18

As you might suspect, that the only person who can ask this kind of question must be an Indian. What's wrong with an Indian accent, that makes it difficult for other people to understand. I have communicated with Japanese, Chinese, American and French, and all have told me that your Indian English accent is difficult to understand.

Can anyone tell me how to improve Indian English Accent or get rid of Indian English Accent. Please tell me how to improve specific pronunciation of alphabets, that can help other understand me clearly.

11
  • 1
    Speaking to English people and lots of practice in general, would help. – Tristan Jan 29 '14 at 16:19
  • 1
    Or speaking to other native-English speakers because there is no English variety that is better than the other, just different. – Babs Jan 29 '14 at 17:23
  • 11
    Not specifically related to accents, but one thing that Indian people often do is use words that grammatically make sense but would never be said. One example is in tech support: "Could you kindly give me more information?" This is something that instantly makes you noticeable as non-native, and can be fixed by carefully analysing word usage by natives. – stackUnderflow Jan 29 '14 at 18:30
  • 2
    I would try listening to audio books read by speakers of British English. Only useful if you also have the text in written form. – rogermue Aug 25 '15 at 12:19
  • 1
    Here's a good article on this: Indian English Speakers: 5 Reasons Americans Don’t Understand You – Steve L Hochreiter Oct 12 '16 at 19:01
9

The two main problems in following Indian speakers of English are a) the sounds t, d, and r, and b) aspiration. For t and d - these need to be pronounced using the tongue against the alveolar ridge, just slightly back from the teeth. It's important not to touch the teeth when pronouncing these sounds. The r is pronounced with the tongue pulled slightly back from the alveolar ridge. Never pronounce any of these sounds with the tongue against the hard palate. The sounds p, t, k (including hard c) should be slightly aspirated - if you hold a piece of thin paper in front of your mouth it should move when you say these sounds. The aspiration is probably the biggest issue in being intelligible.

4
  • I've been taught that /t/ is aspirated unless it follows /s/. Does /s/ actually suppress aspiration, or is it just a lie they teach native speakers to demonstrate aspiration? – jimsug May 26 '14 at 0:00
  • 1
    I think that this is the main problem with indian speakers. I have realized that sounds of t, d, r, b, p and k are often pronounced incorrectly, which makes indian accent sound unintelligible and hard to comprehend. I have also noticed that Indians usually have a habit of changing sounds of v and w. "Wind" sounds like "Vind"* and "victory" sounds like "wictory"*. – Rajeshwar Agrawal Aug 2 '14 at 16:26
  • 3
    Partially true, but 1) p,t,k are aspirated ONLY at the BEGINNING of a syllable. 2) Palatal /r/ is standard in US English. 3) Phonological variation is so great that although nonaspiration will certainly mark the speaker as non-native it will not in itself seriously impede intelligibility. Nonaspiration in fact is the English-speaking actor's standard way of suggesting an Indian accent without sacrificing intelligibility. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 2 '14 at 17:58
  • @raj German accent has a change of "w" into German "v": vunda (wonder), vota (water), velkom (welcome). – SovereignSun Nov 18 '17 at 9:18
35

Without hearing you speak it's difficult to say what you should work on. Indian English embraces native speakers of many different languages and dialects, and each brings different problems to English pronunciation.

With respect to phonology—pronunciation of individual sounds, what you call ‘alphabets’this Wikipedia article may help you identify your own points of difficulty.

But in general I‘m going to guess that the biggest problem your hearers face is not your pronunciation of individual sounds but the tonal contour of your phrases and sentences—what linguists call ‘prosody’ or (as in the linked article) ‘supra-segmentals’. English listeners tolerate a great deal of variety in the pronunciation of phonemes, but rely very heavily on stress patterns to identify the ‘shape’ of sentences; and as the article tells you, Indian languages use stress very differently.

To attack this problem I suggest simple imitation. Find recordings of fairly long passages by native speakers of the particular dialect you wish to emulate—General American or Australian or British Received Pronunciation or Estuary English, or whatever. The recordings should be fairly conversational in tone, not readings from technical or highly ‘literary’ works; interviews with practised public speakers will do very well, particularly if they are telling stories rather than just giving brief answers to questions. Sit down with the recordings, for twenty or thirty minutes at a time, playing stretches of two or three sentences or so, and try to reproduce exactly what you hear. It will feel very odd and artificial for quite a while, but at some point everything will ‘click’: your voice and the recording will have the same lilt and feel. You will then find it very natural to carry that lilt and feel over into your own speech.

That, at any rate, is how I used to learn dialects for stage use. And you should think of it that way, as a role you are playing. You are 'portraying' an English speaker: not losing an Indian accent, but acquiring a specific English accent.


This is a problem of a different sort, a lexical one. Alphabet is a common ‘Indianism’ for Standard English letter. And since English spelling (as you are no doubt painfully aware!) is very far from being phonetic, letter is really not appropriate when speaking of pronunciation.

