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Why is my English so Difficult for Americans to Understand?

Contributed by : Susan Ryan

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If you are an Indian English speaker living and working in the US, you may have found that people born in the US have difficulty understanding your spoken English.

You may find yourself wondering, "Why is my English so difficult for natives to understand?"

In this article, I'm going to answer that question.

The main reason is that Indian English and American English have different rules for syllable stress and vowel length.

Native speakers don't always understand you because you don't speak using American stress patterns.

If you don't use the American patterns, your spoken English will be very difficult for native speakers to understand!

Let me explain...

One of the most important features of spoken American English is syllable stress.

This simply means that we stress one syllable in each word. We lengthen the vowel in that syllable and say it with a slightly higher pitch.

When you use the correct syllable stress patterns, natives will almost always understand you.

When you use the incorrect syllable stress patterns,they won't understand you.

Unfortunately the latter happens to Indian English speakers all too often.

I want to tell you a true story that illustrates why stressing syllables correctly is so important.

Raj's Story

In my accent reduction coaching program I worked with an Hindi speaking client (we'll call him Raj) who worked in information technology.

Raj was absolutely brilliant at his job but he had problems communicating with his American born colleagues.

One day, Raj and I were having a discussion about his practice audio files. He asked me if I could compress some of the mp3 files that I was planning to send him.

When I heard Raj say the word COMpress (stressed on the first syllable), I was momentarily confused.

That's because the word COMpress, when stressed on the first syllable is a noun. It means a warm or cold compress that you would apply to a swollen body part after an injury.

The verb comPRESS, (to reduce in size) is what he meant. The verb comPRESS is stressed on the second syllable.

This true story illustrates that simply by using the wrong syllable stress pattern, Raj unknowingly said the wrong word.

Many non-native speakers, (not just Indians) never learned that 60% of two syllable American English verbs are stressed on the second syllable.

That means that common verbs such as; comPRESS, proDUCE and reCORD are stressed on the second syllable, not the first.

When these same spellings are stressed on the first syllable; COMpress, PROduce, REcord.... they are perceived as nouns.

Many Indian English speakers stress the incorrect syllable in longer words too.

For example, when you say the word develop, you probably stress the last syllable making the word sound like: develOP.

American English speakers stress it like this: deVELop, with stress on the second syllable. They won't understand this word if you stress it on OP.

Another example is the word alternative. You probably stress the third syllable making the word sound like: alterNAtive.

American English speakers stress it like this: alTERnative, with stress on the second syllable. They won't understand this word if you stress it on NA.

You may be a bit shocked right now...and I realize that no one ever taught you how to use American syllable stress patterns.

But once you learn to stress syllables the American way, your spoken English will be immediately more clear and comprehensible!

In fact, current research published in Time Magazine indicates that people who want to sound more comprehensible should focus less on individual vowel and consonant sounds and more pitch, stress, and rhythm.

If you are someone who is working to improve your spoken American English in order to move ahead in your career, I invite you to read the articles and tips on my American English Pronunciation and Communication blog at the link below.

On my blog, I address the communication problems most frequently encountered by Indian English speakers.

Learn the rules for speaking American English that no one ever taught you. Learn to make significant positive changes to the way you speak.

About Author
I am an American accent coach specializing in clear communication for IT professionals.

I have helped IT professionals at Bank of America, Twitter, Oracle, IBM, SAP and other companies learn to speak American English with clarity and confidence.



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