Succeed in America

Overcome Cultural and Linguistic Barriers. Improve Effectiveness

nara@SucceedinAmerica.com 





P1030591.PNGPhone technology is not perfect. When transmitted over the phone, our speech becomes less intelligible. Often, some letters and intended sounds may sound exactly like other letters and sounds when pronounced over the phone. For instance, often, it is difficult to distinguish “f” from “s”, or A (letter A) from numeral 8 (eight), sound  sound m. (This is an excerpt from How to Talk on the Phone (Business English ESL). 

To clarify, Americans spell over the phone all the time especially when it comes to names and email addresses. As a matter of fact, Americans provide and request correct spelling more often than other nations do. 

When you need to spell something out over the phone, give words or names that are very common for each letter. For instance,” Is it digit 8 or A as in apple? ” Here is another example, 

“My address is 55 Mill Plain Road, Suite 31-F.”  “Is it S as in Samuel?” “No, F as in Frank……”  

If you are unsure of spelling or do not understand the other party, say: 

-Excuse me, how do I spell that?

-Would you spell that for me?

-I am sorry, would you say that again.

More examples.

– My first name is Nara. N as in New York,  A as in ArgentinaR as in RioA as in Amsterdam.

– My name is Nina Shved. How do you spell your last name, please?

– My name is Nina Shved. How do you spell your last name, please? That’s  S  as in San-Franciscoh as in Havana,  as V as in Venice E as in Europe, D as in Denmark. That’s Shved.

 Remember to give words or names that are very common for each letter. I find using widely known geographical names is helpful when spelling words over the phone.

To be able to spell over the phone you need to know the names of the English alphabet.  The following table contains the names of the  letters and suggested words to identify them over the phone:

The Names of the Letters of the American Alphabet

 

pastedGraphic.png

 

You Might Also Like These Articles:

Sexual Harassment or a Compliment?
Business English: Useful Phrases for Cell Phone Calls 
3 Vital Tips for Building Confidence in Business Meetings 

tn[2] (2)**Dr. Nara Venditti is the owner of Succeed In America specializing in business communication skills for foreign-born professionals and cross-cultural communication in the workplace. She is passionate about cross-cultural understanding and helping non-native speakers of English succeed in the American workplace. She
 speaks  and writes on Business English and communication across languages and cultural divides. She is  the author of numerous articles and books on the topics available on SucceedinAmerica  and  on  Amazon

 

 

 

Statue of Liberty SpoonIf you use prepositions incorrectly, you will not be understood, or even worse misunderstood, when you communicate in English. This article provides ways to improve your conversational business English by using prepositions correctly.

What are prepositions? These are small, but important words that describe relationships between words in a sentence. They link a word or word group to others. If you misuse them, you will confuse your listeners. Most commonly used prepositions are – of, in, on, at, for, to, from, among, between). Prepositions convey different types of information, such as place (in the room, at work), time (at 7 o’clock, in three hours, on November 7th) or they may give a new meaning to verbs, such as show up, give in, come across.

If you use prepositions incorrectly, you will not be understood, or even worse misunderstood, when you communicate in English.

The challenge in using prepositions correctly comes from the fact that in many cases there is no logic or rules about using prepositions (in other words, in many cases, they have idiomatic or figurative usage).

Here is my position on prepositions – you need to memorize their usage. I repeat, ESL and ELL students and professionals need to memorize which prepositions are used in certain phrases and situations.

Here are three points that will help you to use prepositions correctly in conversational English. 

  1. Be aware of difference of using prepositions in your native language and English and the fact that in many cases they don’t translate directly from one language to another. To make matters worse, in some languages prepositions do not exist at all. Also, there are differences not only in the choice of prepositions, but also in whether a preposition is used at all. Even languages that are relatively not so different from English (e.g., Romance languages, such as French, Italian, German or Rumanian or Slavic languages, such as Polish, Serbian or Russian) may also have challenges with prepositions. And for the same reason – in English prepositions are often used in idiomatic way, rather than governed by grammatical rules or “logics.”
  2. Record preposition usage. Become a “language Sherlock Holmes.” When you read books, newspapers or your co-workers’ e-mails, record preposition usage in a separate file or note-book. Make a list of preposition usage in a sentence. Use a good dictionary to understand their meaning.
  3. Practice. Once you have a list, repeat aloud prepositions in sentences.

So keep these three points in mind, and you will dramatically increase your conversational English. 

One final thought. Keep in mind that sometimes words that look like prepositions, do not function as prepositions. For instance, go over, speak up, get along, or make up. These expressions are called phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs have idiomatic meaning which means that the meaning of two words together does not correspond to the meaning of component words.

