1. Always speak slowly. One of the most common complaints I hear from people is that they have a difficult time understanding someone who speaks too quickly. This applies to both native American speakers and speakers of English as a second language. The goal here, of course, is not to speak too slowly, but slowly enough so that you have more time for your lips and tongue to reach the correct placement for sounds. Speaking more slowly will instantly help make your accent less pronounced. If you speak too quickly, your accent will sound heavier and your speech more difficult to understand. This is because your lips and tongue do not have enough time to form sounds correctly. Use an appropriate speaking rate as your fundamental speaking skill. This is the skill upon which every other skill is based. Master this, and you will be doing great!
2. Pronounce all the sounds in words. Pay special attention to pronouncing all the sounds in words when you speak. Right now, you may be omitting the final sound, the middle sound, or an unstressed syllable in a word. This can make your speech difficult to understand for your listener. Focusing on pronouncing all the sounds in words will instantly make your American English pronunciation better. It sounds easy, but it is actually difficult to do! Start learning when you omit sounds by practicing reading aloud slowly. Focus on each sound in every word as you speak, especially the final sounds of words. As it becomes easier, start incorporating this skill into your everyday speech. You will notice an instant change in your American English!
3. Stick to grammar you have mastered: American English, just like other languages, has a specific word order to follow, as well as ways to form types of words. If English is not your native language, then you are used to using a different grammar/word order system. What this means is that you will naturally make mistakes in American English grammar, even if you have studied grammar rules. Applying the rules can be difficult. Here is your grammar tip: when speaking to others, try to stick to using grammar structures you have mastered. If you have only mastered simple sentences, then you should use only simple sentences until you can use more advanced ones successfully. No one will think less of you for using simple structures. Believe it or not, they won’t even notice! What they will notice, however, is when you make a mistake. So, always follow this rule!
4. Record your speech often. The best tool for helping you understand what your speech sounds like to others is to record your speech. Do this very often! Awareness of the changes you need to make is the first step to changing your speech. Listening to your speech will help in every area of American English: It will help you become aware of the mistakes in pronunciation, grammar, stressing, intonation patterns, pausing, word connections, etc. Most computers have a built-in sound recorder that you can use for recording. If yours doesn’t have one, any tape recorder or digital recorder will do. You may need to have a microphone in order to hear your voice, so test out your equipment ahead of time. Once you are all set to go, record your speech for 1-2 minutes as you talk about any topic you would like. Now here is the hard part: go back and listen to your speech and analyze it. Try to be objective, and rate yourself according to how quickly you are speaking and how easy it is to understand your speech. Also, make a note of any words you hear that have sounds omitted. Remember, it is the final sound of words and sometimes the middle syllables that are most often omitted. A good habit to get into is to write down words you hear that are accented and practice them.
5. Speak loudly enough. Speaking volume is a very important part of oral communication for every language. Whether you are speaking to one person or ten people, you must be able to speak loudly enough so that your audience hears you comfortably. How do you know if you are not speaking loudly enough? If you tend to speak too softly, you may notice people asking you to repeat, to speak more loudly, or to clarify what you say. Expressions on people’s faces can also let you know that something is wrong. If you see people leaning forward in their seats, frowning, or turning an ear toward you, these are clear signs that you are speaking too softly. How can you adjust your speaking volume? It is not enough just to speak more loudly. You will want to practice aiming your voice at different locations, starting at three feet away, then five feet away, then ten feet away, etc. Each time you practice, find an object at a specific distance away and talk to it. Look at the object and aim your voice at it. You can also practice with another person as your helper. Ask the person to stand in a specific place and say something to him/her. If he/she can hear you comfortably, increase the distance and do it again. Speaking at an appropriate loudness will make you sound confident and in control; in the business world, these two qualities are extremely important!