Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tips for Improving Vocabulary Skills

If you speak English as a second language and would like to improve your vocabulary, follow these tips:

1. Keep a notebook with you and use it to write down 10 words you hear every day at work that you are not familiar with. At the end of every work week, you should have 50 new words! Look up the meaning of all of the words and memorize them. The website is a good resource to use, as it not only has definitions, but you can look up synonyms, as well. It also provides an audio of how the word is pronounced. Choose at least ten of these words to incorporate into your daily speech, when the situation fits.

2. Watch American television for at least one half hour per day. Programs that you may find most helpful in learning everyday words, slang, and common idioms are usually sitcoms. The word "sitcom" is short for "situation comedy." These are weekly humorous shows that usually last for half an hour. Because they are about everyday life, they include everyday words and expressions that Americans use all the time.

3. Read aloud every day for 2-3 minutes. This will not only provide pronunciation practice, but it will also be a good source of vocabulary words from which to include in your new word list. Try reading things like newspaper articles and magazine articles, as these reading sources will provide you with words that you can use in your daily speech. Novels are also good, but many times include advanced and formal words that we often do not use in informal social situations.

4. Look up synonyms for 20 common words you use on a regular basis, and try using these synonyms as an alternate to using the same words all the time. For example, instead of using the word "pretty", you could say "beautiful", "good-looking", "gorgeous", etc.

Just following these four simple tips will help you develop and improve your vocabulary tremendously! Try it for a month and let me know how it works for you!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Vocabulary Building

Many people who speak English as a second language feel that their vocabulary skills are not what they would like them to be. They would like to expand their vocabulary to include more advanced words. Here are some words that you may want to think about using in your daily speech that will impress anyone you speak with!

1. amiable: friendly
Example: My sister's boyfriend is very amiable; our whole family likes him.

2. appease: to calm, to satisfy
Example: Whenever my niece comes to visit, I have to let her play
video games just to appease her.

3. candor: honesty, frankness
Example: We were actually very surprised at your candor; usually you don't speak so openly about things.

4. diligent: showing care when doing work
Example: My daughter is always diligent about doing her homework and making sure it is done on time.

5. inhibit: to prevent, restrain, stop
Example: Try not to let your manager inhibit you; speak up at meetings if you have something important to say.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How to Pronounce the American English "r" Sound

If I had to pick one sound that I thought was the most difficult for most people who speak English as a second language to master, I would have to choose the American English "r" sound. I choose this sound as the most difficult sound to learn for a couple of reasons: 1) the American English "r" is formed very differently than in many other languages, and 2) it is probably the most frequently occurring sound in American English: it can be a consonant as in word "red", it can be a vowel as in the word "mother" and "bird" and it can occur in consonant blends (two or three consonants together) as in the words "price", "three", "try", scratch", etc.

Let's spend a few minutes talking about how the American English "r" differs from many other languages and how to form it correctly. First of all, many languages such as Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, and Arabic, just to name a few, form the "r" by keeping the lips flat and quickly hitting the roof of the mouth with the tip of the tongue. This creates what we call "rolling" (when the tongue tip hits the roof of the mouth only once) and "trilling" (when the tip of the tongue hits the roof of the mouth more than once). Other languages, such as French and German form the "r" by using the back of their tongue against the back of their throat. Both ways of forming the "r" sound are very different from how we pronounce it in American English.

To form the American English "r", follow these steps in this order:

  • Make a circle with your lips.
  • Open your mouth slightly
  • Curl the tip of your tongue up toward the roof of your mouth,
    but make sure it does NOT touch anything. This part is important! If the tip of your tongue touches the roof of your mouth, it will sound like the American English "d" or sound rolled. If you follow the above steps, you will be able to form the American English "r." Remember, always begin by rounding your lips. If you keep them flat, it will be very difficult to form this sound correctly.
  • With the tip of your tongue curled up, you should also be able to feel the middle part of your tongue raised up toward the roof of your mouth, just where the arch is (the part of the roof of your mouth that is the highest).
  • You may also be able to feel the sides of your tongue pressing against your upper side teeth in the back of your mouth

To register for accent reduction classes, please visit our website at

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Speaking Rate: How Fast Is Too Fast?

