Stop Robotic Speaking – Try This Trick

Posted On: April 4, 2014

Let’s take a moment to compare the vowel sounds of Indian languages vs. American English. 

Indian Languages:     

  1. Have symbols representing short and long vowels in written word 
  2. The symbol [typically] always represents the same sound 
  3. We know if the vowel sound is long or short both in written and spoken language 
  4. If a short and long vowel sound are interchanged, in most cases it becomes a new word 


  1. Does not have symbols for long or short vowels, only different kinds of vowels  
  2. The vowel letter doesn’t always have the same sound
    For instance, the letter O sounds different in boss vs. of vs. or.
  3. We know the vowel is long only in spoken language. Making it long is part of rhythm and part of adding emphasis or feeling.
  4. If the short and long vowel are interchanged, which is a rare occurrence, it doesn’t change the definition, but it may change the tone.
    For instance, let’s look at the sentence I want to go to the party. If we take the word party and make the a long and say, “I want to go to the paaaarty,” does the definition of ‘party’ change? The literal dictionary definition remains the same, so no. The tone or figurative meaning does change. Elongating that vowel means, “I want to go to the party, not the mall, home or grandma’s house!”  
Although not every non-native speaker will elongate vowels for emphasis, the knowledge of this can help with listening comprehension and understanding the meaning behind native speaker’s tones. For example, if a US client says, “I reeeealy need to start and end this meeting on time.” They are not only saying the meeting should not be late, but that behavior has proved to him that lateness is commonplace, and that he is not happy with your team. He could also be saying that he has a lot more obligations than usual, so starting and finishing on time will help him stay focused. 

In training programs, I teach this element of accent by using a rubber band. The below video is of another teacher teaching using this same technique. Take note that she is exaggerating the sounds so it’s easier for non-native speakers to hear the difference. I often instruct people to take one sentence at a time, practice it in three speeds, over-exaggerated, exaggerated, “normal”. If they record it they can hear the difference.

Elongating the vowel sounds will cause vibrations in your body as vowel sounds reverberate. Do you feel it? Do you hear it? This should also help inculcate resonance (as in this post).

This video can also be used in conjunction with the lesson on talking about walking around at Hoover Dam, found at this link.

Check out this video that demonstrates a cool trick to get the right pacing in English with a rubber band.

Thank you for spending your time here. Jennifer Kumar helps Indians to speak with more clarity in delivery with their US counterparts. To contact her, click here

Related Posts: 

How many words to say in a breath? Read about thought groups. 
Getting the right flow to Spoken English – Listening and Shadowing Activities 
Listen and repeat these simple sentences about India in an American style  
Slow down without sounding like a robot  

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