Rachel interviews Rachel’s English teacher Tom Kelley on how he teaches pronunciation. Learn tips to improve your American accent. Learn more about taking lessons with Tom.
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Hey guys. Welcome to the set of Rachel’s English in New York at the YouTube Space. We’re here with the Rachel’s English teacher Tom. Tom’s been teaching with me since 2012 and has logged hundreds of hours teaching. So we’re going to sit down in an interview with Tom today to learn about his lessons. Also, you’ll get some tips about things to think about when you’re practicing on your own.
>> Tom, thank you so much for being here.
>> It’s my pleasure.
>> My first question is, what is something that new students discover when they first start taking lessons with you?
>> To be honest, I think students tend to discover that it’s going to be more complicated than they thought. Many students come into lessons with a belief that they will work on the R sound and maybe a couple consonant sounds, and then, all of a sudden, their English will have improved dramatically. And I think it’s often much more complicated than that. It tends to be a lot of focus on rhythm. And a lot of focus on relaxation.
>> Um, one thing that I think about a lot with my students and talk about a lot with my students is that, as an actor, when I went to school and took speech training—I’m a native speaker of English, but I was in a speech class—and the first thing we did was work on relaxation. Taking this instrument way back to neutral. So that we could start from a place of, kind of, discovering some new sounds that I wasn’t capable of making when I went in there. And that’s as a native speaker of English.
>> Speaking about the rhythm of English reminds me, when I was teaching, that students didn’t realize how much I was going to focus on character. They were just thinking: sounds. But I was more character-focused. And when they got into it, they realized, wow, this really matters.
>> Yeah. To be honest, I think the best lessons that I do are almost solely based on character, and then sounds come up.
>> And you deal with them in the moment. But those are so easy …
>> Yeah, right.
>> …in comparison with dealing with that character of English. The way that you move your tongue in your mouth. It’s going to be very different than you’re used to. So, if you start correcting that, if you start playing with that movement, you’re going to find that a lot of sounds take care of themselves. But you’re going to need to do that by building the character.
>> Notice that Tom’s talking a lot about playing. And I think that’s one thing that we don’t do enough. When we’re learning something new, we want to make sure we’re right, which often brings in extra tension. But when we think of it as playing, then it can sort of loosen us up. And actually, Tom and I recorded some audio for the book, in which we’re just making random, crazy sounds, and encouraging people to imitate that. And that’s the first thing in the book.
>> And the point is, relax. Get out of yourself. This is going to be something different and new.
>> Another thing that can help a student who, maybe, can’t take lessons in person or online, is to get really interested in how they’re making sound visually. To use a mirror, to use a camera. Something that I’ll do with my students is have them listen to a native speaker’s TED talk. Which as so interesting and inspirational so often anyway, so it’s interesting to listen to. And they have all their transcripts available. So you can practice a transcript looking into a camera and record yourself. And then, watch the native speaker and watch yourself. And if you notice that you tend to not drop your jaw at all, you see your teeth, they’re very close together, then that’s a sign that you need to work on that relaxation of the jaw. Create a little more space. So you can start getting, just really interested in watching other speakers. And comparing it to your own. That’s, um, that’s if you’re on your own and you—and there’s just no one around to help you out. It’s a good, a good way to do that.
>> That’s a great tip.
>> Tom, what’s something that you’ve learned from your students.
>> I would say that, something that I was kind of surprised to learn—I went in thinking, oh, at some point I will feel like I have it all figured out. Like it’s just kind of cut and dried and I will know everything to hand to my students, and they will simply take it, and I will just have to say it one way. And I think, what I’m realizing, is that we all have incredibly specific histories to the way that we speak. For me, I grew up in Indiana. So, the center of the country. But, I had a father who was a newscaster. So I grew up with, kind of, broadcaster English. So when I went to grad school, there was less that I needed to adjust to find the standard American English. But, every student has a very specific history that they’re coming from. The languages they spoke, and then, the people that they learned English from. Where were they from? What kind of accent were they speaking? And, so, as I’m teaching, each student is, kind of, teaching me a new way to talk about concepts.
>> Because, that’s one of my favorite things about teaching. It can be frustrating sometimes, but it’s really a joy to find the best way to communicate a concept to each individual student. Because it’s always just a little different. So I think I’ve really learned how unique we are, in the way that we communicate.
>> And Tom and I were talking last week about how, sometimes, you’ll be working with, for example, a student from Russia, and you’ll figure out the right way to, to teach something to him or her. And then—oh, you’ve learned from the person the right way to teach it.
>> And then the next time you have a Russian student, then you’re all the better prepared
>> Yeah, yeah. Those are awesome moments. Those are huge light bulb moments for me as a teacher, certainly.
>> If a student is preparing for something important, like a job interview, for example, and they have a limited amount of time, just a couple weeks maybe. What would you do to work with them? What would your priorities be?
>> Well, for all my lessons, we use a recording project to, kind of, get them into the lessons. So they’ll send me a recording that they will record of themselves speaking. And so for that week, we would use the text of whatever. If they had a presentation, we would use the presentation text. If they had an interview, they could do a mock interview of themselves speaking. So they get some practice on the vocabulary that they’re going to use. And then, we would use the lesson time to really drill that vocabulary, any concepts, any words that are a little hard to understand. We would really kind of get into why it’s hard to understand, and help them drill those. And then they would have that lesson video throughout the week to, kind of, focus on those interview-specific concepts. And they would practice with that throughout the week. And then if they had a couple weeks, we could come back, see how that’s going, and adjust. But, I love in lessons when we have something that specific, because we can really focus in on vocabulary that they’re using on a daily basis. And that can be great to help them integrate the practice into their everyday conversation.
>> Now, at the beginning of this interview, you said one of the first things that students discover is, sort of, how much work it’s going to be.
>> And how complicated it is. So when you have a short period of time to work on one goal, how do you simplify the process, or, what do you focus on?
>> For that, if it’s just one goal, we really just focus on succeeding on that, kind of, small world of text. So it becomes much more specific about this word, as opposed to trying to extrapolate major concepts from that word, we just focus in on, when you get to this word, remember to drop your jaw, remember that tongue movement, and drill it a million times this week.
>> So that you can really nail it in the interview or in your presentation.
>> So, for an interview, it would maybe be vocabulary specific to that job interview, or whatever.
>> Just getting comfortable with those core words.
>> Yes. Yeah. I mean, we just dive into the material that they will be using in that, whatever environment they’re headed into, so that they can feel as comfortable as possible. The, the thing is, you can practice as much as you can, you, maybe you can practice five hours a day. But, when it comes down to it, you’re probably going to be nervous in those situations. And so, when you get in the room, you kind of have to let everything go and just be yourself, and hope that the practice kind of comes with you.
>> Um, but the best way that that practice is going to come with you is if you’ve drilled and drilled and practiced. And so, we try in the lessons to really give a specific kind of sense of what they need to work on in their alone time as they practice. To build up, and have a successful experience.
>> Great. Well Tom, thank you so much for this advice. I appreciate it, and I hope everyone out there has appreciated it too.
>> Absolutely. My pleasure.
>> And guys, Tom does have availability yet in his schedule for a few more students. So if you’re preparing for an important event, or you just want to work with somebody directly on your specific issues, check out RachelsEnglish.com/lessons.
>> I’d love to work with you.
>> That’s it guys, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.