Russian English speakers: 5 reasons why Americans don’t understand you
In this post, I’ll explain 5 reasons why Americans don’t understand Russian accented English.
It’s not because of your R sound.
The reason that Americans don’t understand Russian accented English is not because of your R sound.
Maybe you saw that on YouTube. Perhaps a teacher or a friend told you that.
Yes, I know that the “Russian R sound” is different than the American R sound.
But it’s not the reason that Americans don’t understand you.
I’ve had the opportunity to coach many Russian speaking professionals how to speak American English clearly.
I’ve coached finance professionals, physicians, software engineers, oil and gas professionals.
So I fully understand why Americans don’t understand you.
Here are my top 5 reasons.*
The 5 top reasons Americans don’t understand Russian accented English
- You don’t use American English syllable stress patterns correctly.
- You don’t speak with American intonation.
- You don’t use the American T sounds.
- You don’t use the correct sounds for the letter O.
- You don’t fully articulate word final sounds.
Let’s examine each of the 5 features above in more detail.
1. American English syllable stress patterns
One reason Americans don’t understand you is because you use the wrong syllable stress.
When you say these words, you stress the wrong part of the word.
You say communiCAte.We say comMUnicate.
You say comMUnication. We say communiCAtion.
You say YOUwes. We say youWES. (US)
Listen to the difference
When you stress syllables in words differently than Americans do, we get confused. We struggle to understand the words.
Learning to use syllable stress (and the schwa vowel sound) correctly will enable you to make noticeable changes to the way you speak American English.
Trust me on this!
2. American English intonation
Ask your average American what they think about the Russian accent and they say;
“Russians don’t sound very friendly. I never feel as if they like me. I’m not sure if that’s because of their language, or if it’s a cultural thing. “
One reason that Russian English speakers don’t sound friendly is because of their flat tone.
You simply don’t use enough intonation when you speak.
Russian English speakers don’t use the rising falling intonation that Americans find friendly and engaging. You don’t use sufficient intonation when asking questions.
When speaking with Russians, Americans often wonder….
“Are you angry? Don’t you like me?”
In order to speak in a way that Americans find friendly and engaging, you need to speak using:
- rising falling intonation in statements
- question intonation patterns
Americans want to connect with you! But if your speech sounds unfriendly, people may decide it’s not worth the effort.
3. American T sounds
Many Russian speakers learned a more British variety of English. And British English uses lots of aspirated T sounds.
American T sounds are quite different.
- Sometimes our T sounds like a D.
- Sometimes our T is held in the throat.
- Sometimes our T is completely silent.
The sounds of T interact with the vowels around them (including schwa) to produce a very American sound.
The American T sounds are super easy to learn.
Used correctly, the American T sounds will make your speech sound more fluid and friendly to Americans.
4. The sounds of the letter O
Russians use a different O sound than Americans is words such as:
The letter O in American English has some sounds that Russian speakers are not accustomed to.
Once you learn which O sound to use, your words sound significantly clearer.
5. Articulation of word final sounds
When I coach Russian speakers, one thing I immediately notice, is that they don’t fully articulate word final sounds.
- the /z/ sound
- the /ŋ/ sound
- the /iy/ sound
Incomplete articulation of these sounds makes your words sound incomplete. If the last word in a sentence includes one these sounds, your sentence will fall off. Splat!
You’ll definitely don’t want that to happen.
American English and Russian have a lot in common
My Russian speaking clients have taught me some really cool things about the similarities between Russian and English.
They’ve taught me that many words are almost identical including:
It you want to communicate clearly and easily with Americans, you’ll have to adapt the way you pronounce the letter O and stress syllables these words.
My top 5 reasons *
If you use my top 5 reasons as your guide, you’ll have a clear framework for improving the way you speak American English.
- Learn American English syllable stress rules
- Improve your intonation.
- Integrate the American T sounds into your speech.
- Learn the correct sounds for the letter O.
- Clearly articulate the word final sounds /z/, /ŋ/ & /iy/
Once you make changes to the 5 features above, you’ll speak in a way that sounds clear and friendly to Americans.
* Yes, there are other features of American English that you can work on. However, I firmly believe that focusing on these 5 features will enable you to make noticeable, positive changes to the way you speak.
I can show you how
Even when you know what features of American English you need to work on, it’s challenging to organize lessons on your own.
The Russian professionals who I coach tell me that all the time.
That’s why I created The American Accent Master Class.
The lessons in this online course are customized to meet the communication challenges of Russian speakers who live and work in North America.
If you’re a Russian English speaker who’d like to communicate clearly with Americans, I invite you to take a free trial lesson here.
This program will teach you how speak American English in a way that your colleagues will connect with and understand!
About the author
Susan Ryan is an American English communication and accent reduction coach.
Contact her with your questions about clear American speech.