Strong accent can have an enormous impact on how people are perceived. In a University of Chicago study, it was found that people with  non-native accents are perceived as”  less credible” than those with native accents.
Many non-native speakers understand this  and  believe that it is pronouncing sounds correctly that will help to make themselves understood and  to make their point. 
This is true but my  advice to you – don’t focus just on difficulties you have with some sounds.  In many  cases, intonation is much more important.
Take so called tag questions.
Tag Questions, or, questions tags, are short phrases that change a declarative statement into a question .For example, “You are Vanessa Del Monte, aren’t you?”,  “aren’t you?” is the tag question.
Just as in many languages, tag questions are more common in everyday spoken conversational English including its business variety. However, in English, different intonation or music in tag questions, carries different meaning.
Two examples of the same statement “You are moving to New York, aren’t you?”: 
      1)     with falling intonation, “aren’t you?” implies that you are sure of something and looking for confirmation.  (I am sure that you are moving and I want your confirmation)
      2)      with rising intonation, “aren’t you?” expresses uncertainty. (I am not sure you moving and I want an answer) . Although a sentence may be grammatically correct and pronounced correctly, the wrong intonation of a tag question may convey unintended meaning.
Consider the following situation involving an ELL and ESL learner.  While on a date at a restaurant you say, “You like this restaurant, don’t you? With rising intonation, “don’t you?” sounds like you are asking if she likes it. However, with falling intonation don’t you? sounds like you are telling her to like it. What do you think her reaction will be?  Right, you guessed.  This could be your last date with this person.
Consider another situation. You are planning a one day vacation and you ask your colleague to cover your desk for a day. “You will cover my desk, won’t you?”  With rising intonation, it will sound as if you are politely asking for help.  With falling it will sound as an order or assignment which you are not  authorized for anyway.
What will it do to your relationship?  You’re right again.  Nothing good.
 
To summarize, be careful when using tag questions.  Their intonation may send a wrong message.
We are constantly judged by what we say and how we say it. One of the things that could be in the way of  a favorable image is a heavy accent. That’s when accent reduction comes to the rescue. I actually call accent reduction an “accent makeover”.  Why makeover? Just as accomplishing an image makeover, your unique personality is still there but it is a better you.  The same with an accent makeover.  You still have an accent but your speech  is easy to understand and you articulate your ideas more clearly and persuasively.  And we know how important that is in business and in personal life! There are a number of tips that will help you  effectively reduce your accent.  I will list the top three. 1. When you speak English,  speak slowly.  The faster you speak, the heavier your accent will be. For the average American speaker, the rate is not as fast as , say, in Indian languages.  Here is a quick tip for you – stretch your vowel sounds and your speech will be slower and easier to understand. 2. Enunciate.  Enunciating means producing sounds very distinctly.  Pay special attention to word endings and vowels. 3. Read aloud every day and tape yourself.  Listen to the tapes, critique yourself.  Repeat words over and over.  Remember, accent makeover takes practice. Yes, it could be a lot of work, but your efforts will be rewarded.  If you can express yourself clearly and persuasively, you will build better relationships and achieve your career goals faster.
Strong accent can have an enormous impact on how people are perceived. In a University of Chicago study, it was found that people with  non-native accents are perceived as”  less credible” than those with native accents. Many non-native speakers understand this  and believe that it is pronouncing sounds correctly that will help to make themselves understood and  to make their point. This is true but my  advice to you – don’t focus just on difficulties you have with some sounds.  In many  cases, intonation is much more important. Take so called tag questions. Tag Questions, or, questions tags, are short phrases that change a declarative statement into a question .For example, “You are Vanessa Del Monte, aren’t you?”,  “aren’t you?” is the tag question. Just as in many languages, tag questions are more common in everyday spoken conversational English including its business variety. However, in English, different intonation or music in tag questions, carries different meaning. Two examples of the same statement “You are moving to New York, aren’t you?”: 1) with falling intonation, “aren’t you?” implies that you are sure of something and looking for confirmation.  (I am sure that you are moving and I want your confirmation) 2)      with rising intonation, “aren’t you?” expresses uncertainty. (I am not sure you moving and I want an answer) . Although a sentence may be grammatically correct and pronounced correctly, the wrong intonation of a tag question may convey unintended meaning. Consider the following situation involving an ELL and ESL learner.  While on a date at a restaurant you say, “You like this restaurant, don’t you? With rising intonation, “don’t you?” sounds like you are asking if she likes it. However, with falling intonation don’t you? sounds like you are telling her to like it. What do you think her reaction will be?  Right, you guessed.  This could be your last date with this person. Consider another situation. You are planning a one day vacation and you ask your colleague to cover your desk for a day. “You will cover my desk, won’t you?”  With rising intonation, it will sound as if you are politely asking for help.  With falling it will sound as an order or assignment which you are not  authorized for anyway. What will it do to your relationship?  You’re right again.  Nothing good.   To summarize, be careful when using tag questions.  Their intonation may send a wrong message.  
Correct word stress is important for clear pronunciation. To understand and properly use word stress, it necessary to understand syllables.  Simply put, a syllable is a part of a word with one vowel, one beat. All words are made up of one or more syllables. For instance, “son” has one syllable (one beat) and “father” has two syllables (two beats).    English dictionaries will show the different parts of a word. An easy way to demonstrate and gain an understanding of syllables is to clap the number of parts while speaking the word.  Do it now, LOVE [luv] – one syllable /beat,  realistic –RE-AL-IS-TIC – 4 syllables/beats,  colleague – COL-LEAGUE – 2 beats/syllables.
When T&H are spelled together, they can denote two  sounds – /θ/  theta  and /ð/ eth. And I know, I know.  These sounds may be very challenging to pronounce. Even American-born children who grew up speaking English almost normally learn these sounds last. With the exception of Castilian Spanish and Greek, English is the only language that uses these two sounds.  To pronounce /Θ/,
  • place your tongue in between your upper and lower lips
  • slightly blow the air the air through your teeth (as if you are blowing on something hot)
  • if you look into the mirror, you should see the tip of your tongue.
 
