The “ER” Sound in American English

I’ve been noticing consistent pronunciation difficulties in my private lessons lately, specifically with students having difficulty with the “ER” sound in English. The problems have been with students who speak various languages, and even at multiple levels! These problems come … Continue reading

Stress-free Stresses in English Pronunciation

Breakthrough Pronunciation, American English Pronunciation workshop

Today I am delighted (*happy*) to share a guest post from the talented pronunciation coach, Elena Mutonono, who also happens to be my co-host for the upcoming Breakthrough Pronunciation Workshop. Breakthrough Pronunciation is a 3 day workshop designed to help you … Continue reading

Word Reductions in English: American Pronunciation + 5 minute English video

John can watch them today with her, and Paulo can go with him tomorrow.

Before we begin, take a second and read that above sentence aloud. If you really want to test yourself and monitor your progress, then I recommend recording yourself reading it. Did you notice anything special or unique about the underlined words?  Once you’ve record yourself, you can move on….

In school we’re taught to e-nun-ci-ate our words when we talk, to speak clearly and not mumble our sounds. However, have you ever heard a native English speaker actually pronounce every…single..word when speaking? Of course not! English speakers (and most languages) are lazy, we do all kinds of things to make speaking easier. We reduce, link, and modify sounds, we contract words, and we often say words differently than they may look. As the title suggests, I want to emphasize that I am writing about American English here, but I know those on the other side of the world have their own word modifications and reductions, we’re just not reviewing them here.

As I mentioned, there are many words with sound reductions, links, and modifications; however, to simplify things, we are only going to review 5 of these words today. To have some fun before we get into the lesson, how many of you reading can relate to this meme?


I would bet money that you have experienced this AT LEAST once if you are an English learner, and even an English speaker too! Not giving up, not saying “never mind,” and not just agreeing because you didn’t understand someone is something I pretty consistently tell my students. But, there’s a meme so it has got to be true!

I wanted to use this meme to not only put a little smile on your face before you learn, but also to point out one of our sound reductions. Did you already notice the “n” in the middle of bottom text? Do you know what this “n” is supposed to mean?

Any guesses?


Well, if you said “and,” then you are absolutely correct, nicely done!

In addition to AND, we will also review the reduction of sounds in the pronouns THEM, HIM, and HER, as well as the modal, CAN.

So why do these words “change” in speech?
These words are a few of many that have weak and strong forms. So they change in speech, depending on how they are being used. The strong forms, when they are said with stress, happen only when they’re used individually or when the word is being emphasized.

The weak form, however, is used when the word is unstressed in a sentence. Because these words are “function” words (giving grammatical meaning, not lexical) they are not emphasized or stressed, and are linked or modified in connected speech. We’ll review these weak sounds since we’re focusing on conversational English.

AND is going to to sound like the consonant “n”. Notice that even in the meme above, the creator wrote the letter in place of the actual word. Remember, writing in this way is not correct, and definitely shouldn’t be practiced.

THEM and HIM are going to sound the same, so contextual clues will let you know which one is being used. In both words, you need to drop the beginning sounds “th” for them and “h” for him and just say the ending “-em”. However, in connected speech, you will make more of an “um” sound, closer to a short “u” (of umbrella) rather than a short “e” (of elephant).

HER is going to follow the same pattern as the pronouns above, you’ll drop the beginning “h” sound and only pronounce the “er”. Remember that in American English, it’s a very hard “r” sound…like a pirate!

CAN is going to have a change in the vowel sound; instead of pronouncing it with a short “a” sound, like apple, you should be pronouncing it with a short “i” sound, like igloo. So the word in connected speech will sound almost identical to the word “kin”.

Let’s take another look at the sentence you read at the top of the post:

John can watch them today with her, and Paulo can go with him tomorrow.

If you listen back to your recorded voice, do you think you were saying them correctly, according to the information you just read in this post? Consider reading the sentence, as if it were written like this:

John kin watch-um today with-er, n Paulo kin go with-um tomorrow.

Try and re-read the sentence, focusing on the sound changes, and again record yourself to check the progress. Let me know how you did below!

For more examples, watch English Outside the Box‘s newest 5-minute English video about pronunciation and word reductions on my YouTube channel. Make sure you subscribe to continue getting new content and free English lessons!

You can also watch it here! ♥

The end of the video gives you ways to connect with me via the blog or social media, which is a great way to receive some feedback and take your learning to the next level. Don’t be shy, I’d love to hear from you and hear you creating some of your own examples, so I’ll talk to you soon!