2
  • 3
    Excellent answer! I'd add that it would probably be helpful to slightly slow everything down when speaking. The typical American parody of an Indian English accent usually involves -- in my perception -- speaking faster, exaggerating voice dynamics and emphasis (almost sing-song and overly-dramatic), shifting the sounds away from nasal and towards the throat, adding a trill to "l" and "t", and rounding your mouth (hard to describe, but perhaps it's lowering your jaw more and making your mouth "larger" inside). This may or may not be helpful or accurate, but... – Wayne Feb 13 '14 at 21:25
  • 1
    Thank you for the word "prosody". Now I know how to describe that lilt/meter/syllabic emphasis difference that makes it difficult for me to understand certain accents. – ColleenV Aug 25 '15 at 0:16
6

Yes, learn the phonemes of English (44 sounds), not the 'letters'. Find out which ones you have difficulty with, for example many Indian people need to change the way they say r, d, t. Find out here http://accent-expert.com Also rhythm and intonation (the tune) really make a difference to your accent and how well you communicate. Many Indian people speak with a very even rhythm, but in USA or UK they speak with stressed and unstressed syllables. Listen, copy and good luck!

0
6

StoneyB's answer is really excellent and I will only add a few words to his keyword imitation.

Imitation includes mimicking. When you learn a foreign language you are playing a part. So listen and watch as much as you can when natives speak. Speaking certain sounds is a complex activity that necessitates to place your phonatory organs in a particular way (lips, tongue, cheeks...), and it is all the more difficult when wanting to produce sounds that don't exist in your native language. And don't hesitate to exaggerate the mimicking in the first steps of the exercises. I'll take the example of my native language French ; the French often have difficulties saying dental consonants /θ/ and /ð/, so I used to tell the kids I taught not to hesitate to stick out their tongues at me when saying it. They loved it of course, but as they became more confident and at ease they would forget the tongue sticking bit but still keep the reflex of not sticking the tip of their tongue on the upper part of their palate, but have it slightly protrude between their upper and lower teeth.

Obviously one doesn't always have natives at hands that one can imitate. For a motivated adult I'll recommend English Pronunciation/Listening on the website of this Canadian College. It is really very good with videos in which you can see people pronouncing some of the difficult sounds specific to English, and diagrams of the phonatory organs, face and profile, as well as exercises with mp3 recorded files.

Another useful site with videos and diagrams is on the website of The University of Iowa.

The whole body is used in speaking, not only the phonatory organs. When speaking an English person, a German person or a Chinese person will not make the same body movements. Trying to imitate the hands, torso, head, shoulders, etc. movements will have you fit into the native speaker's shoes, and be more like him and come closer to your imitation of sound producing.

1
4

StoneyB already has an excellent answer, but I will just add a few points.

To improve your prosody by imitating recordings, I would add that you should record yourself saying what you are trying to copy. Then listen back (just to one sentence at a time) and think about if it sounds "right", then compare with the original recording.

When you are not actively studying/practicing your accent, spend time watching things that are in the accent you want to copy - TV shows or Youtube clips.

For pronunciation in particular, I would recommend learning the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) (see here for an example). The sources I've found explain the sounds of the symbols with reference to "standard" English speech, so you would want to learn IPA with reference to your Indian accent first, or from a source that includes audio of each sound. When you can read IPA, you can find out how someone from London, for example, pronounces a word, compared to someone from New York, compared to your own pronunciation.

2

There are many ways to improve your accent, so I will only recommend two things based on my experience listening to people from India and Bangladesh: -The "th" sound, as in three-thousand-three should never sound like a "S". To make a good "th" sound, put the tip of your tongue under your two front-most teeth and blow a bit. -The Indian accent is usually too high pitched during in words such as "why", "me", and "see". I have been able to teach some hard to pronounce English sounds to some Spanish native friends by accurately telling them how and where to put the tongue during speaking. Ask your native English speaking friends for tips!(or post your doubts here) Best regards.

2

I'm not a linguist so I can't give advice on the techniques used to speak proper English other than the fact that I've had to do that with my own wife and step-children who are Thai and now living in the US. Having lived abroad for many years and meeting many native speaking people from all English speaking countries, I believe that the best thing a non-native English speaker should do is study American English. I say this not because I'm American, but from my observation, it seems that all English speakers who are not American, can easily understand all dialects of American English, even ones of the deep-south. Whereas, I have personally found it difficult to understand many, not all, but many people from Australia, New Zealand, and even some areas of England proper; however, the English speakers I find nearly impossible to understand are Scots and some Irish speakers. This is why I think American English would help, not to mention the fact that there are more Americans than all of the people of the Commonwealth countries so the audience is broader. Finally, with the dozen or so calls I get daily from India for current IT positions, it would be wonderful to actually be able to use a recruiter I can understand.

1

My advice would be try some audio-CDs from libraries for well-known novels and see whether the audio-CDs are apt for you. Some speakers speak so fast that they will be useless for you. The best things I have are children's stories for example Pinocchio - an illustratet booklet and a wunderfull CD. The speaker - though American - is excellent. You can read the text and listen to the speaker. Listen as often as you can. In the course of time you hear the differences between the pronunciation, intonation and speed of the speaker and your way of speaking. And you must not excuse yourself. It is natural that the mother tongue influences the foreign tongue. And I think it is not necessary to make records and such technical things. When you have an ear and some talent for language you will ameliorate your way of speaking.

0

As a non-native speaker I can advise you to repeat what native people say. Repeat each word and try to make it sound as similar as possible. Of course you should choose between American English or British English firstly in order to keep on one track. I watched a lot of American shows and listened to audiobooks in Am.E and repeated after them. There also are people on youtube who explain the difference between accents.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.