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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Move your mouth!

The number one problem for most of my new students is that they don't move their mouth enough when speaking English.

Rebecca Linquist has a great video with some mouth stretching exercises for you. I strongly recommend doing these exercises daily.

You don't have to move your mouth much when you speak Japanese because there are only 5 vowels, but English has at least 12 (maybe more, depending on how you count them). So we need more "vowel space" so that "beat," "bit," "bite," "bait," "bet," "bat," and "but" don't all sound the same. And you need to move your mouth more to create that extra vowel space.

If you are struggling with vowel clarity, just moving your mouth more is a good first step toward achieving better clarity.

An important second step is learning to relax your mouth. The Japanese mouth is very tense.  い、う、え、and お are all tense vowels, and あ is not fully relaxed. But many English vowels (especially American vowels) are spoken with a relaxed mouth.

One very hard word to pronounce is "woman." The "w" is tense, but the vowels are relaxed (lax). But when Japanese people say ウーマン, the first syllable is much too tense and too long, and it sounds NOTHING like the English word. Jennifer Tarle has a great video on how to say this word.

With feedback and practice, most people can learn to move their mouth and say tough words like "woman" well enough to get 23 on the TOEFL speaking section. But you are probably going to need feedback and practice to do it well, and some of you will need accent reduction training.

Please use English well.