Happy Studying! ♥

Want to show your love and support for me and English Outside the Box? Please share this post and video! Thank you!


Interested in taking your pronunciation to the next level? Want to advance your career using improved English? Join our workshop to learn important techniques to better your English pronunciation

Minimal Pairs: Pronunciation Problems with TH

There are many parts that are equally important to speaking English fluently. Some of the things we’ve reviewed recently on English Outside the Box have been vocabulary (words of the weekend) and grammar, specifically the future tense. However, knowing what to say, is just as important as knowing HOW to say it. Speaking with accurate pronunciation is incredibly important, and doing so can prevent miscommunication, and even embarrassment.

Minimal pair are words that are extremely similar, but differ in one unique sound. These sounds are often confused by language learners, so can create difficulty when speaking and listening. There are many minimal pairs, both vowels and consonants; however, today we’re only focusing on “th” “f” “t” and “s.” Yes, it is incredibly common for the “th” sound to be confused with these sounds, depending on native languages.

Try the following sentence:THsound1

Next, let’s review the video for you to see and hear how these sounds should be pronounced.

Now it’s your turn to practice! Focus on the difference in all of these sounds….


Sometimes multiple words exist, that are legitimate words with minimal pairs: three, tree, free. Other times, words don’t exist, so you’ll just be making up words as you communicate: mouth, mouf.

It’s also possible that multiple words, that are minimal pairs, can logically make sense in a sentence. So, mispronouncing the words can definitely cause confusion. Take these examples into consideration:
— I want three tickets to the game.
— I want free tickets to the game.

In one of these sentences, you want multiple tickets. In the other, you’re a free loader.

— I don’t want to think.
— I don’t want to sink.

In one of these sentences, you don’t want to use your brain, and the other you don’t want to float to the bottom of water.

Practice with the following sentences:

  1. Thirty-three thieves thought their brothers thought they were thoughtful, but they thought wrong because they are thieves.
  2. The mouse’s mouth is sore, thick, and I think it’s sick.
  3. Thelma thinks that three free trees are available on Thirty-third street.
  4. Ruth is on the roof and thinks: sing a thing, pass the path, and thank a tank.


Below are some additional minimal pair difficulties, and some of the languages that I’ve come across that have the biggest challenges. This list, of course, doesn’t include everyone within these languages and I apologize for forgetting the many…many other languages out there. These are just what I’ve had the most contact with lately. These lessons will come later….

R/H – Portuguese

V/W – Russian

R/L -Korean, Japan

S- Spanish, Portuguese

P/B – Arabic

B/V- Russian, Korean

V/F – German


Did this post help you with your pronunciation? Share with a friend, knowledge is power….so help spread the power!

If you haven’t yes, subscribe to my blog to always be updated with new English information.

Happy Studying! ♥

Words you may be saying incorrectly…

Does a word ever sound “funny” to you? Have you ever second-guessed yourself while speaking?

Whether you’re learning English, or have been speaking since birth, there may be a chance you’re saying some words incorrectly. While some of the mispronounced words in this post have made it as ‘second’ spellings in the dictionary (sherbert), and others are commonly used for informal typing and Internet slang (prolly), I would suggest sticking with the correct pronunciation just to play it safe. 🙂 Remember, how we talk represents….us.

Below are the commonly mispronounced words, and what they’re often confused with. The letters in bold is where the error mainly happens. Under the word list is a video, with yours truly, will show you how to say them correctly. Listen to the video, and say the words aloud to practice.  Are you ready?


not to be confused with: “ex-pecially”


not to be confused with: “sher-bert


not to be confused with: “prolly” or “probly


not to be confused with: “real-a-tor”


not to be confused with: “axe


not to be confused with: “eX-presso”  Yup, there’s really no X.


not to be confused with: “jewl-ery”  (the ending is “-ry” not “-ery”)


not to be confused with: “mischie-vi-ous”


not to be confused with: “suppos-ably


not to be confused with: “ex-cape”


not to be confused with: “can-idate”


not to be confused with: “pacifically” or “es-pecifically”


not to be confused with: “per-scription”


not to be confused with: “suit


Happy Studying! ♥

Improve your English skills with Music

Love music as much as I do?

If the answer is yes, then I really hope you are using music to improve your language skills. If you’re not, or you’re not quite sure how, then this suggestion and these tips will help you make the most out of something you love.

