Mastering English as a Russian native speaker is no small task. Not only is there a different alphabet to deal with, but the variation in the sounds required between two languages is like the difference between a tea bag and samovar.
As a Russian native speaker you may have obtained a proficient command of English grammar and vocabulary. Perhaps your written English skills are great, but you feel very aware of your accented speech. It is normal for a Russian native speaker to struggle to shift the weight of their accent to a purely English one. This is because English and Russian operate under completely different sound systems.
Here are a few tips to consider in refining your English accent and enable Russian accent reduction.
English pronunciation tips to reduce your Russian Accent
1. Listen for consonant differences
The first step to adjusting your accent is to listen for the differences between Russian and your target language. Although Russian and English have a similar number of consonant sounds, they do not really overlap. Be careful! Many sounds of Russian are produced typically with more pressure and force than the sounds of English. For example, the Russian r sound is registered very differently from the English r. In fact, the International Phonetic Alphabet transcribes the Russian r with a completely different character from the English r. The same is true for many other consonant sounds.
These following 2 sounds are just a few of the many sounds you will need to address to ensure clear English. Speak with us at Voice Science for more information on the other key sounds needed according to a comprehensive assessment tailored to address your current accent.
1) TH /θ/
This the first of two options for pronouncing “th”. You can find this sound at the beginning, middle and end of English words. It is present in words like thick, breath, thousand, thunder and thermometer. “Th” must never sound like an “f” or “t”. Be sure to create this as a distinct sound from any other sound.
Try these words:
2) R /r/
This is one of the most complicated sounds of English. In fact, it is even one of the last sounds that children learn to master. Take care with this sound. In order to allow for clear English it is important to make a decision about your target accent as different sound rules will occur of the letter “r” according to North American or British, Australian or New Zealand accent.
One of the major indicators of Russian accented English is an extended and trilled r. This will break the flow and line of any English phrase as it makes the r sound continue for longer than required.
Try to reduce the pressure on the sound r. The English r is produced at lower pressure for a shorter time duration. Try to say the following words with less pressure and duration on the r:
Don’t use the previous sounds interchangeably with other sounds or it will impact on the meaning and intelligibility of your message. Record yourself saying words with sounds you know to be difficult. Listen and compare and smooth out any differences in your pronunciation production.
2. Russian Vowels
Russian has a total of 6 vowels. Australian English, in comparison has up to 21 vowels. Do the maths! That is a total of at least 15 sounds that may not be present in your sound system! Russian vowels are typically similar to some English short vowels so it is often easy to use your Russian vowels where you need to apply a specific English vowel. This makes local listeners hear “bat” instead of “bait” or “sit” instead of “seat”.
Listen carefully to the vowels of native speakers. Record yourself reading short paragraphs from newspaper articles. Do you sound like a native? Listen for the vowels that need to be longer and try to stretch out your vowels and lengthen them where you need to.
3. Speech Intonation
What is intonation? In a nutshell, this refers to the music of your speech. Every accent and dialect follows parameters of rhythm, tone and pitch that match expression. When we learn a new language, we are all inclined to apply the intonation of our mother tongue to our target language. This can add charm but can result in listeners struggling to understand you, or even, at worst, becoming distracted by your accent instead of absorbing the content of what you are saying.
Try to slow down and link your words together instead of rushing to sound more fluent. If you speak at a slower rate, listeners will understand you better and you may also feel more calm and confident while speaking. Use pauses to collect your thoughts and don’t be afraid to take more time when you need it. Try to add inflection and colour your speech like native speakers do. Watch local soap operas in English and mimic the actors.
Accent neutralization takes considerable effort. Many non-native speakers may still retain a hefty accent even after years of expat life in an English speaking country. Sure, an accent is often a completely wonderful thing to have as it can set you apart and gives you that extra string in your bow since everyone can tell you are multi-lingual. However, at times, accent can hamper the effectiveness of your message. With time and careful practice however, you can neutralise your accent to smooth out its intensity and thus increase your speaking clarity. Don’t give up. Work on your weaknesses and practice daily to improve your English proficiency.
Many non-native speakers opt to consult with a Speech Pathologist to reduce the impact of a foreign accent.
See more accent reduction tips for non-native speakers here.
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