American accent is actually a very broad, general term. US English is used by a broad variety of people across the world, and the US alone is home to hundreds of regional and cultural dialects. We’ll be giving you some tips on what is referred to as General American. This is the kind of “neutral” standard speech associated with highly educated Americans and broadcast media. It is the accent you’d expect to hear on the news.
For starters, the United States of America is the third largest country in the world, and US English is the most popular form spoken with at least 231 million speakers.
Today we’re going to unpack the American accent. Keep reading for some simple training in speaking like a native. We’ll give you tips on pronunciation, intonation and even a few Americanisms, or common US words, to try.
So how do you speak like an American? Let’s go through a few typical features of the general American accent that you need to remember.
Tip.1: Work on the “r”
The American accent is considered a rhotic accent. This means that wherever the letter “r” is written, it is pronounced. Park instead of pahk. Car instead of cah. Many non-native English speakers struggle with rhoticity, so practise your r’s!
To make a good R, open your mouth slightly and relax. Now curl the tip of your tongue back without touching the top of your mouth, and voice!
Really hard, right?
Tip 2: Get the “th” right
Another tricky, yet common sound in the American vernacular, is th. The, not ze. Thought, not sought. To make a ‘th’, rest your tongue between your teeth and voice! Say thick, not sick. ‘Th’ is sometimes voiced and sometimes devoiced, depending on the rest of the word. R is voiced in there, mother and algorithm. R is devoiced in think, throw, and anthem.
Tip 3: Light “L” vs. Dark “L”
The final sound we’re going to practice is L. Try producing a Dark L. This means the back of the tongue is raised slightly, giving it a rich, “dark” sound. This version of L is more common at the end of words, but in many American accents it is the only form of L.
In order to produce these sounds correctly, it’s important to hear them! Once you’ve got the individual sounds down, you need to produce them in the correct context. Balance and rhythm are important factors in speaking like a native. Watch your syllable stress – that is, which parts of the word you emphasise more than others. Try reading the following, slowly at first, emphasising the parts in bold:
Gina aced her physics exam. I gotta give her props for that!
To sound like a native speaker, you can’t just speak in the right way, you need to say the right thing. Ace, gotta and give props are all quintessentially US. Listen up! Are you all ears? If you think something’s great, try expressing it like an American. Awesome!
Tip 4: Remember the vocabulary used
You might be familiar with the US vs British spelling amongst the other differences. There are a lot of differences in vocabulary, as well – say Fall instead of Autumn, sneakers instead of trainers, and apartment instead of flat.
Americans love to turn nouns into verbs. Vacation, vacuum and lobby are all examples of this. One doesn’t just take a vacation, they vacation. Do you own a vacuum, or do you want to vacuum? Try turning some nouns into verbs!
Tip 5: Hollywood or Netflix it!
Whilst everything we’ve gone through is useful to know, ultimately the best way to speak like a native is to hear natives speak. The United States, home of course to Hollywood, is one of the most prolific producers of cinema today. For a more neutral, General American accent, settle in and watch Star Wars, the Dark Knight trilogy, or for an old-time classic, try Gone With the Wind.
To experience more diverse regional accents the US has to offer, try Fargo, set in Minnesota in the midwest. East Coast? The Godfather presents New York Italian American. For a Southern drawl, cinema classic Forrest Gump is set in Alabama, in the Southeast. You can check some of the best Hollywood movies here.
Equipped with these tools – pronunciation, intonation, and vocabulary, you’ll be mimicking Hollywood celebrities in no time. Start slow, then build up to a natural speed.
Before you know it, you’ll get the hang of it. Props to you!
Written by Claudia