In some  cultures, it is inappropriate to stick your tongue out. But the more you practice, the less obvious it will be. So go to your bathroom or mirror and just practice.
  Here are some words to practice: Thankful, thank you, three, thermometer, think, growth, path, math, South, North, seventh, thousand, oath, cloth  Sound   /ð/ Pronunciation sound /ð/ is the same, only it is voiced (which means that your voice cords vibrate). The, this, these, those, together, there, thanks, withdraw, think, throw  TIP: If you putt a finger or two on the throat when pronouncing ‘Th’ for the voiced sound /ð/, e.g., . ‘The’, ‘This’, ‘That’, ‘Them’, ‘They’, ‘Those’ you will feel vibration.  When you do that    for the unvoiced ‘Th’ sound /θ/ , as in ‘Think’, the throat does not vibrate. Hopefully, you have learned how to pronounce these sound.  If you still have difficulty, do not hesitate to contact me.
In the English language, there are words and expressions that are used more frequently than others. While the subtleties of how they are used can be confusing for non-native speakers of English, recognizing and using them properly will help improve conversational English – due to their higher frequency of usage in spoken English. Two such words are “can” and “can’t”. These words have opposite meaning and are often confused by non-native speakers (ELL and ESL students and professionals) because they may sound the same to a foreigner’s ear. What is confusing is that native speakers tend to reduce the vowel in “can” and omit the “t” in “can’t”. Misunderstanding and misusing them may create havoc in business. I will illustrate using a few examples: CAN: What a baby can do? A baby can cry. A baby can eat. In these two sentences, CAN is used along with a verb (cry and eat). Here “can” is pronounced as [kÉ™n] or [kn]. In other words the “a” sound [æ] is reduced. However, in some cases [æ] is not reduced, not stressed: 1. When CAN is the last word in a sentence: E.g., Yes I CAN – [kæn], or:I will do it as soon as I CAN. 2. When used as negative, both in full – CANNOT and abbreviated – CAN’T. E.g., You CANNOT or CAN’T use the pool after 9 PM. 3. When it is stressed, or emphasized. E.g., I will prove to you that I CAN run a marathon. CAN’T: What a baby can’t do? A baby “CAN’T” speak or A baby “CAN’T”walk. A non-native speaker may not distinguish this subtle difference and this may sound much like “CAN” [kæn]. So, CAN is not stressed Except for thee three situations listed above). CAN’T is always stressed which means the negative form of can is very strong. One Last tip, to be 100% sure 1) Ask to clarify – Do you mean “CAN” or “CANNOT?; 2) Use the full word – To express negative, say – I “CANNOT”. Practice: read aloud the sample sentences listed in this article a few times until you get it right.
   
