Filed Under: Accent, Pronunciation
September 3, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

No, your English accent doesn’t really matter when you’re speaking in English.

What matters is how you can express yourself in English clearly and naturally.

See, most people misunderstand what an accent actually is. They have this thought that learning a native speaker accent will magically make them sound natural in English… it won’t.

Japanese, for example, has a lot of different accents. English accents are more so, you have British English, American English, Australian English, and more. In fact, in the UK alone, you have around 46 main English accent types. And this just means that you’re always going to encounter different types of accents.

But those accents (no matter how many and confusing) won’t really matter. Instead, focus on how you can express yourself well in English. In fact, if you want to start learning how to sound like a native English speaker, I can help you.

I have a free guide on how you can stop sounding like an English learner and sound like a native English speaker.

Hope that helps.

Best,
Dr Julian Northbrook


July 27, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Yes and no.

It’s not hard in the sense of having to learn it in the way someone learning English as a second language does. We learn our “palette” of sounds along with our first language as kids.

But there are plenty of things we mispronounce, just like, I’m sure, people in your native language.

A couple of years ago one of my clients pointed out I was pronouncing the word “taciturn” wrong (taKIturn). I’m not sure when or why I picked up the incorrect pronunciation – but of course, as soon as I realised it was wrong my pronunciation simply changed (and no, it wasn’t difficult to do).

Being a “native speaker” means being completely unconscious of the way you use language. And yes, that means unconscious (most of the time anyway) of the imperfections, too.

My speech is full of imperfections.

No excuses or explanation — because I honestly don’t see why justification is necessary.

Humans are wrong about most things most of the time. Who cares if I make a mistake with my English.

But, and this is the important part, herein lies the paradox of language learning. You go to school and English classes focus exclusively on accuracy (it’s easy to measure, after all). Yet in reality, there is no true “accurate” model of English because the English I know is a collection of my own (often flawed) experiences.

And my experience of life (and therefore English) is very different to anybody else’s experience.

Of course, the concept of a “standard English” exists.

But that’s all it is.

A concept.

As an aside, a great exercise for developing good pronunciation—particularly rhythm and good “chunking” skills—in English as a second language is “Shadowing”. I’ve got a free guide here, for anyone who wants it.

Best,
Julian Northbrook


July 21, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

There are a few ways on how you can check if your English pronunciation is correct (or not) without asking.





One of the best ways to know if your pronunciation is correct or not is actually quite easy. If the person you’re talking to looks confused, your pronunciation is probably incorrect. But if the person doesn’t look confused, then you nailed it.

And you know, a person’s reaction is still the best feedback you’re going to get.

But for example, you ask them, “Is my pronunciation correct?”, you’ve now implanted an idea in that person’s head that your English is not very good. Because you’ve then shifted the focus from your conversation to the fact that you’re insecure about your pronunciation. In reality, however, they probably never even thought so much about your English at all.

So be confident with your English. If you want to check if your English is correct or not without asking, use their reaction as a reference.

Hope that helps.

I help high-level non-native English speakers use English better at work and in day to day life. If that’s you, you might like to sign up for the free daily email tips I send.

Best,
Dr Julian Northbrook


Filed Under: Pronunciation, shadowing
March 31, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

The answer to this is: no.

But also yes.

What do I mean by that exactly?

There’s a lot of misconception about what shadowing is good for, and it gets treated like a magic-bullet exercise that should fix all problems.

It won’t.

In a way, I feel a little bit responsible for this, because as far as I know, I was the first person to put a video on YouTube, teaching the shadowing exercise for English. Other people had done it before, but never in terms of actually using it to improve in English specifically. And that video got taken in the wrong way by many, many people, as the comments on that video attested to.

But anyway.

Shadowing is useful for one thing, and one thing only.

Yes, it has side benefits.

But the thing only thing that it should be used for is developing muscle memory for speaking English. What we call the “physical aspect” of fluency. That is, learning to make your mouth and your tongue and your muscles move right to articulate English correctly.





If you have problems articulating English properly (as “chunks” of language, because that’s how native speakers really pronounce English) then yes, shadowing is an excellent exercise to use. As long as you are using it correctly, of course, and I’ll come to that in a second.

However:

If you’ve got other problems in English it won’t help at all.