A great way to find music in English, if you don’t already have some favorites, is to check out the Billboard Charts. Here you can find many lists, including the Hot 100 or lists by genre of music, so you will be sure to find something that you like. For a greater chance of appealing to the majority of you, I choose the Hot 100’s number 1 song right now: “All of Me” by John Legend. This is just to use as an example, and to show you some of the exercises you can do, but please feel free to use anything that strikes your fancy (interests you).

Exercises with music to improve listening:

1. Music Cloze (listening, writing/spelling, reading)

A music cloze is an activity that has blank spaces within the lyrics of a song. The goal of the activity is to listen to the song, and fill in the blanks with the words you hear. This is helpful for overall listening skills, as well as helping with your spelling and phonetic awareness through dictation (hearing & recognizing sounds). This activity also helps reading, because you’ll be following along with the words written down as you listen. You can try it here with the music cloze I created for John Legend’s “All of me”. Feel free to print and try it yourself! *NOTE: if you’d like a cloze created for your favorite song, please comment below and give me the artist and song title, and I will upload a copy to the post!*

all of me_johnlegend_cloze

2. Sing along with the lyrics (pronunciation, intonation, reading, listening)

The lyrics for just about every song are available on numerous sites across the Internet. All you need to do is do a Google search: “song name” + lyrics You will definitely find something! There are also videos available on YouTube with the lyrics in the video. Not sure of every song’s availability though, due to YT’s copyright rules. Following along with the lyrics, and reading aloud can help you identify correct pronunciation, and help with some English intonation (I know a song is different than speaking, but still helpful). In addition to this speaking practice, you’ll also practice reading and listening skills as you follow along.

3. Write about the meaning (writing, creative thinking, reading)

Practice your creative and critical thinking skills, while improving your writing, by expressing your thoughts on what the song means. The beautiful thing about music, is this art can be interpreted in so many different ways, it just depends on how you look at it! Is it about someone, or something, an experience, something positive, negative, beautiful or ugly? What do you think about John Legend’s song?

4. Learn and expand vocabulary (vocabulary, writing/spelling, reading)

Can you find last weekend’s ” Word 2 of the Weekend’s ” vocabulary word in the lyrics for “All of Me” ? 🙂 You can find many different collocations, expressions, or new vocabulary words when reading the lyrics to your favorite song. A great way to learn new vocabulary is to write down the words you can’t recognize, and look them up in a dictionary. You know my favorite is Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary! Want to expand on those words? Visit an online thesaurus, and type in your new vocabulary to learn even more ways to express the same idea. Don’t forget about identifying the different related words in the same word family: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and verbs. Knowing these related parts of speech will help you understand how to use the words correctly, as well as other ways to express them in sentences. Finally, a different way to use lyrics to expand vocabulary is to create word webs, or connections/associations. Identify your target vocabulary, and make associations with that word. What comes into your mind when thinking about it, what ideas can you connect.

Let’s look at the word: dizzy.

1st: definefeeling you’re moving in circles and going to fall, even though you are still; or, mentally/emotionally upset.

2nd: thesaurus: according to, the most related words: dazed, distracted, groggy, wobbly, shaky.

3rd: word family: dizzy (adjective) dizziness (noun) dizzily (adverb)

4th: word web/connections: when I think of dizzy, I think of sick, nauseous, fainting, roller coaster, spinning, circle, illness, etc….

Bonus exercise:

This is a great website, with MANY songs to choose from I might add, to practice listening, reading, and typing (spelling) skills. You can find this week’s song, “All of Me” here.

How it works:

It’s the same concept of a music close, but already online and with a video! You choose your skill level, beginner to expert, and then listen and follow along with the song, typing in the blanks with the word you hear. The beginner level has you fill in about 10% of the song, intermediate is 25%, advanced 50%, with expert requiring 100% of the song lyrics (good luck!)


Your challenge:

Practice your language skills using the exercises above, and use the comment section to let me know about it:

  1. Complete the music cloze. It may be easier to find it online rather than printing mine.  *Comment: how did you do?
  2. How was your pronunciation?
  3. What do you think the song means?
  4. Identify new words or phrases, or practice expanding your vocabulary with these words and expressions:
  • draw me in
  • kick me out
  • out of my mind
  • distraction
  • risk

5.  What was the word of the weekend in these lyrics?


Happy Studying, and enjoy the Music ♥

related posts:  
     * Music Idioms 
     * Learning for your Style
     * Improving Speaking Fluency 


Don’t be that guy from Malta, Pronunciation of /ɪ/ and /i:/

If you haven’t seen this video about the Italian man who went to Malta, here it is. It’s a video showing a common ‘stereotype’ of the way Italians talk. Does everyone from Italy sound like this, of course not. Do some Italians speak with this accent? Sure. The video is made to make you laugh (and in no way offend anyone), and again, to show an extremely common pronunciation issue that English language learners have, issues differentiating the long and short vowels. The video will show a couple different pronunciation problems, but this Sunday, we will focus on the long and short “e” sounds: /ɪ/ and /i:/

Enjoy, and continue reading for how to NOT be that guy….