   Sound is the basic element of the spoken language. Out of approximately 1100 sounds among the thousands of  different languages spoken in the world, English utilizes of only about 44 of them.      One can imagine the difficulty in articulating the many different  patterns of speech sounds from ones native tongue into English and, conversely the difficulty of English speakers understanding the colorful though confusing   mispronunciations of foreigners. Especially in business, this may have serious consequences.    There are, however, ways to minimize many of the common pronunciation mistakes that are made by the majority of non-native speakers of English.  Here is the list of seven  mistakes that many English language learners regardless of their language background make.
  1. Intonation. Using the intonation of your native language can distort and confuse the meaning of what is being said. When speaking English, be conscious that the rising or falling pitch of your voice should be consistent with American intonation.
  Tip: Learn and change your intonation to American intonation and you will make your speech more dynamic, understandable  and confident. 2. Rate of speech.   There is a mistaken notion among some non-native speakers that the faster one speaks the more authentic and credible they sound. This is a misconception.  Fast, not even accented speech, may be misunderstood even by speakers of the same language. However, many of us speak too fast. Some factors that influence how fast we speak are characteristics of the individual, familiarity with the subject, and emotional state. This is especially true for speakers of Indian languages where rate of speech is much faster than in English. Tip: speak slower to make your speech more understood and … enunciate.  This brings me to my next point. 3. Enunciating. Pronounce words distinctly, in other words, enunciate.  While speaking, concentrate on enunciating each sound. This brings me to another important point. 4.Grammar sounds.  If you mispronounce or drop word endings, your speech will be unclear.  It will sound uneducated, unprofessional, and your listener will be distracted by mistakes you make. Many non-native speakers know grammar well. But when it comes down to pronouncing the forms correctly, that’s when they fail. ELL and ELS speakers of English are often unaware or take lightly the importance of basic English grammar pronunciation and intonation of words and mispronounce and drop word endings primarily in the following cases:
  1. regular past tense verbs such as used, started, changed
  2. 3rd person singular present such as speaks, walks, talks
  3. regular plural count nouns such as friends, cars, sisters,  and
  4. possessive nouns such as Mike’s, Rick’s, Isabella’s
  Tip: Remember, noun and verb endings change the meaning of a sentence. Make sure you practice grammar sounds to improve the clearness and professionalism of your speech.   5. Long and short vowel distinction.  For instance, pronouncing long vowels as short. Here is how it can change the meaning.  “Sheet” – a common word used in business English (as in sheet of paper, spreadsheet).  Don’t pronounce the long /i:/ and you will have the entire room full of people trying to suppress the smile (“shit” is not “sheet”!).  Many Russian speakers make this mistake. Tip: if you find it difficult to pronounce long and short sounds, try to find a synonymous word (for instance, “page” in case of “sheet”), and, whenever appropriate,  use it instead.     6. Mispronouncing diphthongs.  As a rule, ESL speakers pronounce the diphthong as a single vowel missing the second part.  Forinstance, [no] instead of [nou], [ska] instead of [skai].  These can be very confusing to native speakers who do not recognize that  two letters together are pronounced as one single sound.    7.  Substituting one sound for another.  For instance, Spanish speakers may substitute /sh/ for /ch/.  For instance, “cheat” versus “sheet.”  A native speaker might hear cheat  in place of sheetTip: Find out which words you mispronounce more frequently and practice how to pronounce them correctly. I will not exaggerate if I state that if you eradicate or even minimize these seven types of mistakes, your speech clarity will improve by 80 percent;  and you will make  your speech more clear, confident, and credible to the listener.  
 
This article is about possible pronunciation challenges that Indian speakers may encounter. Recognizing these challenges will help to eliminate them and improve pronunciation. Sanskrit is the Indian mother tongue from which sprang up many other Indo-European languages languages including Hindu, Urdu, Telugu, and Punjabi. Although there is no single Indian language, those who speak these languages may have common pronunciation mistakes.  
  1. Intonation.  The Indian accent tends to exhibit an up and down lilt. This quality is sometimes referred to as a “Bombay Welsh”. This inherent music of Indian languages while pleasant, carries over to English making it somewhat distracting and difficult to understand.
  2.  
  3. Vowel pronunciation. As inferred by the name Bombay Welsh, both Indian and Welsh speakers tend to pronounce almost all vowels as they written. Both languages seem to lack a “schwa” sound. For instance, the word “compartment” will be pronounced “cOmpartment”.
  4.  
  5. Stress. Indian speakers tend to give equal emphasis to all vowels. So, to an American ear, Indian speech sometimes sounds very staccato. Also, many Indian speakers tend to always stress next to the last syllable. For instance, “lo’gical” instead of ‘logical.
  6.  
  7. Adding a vowel before consonant clusters. Because consonant clusters at the beginning of the word are more common in English than in Indian languages, Indian speakers add a vowel  before a consonant at the beginning  or between consonants in the middle of the word.  For instance, “start” versus “istart”, “state” versus “estate”.
  8.  
  9. Reversing  /v/ and /w/. Indians often reverse /v/ and /w/. For instance, “He vent to school”, “Please close the went”.