Why is Speaking American English so difficult?
"...our accursed system of spelling...
which the sense of hearing suffices to contradict."
Lord Lytton, The American Encyclopedia
Learning to read and write good English does not help to speak it clearly. Since writing
and speaking are so different, the eye misleads the ear and voice.
A River of Sounds:
Unlike any other language in the world, American English flows as smoothly as a river.
What is the river? It is a deep, smooth breath.
The sounds and words are carried by the river of breath. A number of the sounds act like a current connecting and carrying all the others. These connector sounds are certain of the consonants. They are the ones that should be stressed. Vowels must be articulated properly, but they should never be stressed.
In fact, American English becomes easier to understand and to speak with fewer strongly-stressed sounds. When every sound or the wrong sounds are stressed, the river becomes choppy, foreign accents get stronger and speaking good, clear American English becomes impossible. Just as impossible to understand are sounds and words that are rushed, jammed together or incompletely formed.
The river of breath also controls the rise and fall of the pitch of the voice. That is called intonation.
The Shape of American English
The shape of American English is different, too. What is meant by shape and what controls it? It is what the mouth looks like when we see people speak. Most languages of the world use the tongue more than in English, and the jaw is high. American English is more relaxed because the jaw drops, and only the very tip of the tongue is important.
Words come together to form phrases and phrases become sentences. What words join together in phrases, which separate, and why the littlest words are so important - that is the study of American rhythm.
Speaking American English
The sounds that seem so difficult to say in American English are only difficult because they do not flow and connect to the other sounds as they should. It is the connections not the sounds themselves that make Speaking American seem so hard.
Learn to feel the flow of the river of breath.
Learn what sounds are the connectors.
Learn to allow the relaxed American shape of the mouth.
Learn the rhythm of American English.
A few concepts and a few simple exercises done correctly will allow you to master Speaking American English. Otherwise, like so many others, you may try for decades and still struggle.
"Now I enjoy speaking English. Before it was kind of like torture." Tamaki Onishi, Fundraiser
"I no longer feel I am misunderstood while speaking... I owe Lee Kelley a great deal."
P. Fisch, Foreign Student
Lee Kelley studied Standard American speech under Louise Eaton, a protegee of the legendary teacher Margaret Prendergast McLean. She was trained in voice at Boston Conservatory and at the Royal Conservatory, Toronto by Dr. Ernesto Vinci, who was an opera singer, medical doctor and one of the top voice teachers in Canada.
Lee Illustrating American Rhythm
to a Russian Engineer