The speech accent archive

Posted by on May 14, 2013 in Speaking |

The speech accent archive is a project run by Stephen H. Weinberger at the George Mason University Program of Linguistics.  He and his colleagues and students have collected and phonetically transcribed hundreds of speech samples from English native speakers and learners from around the world.  Everyone reads the same short script so you can really hear the differences in accent!  It’s a fun way to travel around the world, linguistically!  Below you can see the map of speakers in Europe, click the image to go to the...

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IELTS Speaking Criteria

Posted by on Apr 23, 2013 in IELTS Speaking Assessment, Speaking |

You have probably read a lot about what you need to do to get a good score on the IELTS speaking test.  Unfortunately, a lot of this information is hard to understand.  But the British Council has recently published a series of videos that I think really explains these requirements well.  In the IELTS speaking test, you will be given scores in 4 areas: Fluency & Coherence Lexical Range Grammatical Accuracy Pronunciation To understand exactly what is included (and not included) in each of these categories, watch the videos on the British Council’s Teach IELTS...

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Karaoke at home

Posted by on Apr 10, 2013 in Listening, Reading, Speaking, Videos |

Doing grammar exercises is not the only way to improve your English!  Sometimes you just want to have a little fun and sing a song.  Karaoke Party is a clever website where you can sing a bunch of different songs for free.  You can search by genre, year or keyword and you will see a flash video with or without the words and a representation of the melody (kind of like SingStar for the PS3).  You can already sing a few songs without registering, if you register you will get more.  There is a paid membership if you want access to all the songs but they have a nice selection for registered users already. Have...

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Test your pronunciation in this game

Posted by on Mar 14, 2013 in Speaking |

Here’s a silly game for you to try: Just pronounce the word on the screen (into your microphone), if you do it correctly you’ll see the next part of the cartoon.  The game understands the other things you say too, so be polite!

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How to pronounce English names

Posted by on Mar 13, 2013 in Listening, Speaking |

English names are notoriously difficult to pronounce when you can only read them.  For example, how many syllables are there in Loughborough or Leominster (these are towns in England)?  Two!  I know it’s strange, it’s strange to me too.  I come from the US, where our cities have normal-sounding names (that’s just a little joke!). So what can you do?  Here is one of those times when you just need to know the international phonetic alphabet (IPA).  Do you remember it?  Here’s a very nice interactive page from the British Council.  We need this because as we saw with Loughborough or Leominster, it just doesn’t make sense that these letters can all be pronounced in two syllables.  We need some way of communicating the pronunciation. I found these town names on this Wikipedia page of names in English with counter-intuitive pronunciations.  You’ll notice that all of the names are also written with the IPA so that you can easily pronounce them correctly.  What’s that?  You’re not an expert in IPA reading?  Then I have found exactly the tool for you. AT&T Labs have developed an IPA to speech program.  You can enter the IPA characters and the program will pronounce “exactly” what you put in (I’m sure it’s not perfect, but I think it is a good start).  The one problem is that you need to put the IPA inside a little HTML code.  Here’s how you do it. Copy the following code: <phoneme alphabet=”ipa” ph=”kæt”> </phoneme> Paste the code into the box on the AT&T Labs page Now copy the IPA you want read (this is the first bit of funny letters from the Wikipedia page, the second set of letters won’t work) and paste it inside the quotation marks where you see kæt in the original, like this: <phoneme alphabet=”ipa” ph=”ˈlʌfbrə”> </phoneme> Choose the speaker you would like to hear Click the “Speak” button! Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work perfectly (sometimes the voice will read the punctuation), but “Crystal US English” is pretty reliable. If you want to type other words into the speech generator, you can use an IPA typewriter here. Have fun! I’d like to thank “Pablo” for his post on Yahoo! answers which told me how to use the AT&T Labs tool. Resources from this post: British Council IPA page Wikipedia page of English names with counter-intuitive pronunciation AT&T Labs text-to-speech demo IPA typewriter Yahoo answers post by Pablo (for more information about the text-to-speech demo and the html...

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Train your accent

Posted by on Mar 11, 2013 in Listening, Speaking, Videos |

It is possible to do some speaking practice alone, especially accent training. Choose a speaker of English who you like, someone who you think has a good accent. Try and find some videos of this person speaking on youtube or on DVD, and take a section that’s about 30 seconds long. Listen carefully to it: pay attention to the speed, the rhythm, the intonation and the pauses. Now go to Vocaroo (or use recording software on your PC) and record yourself saying the same lines. Now listen to yourself! Compare it with the original and record yourself again.  When you think you have a good recording, save it and play it at the same time as the...

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