “S”: this, nice
- “Sh”: dish, shrimp, tired
- “Z”: fries, eyes
- “D”: dish
- “T”: hot, to, tired
- “R”: fries, shrimp, tired
- Sentence with all of these words:
This hot dish, thick with fries and shrimp, is nice to my tired eyes.
Audio of the sentence:
And there you have it. The main “problem consonants” for those of you who speak Indian English, with some model audio tracks, so that you can hear the American English versions of the consonants. Listen to the tracks carefully, and you should get the hang of pronouncing things the American way, for the TOEFL and for your future studies in the US.