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February 15, 2011 9:23 PM   Subscribe

Physical exercises for English as a second language?

I've been coaching a guy whose first language is continental French. He knows English fairly well in his head, but when he speaks it, he has an outrrrrageous accent, and he's trying to attain both more fluency in his English and a more natural accent while speaking.

It has occurred to me, doing this, that we use our mouth and throat muscles quite differently while speaking French vs. speaking English. It doesn't seem too much of a stretch to imagine designing a set of physical exercises to limber up a person's speaking musculature to suit a specific language.

Does this kind of thing already exist and, if so, does the study of this side of linguistics have a name, and do such sets of exercises already exist?
posted by zadcat to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've used this book, Clear Speech, to teach pronunciation to ESL students. It has an illustrated section on how to shape your mouth and tongue to pronounce particular sounds in English, which might sort of be what you're looking for. My students found the diagrams helpful. You could use the diagrams as a guide for designing mouth/tongue exercises.

You might also try the technique described in this journal article on reverse accent mimicry to help your student achieve the accent he's after.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:55 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are a decent number of ipod/iphone apps available, though I haven't tried them out yet. I've used Pronunciation Pairs in a university ESL course here in Japan, and the students who regularly put effort into the exercises tended to show marked improvement.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:21 PM on February 15, 2011

I think there is definitely something in the idea that we use different combinations of muscles when speaking another language, although I suspect it affects fluency more than pronunciation.

One simple exercise that your student can do in his own time is to read a transcript of spoken English as the audio is played. That helps with the mechanical production of sounds, which can free the student up in the future to concentrate on mustering their lexical and grammatical resources.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 7:13 AM on February 16, 2011

As an extension of Busy Old Fool's advice, you might also consider having your student make recordings of their own voice when they read out loud. If they have a baseline (the original recording) to compare it to, the difference between them should give them something to work towards.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:16 PM on February 16, 2011

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