How to Help Students to Neutralise Their Accent

5 Aug 2022 | ESLteachers

People want to reduce their native accents for a number of reasons. Whether it is for clarity and comprehension, professional advancement or just to sound more international, speaking in a neutral accent can be the holy grail for many ESL learners. In this article, we look at common pronunciation mistakes Hong Kongers make and how teachers can help students to neutralise their accent.

1. Focus on teaching the the “th” sound

One of the most common pronunciation problems for Hong Kong students is the “th” sound, which is not present in Cantonese. Teach students to focus on words like “thank you” and “think” to help improve their pronunciation. To make the “th” sound, teach your students to place their tongue between their upper and lower teeth and blow air through it.

2. Pay attention to vowel sounds

English has many vowel sounds that can be difficult for non-native speakers to differentiate. For example, the difference between “bet” and “bat” or “bit” and “beat” may be hard to hear. Teach students to pay attention to these differences and get them to practise saying words with different vowel sounds to help them train their ears.

3. Help them work on their intonation

In Cantonese, the pitch of a word is used to distinguish its meaning. However, in English, the emphasis and stress on certain syllables is used to convey meaning. Make sure your students pay attention to the stress and intonation of words and sentences in English, and practice emphasising the correct syllables. It can also help to teach them word endings.

4. Work with your students on consonant endings

Many English words end with a consonant sound, which may be dropped in Cantonese. For example, the “s” sound at the end of “books” or the “d” sound at the end of “fried” may be difficult to pronounce. Get your students to practise saying these sounds at the end of words to help improve your pronunciation.

Reducing your students’ native accent and making them sound more neutral is a challenging task, and not something that can be mastered straight away but by following these tips, over time you can help your students sound more native when they speak English.