For example, if you know all the English that you need, but you can’t use it in a well-organised way, that’s something different. Or, if you haven’t actually learned the stuff that you need in the first place, that’s something different. Shadowing may have some small benefits. But getting good at these things is not what it excels at.

Trying to use shadowing for things like this is essentially like saying, “Okay, I have no muscles in my arms, so I’m going to go to the gym and do loads of squats.” It’s the wrong exercise for the job. If you’ve got a problem with your arms being too skinny, then you need to do exercises that are specific to your arms — not squats.

This sounds obvious.

But it’s what a lot of people are doing with shadowing.

So will it improve your English?

Yes.

If shadowing is targeting the exact problems you personally have.

Now, the other problem is this:

A lot of people are not doing shadowing correctly. Often what people are doing is just speeding up speaking in a word by word way, which is not what shadowing is good for. Shadowing again is good for learning muscle memory. For learning to articulate English properly. Learning to chunk your language well in speech. To put the pauses in the right places, to learn the right kind of intonation… and all that good stuff.

Because so many people have this problem, what I did is I put together a free guide, called “The Good Shadowing Guide”. You can get it (for free) by going here:

https://doingenglish.com/shadowing

Best,
Dr Julian Northbrook


Filed Under: Accent, Pronunciation
March 30, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

I love this question because It’s something I’m talking about constantly with my coaching clients.

The simple answer is: no.

They’re completely separate things, and they should be learned separately too.

If at all, in terms of accent.

Nine times out of 10, you don’t actually need to worry about your accent. Retaining your own native accent is not only absolutely fine, but is preferable for most people. It sounds weird as hell when people learn, for example, posh British ‘Received Pronunciation’ accent and layer it on top of shitty pronunciation and bad English.

Buuuuut I’m getting ahead of myself.

Pronunciation is very consistent. The way something is pronounced will normally be the same across the whole of a country (the UK, for example). And it’s also going to be the same across different countries as well. It’ll be pronounced the same in the UK, America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada or whatever.

There are exceptions.

Yes.

But not many.

Basically, pronunciation is extremely stable and consistent.

Accent, however, isn’t.

The “American” accent is obviously different to an Australian accent, for example. But even within the UK, there are 46 accent categories and countless sub accents. Speaking with a “different” accent is totally normal and variation is the rule, not the exception.

Really, accent can be thought of as the overall sound of how you speak. Like there are different types of guitar music (accent), but they all sound like guitar, and not, say, like a piano (pronunciation).

Pronunciation, on the other hand, is more to do with how a word or chunk of English should be said in order for people to understand you. Again, nine times out of 10, learning a native speaker accent is not really going to help you much. It’s not going to make you sound better. It often even causes more problems than it solves, too. Especially if you’re the kind of person who thinks sounding good in English requires you to learn, say, an American or a British accent, but then you don’t put any work into the pronunciation. Honestly, it’s the weirdest thing in the world hearing somebody speak with a perfect British or American accent, but then they’re butchering the pronunciation or speaking with messy, chaotic English. Perfect native speaker accents layered on top of shitty pronunciation is still shitty pronunciation, after all.

The best thing to do is focus all of your time and attention on pronunciation and more importantly on the “articulation” of English — that is, learning to chunk your speech naturally.

A great exercise for this is the “shadowing” exercise.

But honestly, a lot of people get this exercise wrong. Which is why I wrote a PDF guide that shows you step-by-simple-step exactly how to do it correctly.

If you haven’t already read it, you can get it here:

https://doingenglish.com/shadowing

Best,
Dr Julian Northbrook


Filed Under: Coaching, Pronunciation
February 18, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

This is part of the “Fly on the Wall” series: your chance to listen in on a real coaching conversation.

Here, we talk about improving pronunciation in English.

My MEFAer was worried about her pronunciation because she finds some sounds difficult, and she felt this makes her English bad. Really, though, her pronunciation is actually very clear and easy to understand…. but her rhythm is not so good.

Like many people, she tends to speak in a word-by-word way and doesn’t articulate her English as chunks well.

Here was my advice:





This is a very common problem, but one fairly easy to fix.

For more on improving the “sound” of your English – your accent, pronunciation, rhythm and intonation – go here and pick up a copy of my book Awesome Accent for the “cheaper than lunch” option, or consider joining us in the next MEFA group.

Best,
Dr Julian Northbrook