"I have mastery of the language; yet whenever I speak, I am viewed as an unlearned person as people struggle to understand my speech.”
- Chinweike, LSW student
Do you feel like your accent sometimes gets in the way, and that your listeners aren't engaging with the powerful message you're trying to send to them, or worse, they're raising their eyebrows and squinting their eyes because they're struggling to understand your words at all? Here at LSW we think accents are something to be proud of, and we love the nuances of each one. Whether our clients are French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, or from any other corner of the globe, we recognise that there are some specific sounds that each mother tongue tends to struggle with. We help them overcome these communication roadblocks that are holding them back from being their best selves. In this blog, we talk about the specific sounds that can often hold Nigerian speakers back with their English pronunciation. Keep reading for our top tips from Senior Coach Kate Guest, and hear about the journey of one of our lovely clients, Chinweike.
At LSW, we see lots of clients with Nigerian accents who are confronted with challenges in mastering the sounds, stress and intonation of the English language. Here are five sounds that differentiate the Nigerian accent from the British English accent:
1. /i:/ vs /ɪ/
West African languages tend to have fewer vowels than English, and fewer final consonants. This means that English vowels are often not differentiated, whilst consonants sound indistinct. So with this in mind, one of the first things we help with is lengthening the vowels. These two sounds often sound identical, both being pronounced short, and sometimes further confused with /eɪ/: 'ship' for 'sheep', or sometimes 'shape'.
Listen out for Chinweike's long 'eeee' sounds in the video below - as in 'spEAk'. 👂
2. /e/ vs /ɜ:/
The sounds in 'bed' and 'bird' are often confused. The /ɜ:/ sound causes particular problems, and may be further confused with /a:/: as in 'barred'.
Let's put these two into practice. In a sentence like "The bird was sat in the tree", the 'ir' in 'bird' and the 'ee' in 'tree' are lengthened. Make the vowel sound longer in 'sheep' and shorter in 'ship' so that you can differentiate between how these two words sound. The shape of your lips during the 'ir' sound should be still and long.
3. /ɔ/, /ɔ:/ and /əʊ/
The dipthong 'oh' sound is another big challenge for Nigerian speakers. To make this sound, the mouth should be more open. Try saying 'oh' with your mouth open to begin with and then closed.
See if you can hear Chinweike's lovely long 'orrrr' sounds in the video below - as in 'unFORtunately'! 👂
4. /θ/ and /ð/ vs /d/ and /t/
Consonants are also a tricky part of English pronunciation - 'thin' is often mispronounced as 'tin', and 'day' instead of 'they'. To make sure your 'th' doesn't sound like a 't', make sure you get your tongue out and underneath the teeth.
Words that end in 'ing' - singing, dancing, swimming etc are commonly mispronounced by this accent - often there's a tendency to drop the 'g' sound so the words come out as 'singin', 'dancin' and 'swimmin'. To make this sound, let your tongue go up to the back of the roof of your mouth and softly roll it.
So there you have it. Five sounds to zone in on to help you sound more British if you'd like to soften your Nigerian accent. Start practising and let us know how you get on!
Nigerian Accent Softening with LSW: A Success Story
When our wonderful client Chinweike came to us as a bursary student in 2020, he told us that having spent a significant portion of his life in Nigeria, his accent differs from the contemporary British accent. So when he arrived in the UK in his teens, he struggled to make himself understood. We’d like to share a bit of his story…
“Countless are the times I am fearful to ask questions in a class for fear of being mocked or asked to repeat myself. I would rather go after the lesson to the teacher personally to save myself from shame. Usually, when I speak, I try to use as few words as possible to get my point across. Rather than aiding understanding, it leaves me sounding cryptic at times as I mentally remove words that I think could cause misunderstanding. I have mastery of the language; yet whenever I speak, I am viewed as an unlearned person as people struggle to understand my speech.”
Chinweike undertook 10 Accent Softening sessions with one of our Senior Coaches. Part way through his course, he was already noticing significant improvement:
“I think the most noticeable improvement has been the great boost in my confidence when speaking to people. Before I avoided conversations and dreaded speaking in public for fear I would be misunderstood. The tools I have learnt through this course, such as how to sound authentic and pausing after a front seat word, have really boosted my confidence and make me look forward to speaking, something my former self would find bizarre! The new ways of enunciating my vowels have really empowered me and helped me see what had been causing those misunderstandings all along and the keys to overcoming them. I greatly believe that the tools I am learning through this course will make a great impact in my future and career”
By the end, he said the course would be a huge help for him in the next chapter of his life:
“My journey with London Speech Workshop has been incredibly enjoyable and great. I feel quite sad now that it’s drawing to a close as I have got one remaining session. On the bright side, I have gained a great amount of knowledge and have been empowered even beyond my imagination! I personally believe that some of the skills learnt here will come in handy in creating the best first impression in interviews for internships in the future! I am indebted to the LSW for the great improvement in not just my clarity but my confidence in speaking as well.”
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