Rules! Each Language and Dialect Follows a Unique Set of Rules

We absorb without effort the language rules of our first language and use them unconsciously. But, it takes conscious practice and effort to incorporate the language rules of a second or third language that is learned after age 13. Language rules affect both spoken and written communication. English has many rules that relate to correct pronunciation. Below are just a few of the rules that challenge second language speakers of English.


In spoken English, the “T” sound is pronounced four different ways! Say these words out loud and hear how you pronounce each “T” differently: “toe,” “bat,” “button” and “bottle.” The past tense ending of “ED” is pronounced three different ways depending on the ending sound in the verb. Say these words out loud: “burned,” “stopped” and “wanted.” Syllable stress varies between types of words. Generally, the first syllable in two syllable nouns and adjectives are stressed while the second syllable is stressed in two syllable verbs and prepositions. Try saying the following words; the stressed syllables are in capitals. Nouns and adjectives: TAble, SCIssors, PREtty.  Verbs and prepositions: reQUIRE, deMAND, aSIDE, beTWEEN.


There are many helpful programs to check spelling, grammar and vocabulary of a written language. Reviewing spoken language is more challenging. Here are some suggestions to help you improve your spoken English:


  1. Use an online dictionary to check your pronunciation of the sounds in the words and syllable stress. Record both the dictionary and yourself saying the target word. Listen critically to your recording.  Was one syllable particularly difficult? Practice that syllable alone many times then practice the word slowly pausing between syllables a few times and finally practice the word as a whole. Practice the word many times (8-15X) in a row. Practice the word again several days in a row.


  1. Record yourself speaking for 3-5 minutes.


  1. Listen to yourself. How did you sound? Think of a one or two language rules that you want to check. Such as did you correctly pronounce of past tense verbs and plural nouns? How did you do on the following sounds: S, Z, L, R and TH?


  1. Listen again and write down your errors. Chose one error that you want to correct.


  1. Practice correct pronunciations for that specific goal many times (8 or more) and then re-record yourself. Listen to yourself—How did you do?


  1. Listen again. How did you do? If you were successful, repeat the practice sequence with another language rule. Using a new speech pattern takes conscious practice, many repetitions and many days of practice. Try practicing your new skill for short periods of time throughout the day.


It can be very challenging to make multiple adjustments to your speech without the help of a trained professional. Accent modification training helps people improve the use of critical spoken language rules. Would you like to learn more about accent modification training? I am a certified speech-language pathologist and an accent modification specialist.  I see my client’s in-person or through Zoom meeting.  I offer free phone consultations and you may schedule one on this website.


Content inspired by my colleague and mentor, Judith Bergman, Triangle Speech Services.