Speaking rate is what I consider of one of the fundamental skills in spoken English. Speaking too quickly actually makes an accent heavier because the speaker has less time to form sounds correctly. Speaking too slowly is not good either because the message may take too long to deliver and the listener will get bored.

So, how fast should you speak American English? American English is not a very fast language, as compared to many others, such as Spanish, Indian languages, and French, just to name a few. The average American speaks at about 150 words per minute. When you break that down, it is about 2.5 words per second.

Speaking at an appropriate rate will actually reduce an accent because there is more time to form sounds correctly. Not only that, speaking more slowly also provides more time to organize one's thoughts and think of particular words to say.

My motto is this: speak as slowly as you need to in order to incorporate speaking skills effectively.

How does one speak more slowly and sound natural? The key to speaking more slowly is prolonging the vowels in words. Focus on lengthening the vowels, because it is the vowels that determine our speaking rate.

Speaking more slowly does NOT mean that you should separate your words. Don't forget to keep your words connected when you speak, and only pause when it is an appropriate time to do so.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What Kind of American Accent Do You Have?

Many Americans who participate in public speaking events, such as presentations, telephone conference business calls, meeting updates, or teaching often want to change their accent to a more neutral or "standard" American accent because they don't like their regional one.

Well, there is good news and there is bad news! The bad news is that the "standard" American accent doesn't really exist naturally; it is the professional accent that public speakers, such as news anchors learn. The good news is that you can learn this accent!

The American accent that comes closest to the standard American accent is thought to be in the midwest, somewhere around Michigan.

Not sure what kind of accent you have? Click on this link and answer a few questions to find out. It's fun!

If you're ready, now is a great time to register for accent reduction classes with Speaking Your Best. Just go to and sign up for the class that best fits your needs!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

American English Idioms Using the Word "Up:" What's Up with That?

Idioms are expressions that mean something completely different from the literal translation of the words, and as we all know, American English is full of them. Many idioms can be categorized in terms of categories or specific words they include. Let’s take the word “up” for example. This simple, two-letter word can be an adjective, noun, verb, preposition, or adverb. It has more meaning than perhaps any other word in English! American English incorporates this word into many, many expressions. Let’s take a look at just a few of the ways the word “up” can be used in idioms.

Most of us “wake up” early during the week so that we can “get up” and get ready for work each day. Women often “fix up” their faces and their hair and “get dressed up” for work, while others go to work in casual attire. Some of us have flexible work hours, while others with strict bosses may be “up the creek” if they are even one minute late. It really is “up to” the individual person in charge. We tend to “look up” to people we admire, and are encouraged to “speak up” at meetings. Sometimes at work, we need to “write up” reports, “call up” customers, get "tied up" in meetings, and “think up” new ideas and concepts.

Not everything goes well all the time in our daily lives. No one “signs up” for difficult situations, but they are inevitable. We sometimes “stir up” trouble when we don’t mean to, often have to “clean up” messes, "fix up" our cars when they break down, try to “think up” excuses for things when we get into trouble, "make up" with someone after an argument, "lawyer up" in a criminal case, and "tie up" loose ends. At least we can relax at lunchtime, can’t we? Well, after we “line up” to get our meals, we can sit and “chat up” our friends, and not get “hung up” with our problems.

Yes, “up” seems to be everywhere. If you “look it up” in the dictionary, you may be amazed at what you find. Go to for instance, and take a look at the lengthy page of definitions for this word. You may “wind up” needing reading glasses after you read it, because it will “take up” a lot of your time.

I could go on and on about the word “up”, but I’ll leave the rest “up to” you. See how many expressions using “up” you can think of, and don’t “give up!” Maybe you’ll “come up” with a hundred!

Please visit our website at to register for accent reduction classes and improve your American English pronunciation!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Orly Katz: Life and Business Coach

I recently worked with a woman from Israel named Orly Katz, who is a life and business coach. Although she is fluent in English, she wanted to improve her American English accent, as she is preparing to promote her new book called, "Women: Decode the Law of Attraction" when she comes to the United States.

Let me tell you about her book. It is a coaching book exclusively for women and teaches them the six codes of the Law of Attraction. These codes are designed to help them achieve what they really want in life.

For all of us who feel that we are sometimes plagued with negative factors, this book shows women how to take action and start attracting positive things into their lives.

Check out her website at: