How to improve your English pronunciation

SpeakEnglishIs English your second language and you have trouble with your accent? Do native English speakers ask you to repeat what you said because they didn’t understand you completely?  Maybe you need to practice accent reduction – also known as accent neutralization.

Everyone speaks with an accent –  native speakers as well. I think accents add colour and flavor to a person’s voice. It isn’t necessary to speak like a BBC newsreader – but it is important to be understood.

Learning English as a second language (ESL) is challenging – so people tell me. I grew up in Australia – a country that has English as its national language.  When I was young I didn’t think I had an Australian accent – I was just speaking English. I was aware of English, European and American accents in films and television programs. I didn’t think I had an accent!

So how can you soften your accent? Read on for some tips as well as watch a video recording of me presenting this information.

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Books and pens are the most powerful weapons – Malala Yousafzai

malala1 Malala Yousafzai is a 16 year old girl from the town of Mingora in Pakistan. On the 12th July this year, her 16th birhday, she gave a speech to the United Nations calling for the freedom of education for all children in the world.

When she was 12 years old, the Taliban had banned girls from attending school, which in turn forced ger father to close the all girls school he operated. Malala became an activist, wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC and was the subject of a documentary.

In October last year she was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen while returning home on a school bus. She survived and was later sent to Birmingham in the UK for intensive rehabilitation.

Former British Prime Minister and current U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown launched a United Nations petition in Yousafzai’s name, using the slogan “I am Malala” and demanding that all children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has announced on 10 November that 12 July, the birthday of Malala Yousafzai will be celebrated as Malala Day. It is fitting that Malala was able to speak to the United Nations on her birthday.

I watched the speech today on YouTube and was so moved I wanted to share her story in this article. Here is the speech, the text and the documentary and more links.

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Umms, Ahhs and other filler words

A common problem in spoken language is to use unnecessary words or sounds. Typical words are umm,  ah, so, like, you know and ok. We sometimes use these words instead of just pausing and thinking. Listening to a speaker constantly saying umm is very annoying and tiring.

The Umm habit can be hard to break!

At Toastmasters there is a meeting role of “Um-Ah Counter”. Its purpose is to keep a count of how many times each speaker says one of these filler words and to note which word they used. For example, one person may have a  habit of starting sentences with “so”.   When a speaker becomes aware of filler words and bad habits, then steps can be taken to eradicate the habit and become a better speaker.

Here is a description of how to perform the role of Um-Ah Counter at a Toastmasters meeting.

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Speak – The Movie (Toastmasters documentary)

SpeakOver the weekend  I watched a DVD titled Speak. Although it is described as a documentary about the fear of public speaking, it is really about the journey of the finalists of the 2008 Toastmasters International Speech Contest. Along that journey we learn about the challenges of each of the speakers and how they fared in the competition.

Many of the speeches were about life-threatening challenges faced by the speaker including recovery from heart attacks, a foot amputation. There was a touching speech about a man who married his high school sweetheart after a gap of over fifty years. In order to reach this level of competition, speakers would have won a club competition, area competition, division contest and regional contest in the USA.

The winning speech was by Lashunda Rundle, an African American woman who was battling the systemic disease of lupus which eventually took her life in August 2012. She was only 43 years old.

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Ignite Talks – A new way to present

Logo-igniteAre you tired of sitting through boring Powerpoint presentations and wished there was a more exciting way?  Maybe you need to prepare a Powerpoint presentation and worried about operating the slides and boring the audience?

Welcome to the Ignite way of presenting with Powerpoint! 20 slides displayed for 15 seconds each and  advancing automatically. The presentation moves along briskly, the audience knows the speech only lasts for 5 minutes (300 seconds) and the speaker has to prepare well.

You might think that having such a rigid format of presentation is stifling. Breaking your presentation into 20 pieces with accompanying image and approximately 30 – 40 words (spoken in 15 seconds) forces you to think about your message, main points, key words and images. Five minutes isn’t a long time is it? It was long enough for Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the Sermon on the Mount!

I have watched many entertaining Ignite talks but I have never done one. I am preparing a talk at the moment to present at my Toastmasters club for the assignment on getting comfortable with visual aids. I have a topic in mind and will share a recording later on YouTube. Writing this article has crystallised my thinking about this format and energised me for preparing my talk.

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Mind Maps – An Introduction

A Mind Map is a way of writing notes in such a way to show associations, easily allow addition of new information and to quickly get an overview of a subject.

This article shows you how to draw a Mind Map and some of my hand drawn maps.

The benefit of using Mind Maps are many. Note taking is faster – they are quick to review and memorise – they help you understand the “big picture” – capture ideas quickly and useful in giving a presentation.  You can see how the pieces of a subject fit together and what is missing. A lecture, presentation and even a book can be summarised into a single Mind Map.

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Slideshare – publishing your presentations to the world

Slideshare.com is a service where you can upload Powerpoint presentations and share them with the world. You can also upload a sound file (MP3) – maybe your commentary and a music track, and synchronise with the slides.

The purpose of this post is to share a presentation I used at at the ASTC conference in October 2011, and to test publishing an embedded presentation in a WordPress blog.

I plan to publish a presentation of photos taken in the North Sydney business district and use Slideshare to publish these photographs. These should be available in a few days time.

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