Thanks to HaXz4you for sharing this video on his Youtube Channel.


Okay, embarrassing right?  I am sure everyone has had an embarrassing situation when learning another language, whether it’s English or something different. I definitely know that I have had many issues trying to speak other languages, and get laughed at pretty often when trying to say some of my “not so easy for an American” students’ names.

There are ways to avoid making these mistakes though, and through practice you will be able to ask (properly) where the beach is, and not be asking about a female dog. With exercising your pronunciation muscles you will avoid talking about bathroom actions, when asking for a piece or sheet of paper.

Let’s begin with looking at some common minimal pairs of /ɪ/ and /i:/   Minimal pairs are words that have almost the exact same pronunciation, with one very small difference. This difference is sounds that are very similar, and very often mixed up when used by English learners. Look at the following examples, I’ve included those from the YouTube video:

/ɪ/        and           /i:/
bit                   beat

sit                    seat

chip                 cheap

fit                    feet/feat

grin                  green

it                      eat

piss                piece

shit                 sheet

bitch               beach

In the first column, the  /ɪ/  sound is a short vowel. To make this sound, your mouth should be slightly open, with your lips relaxed. The second column has the /i:/ sound which is a long vowel. To make this sound, you should be smiling. Your mouth should still be slightly open, but your lips should be spread (not relaxed). Refer to this video for an example of the first two words above.

Can you say them correctly? More importantly, can you hear the difference when you are saying them? Remember you should be smiling when you say the long vowel sound!

There are ways to practice this, and the exercises are very similar to when you want to build strength in other muscles of your body. Do you want to be big and strong? Well, mostly likely you will be at the gym lifting different weights to build arm muscles. It’s the same thing for these different English sounds. You need to strengthen the muscles needed to articulate (say) these sounds, and you need to get comfortable saying them easily, without much thought or stress. Time to go to the English Outside the Box Gym!

As your trainer, the first thing you need to do is get ready. The best way to practice is in front of a mirror, or you can even record yourself saying the sounds, so you can look back and check yourself later.

  1. The first exercise is to repeat the short sound  /ɪ/.  3 sets of 5 reps (or 15 times)       * Is your mouth slightly open? Are you lips relaxed? *
  2. Next, repeat the long sound /i:/ .  3 sets of 5 reps (or 15 times)                                     * Are you smiling?! *
  3. The next exercises will be to practice these sounds in a complete word. Say the words listed above in the short /ɪ/ colum. Repeat one time.    *RELAXED*
  4. Now, say the words in the long /i:/ column, and repeat.     *SMILE*
  5. If you’re feeling confident to move on, I want you to practice completing a whole sentence, really focusing on the different sounds. Here are some sentences:
  • I grin when I find green beans in the sale bin.
  • This chip is delicious and cheap, eat it.
  • I need to sit in the seat, because my feet do not fit in this shoe.

Repeating these exercises everyday will help you build the muscles and ability needed to say the sounds correctly. You must practice, if you want to become better, just like you need to lift weights if you want to be stronger. Some other things you can do to practice:

  • Write down as many minimals pairs with /ɪ/ and /i:/ as you can on a piece of paper (there are many different lists on the Internet). Ask a friend to read some of the words to you, and see if you can hear and understand the difference.
  • Similar to the exercise above, write down some words and get a friend. This time, you say one of the words on the paper, and see if your partner can hear and understand which sound you are trying to make. Chances are if your partner chooses the wrong word, you are still having some issues pronouncing them properly.
  • Tongue twisters! They will help overall fluency and speed too, while working on these sounds. Try writing your own!

How did you do? Tell me about it!  Let me know if you would like additional information, and hey…you could even upload your own video on YouTube saying the sentences listed above. I’d love to see it, so share if you do!  🙂

Happy Studying and Pronouncing ! ♥  Have a great week!

Please share this information with someone who IS that guy from Malta 😉 or anyone you think would benefit! Thanks. xoxo




Pronouncing Heterophones in English

Hopefully you’re not thinking… hetero-what? But just in case, let’s clear that up! Have you ever noticed words in English that are spelled the same way, but pronounced differently? For example, the word “record”– I can keep a record of … Continue reading