English pronunciation tips for Indians in the UK

Are you working in the UK and looking for English pronunciation tips? Keep reading for suggestions on how to improve your spoken English.

To speak of ‘Indian speakers of English’ is to cast a very wide net. There is no one Indian accent, you will hear differences from region to region and language to language. With such an amazing diversity, we can’t generalise the pronunciation challenges faced by all Indians speaking English in the UK, however there are several challenges that we see more than others. These include loss of distinction between different vowels, heavier consonant sounds and different intonation and emphasis. At London Speech Workshop, we get many clients who are completely fluent in English, but whose Indian accent sometimes holds them back at work. They often feel that people don’t trust their expertise, or that their tone causes misunderstanding. This can lead to doubt in important meetings and professional interactions. Read this blog for three English pronunciation tips for people from an Indian speaking background.

Did you know that India has 22 official languages?

1. Differentiate your vowels

Many of the English vowel sounds have equivalents, or near equivalents in most Indian languages. There are however, 8 vowel sounds that don’t appear in Indian languages and may be tricky for an Indian speaker of English. Vowels cause challenges for all non-native English speakers, no matter their accent, and Indian is no exception. With a stronger Indian accent, the vowel sound may be further forward in the mouth than a native English speaker.

In particular, there are three sounds that often prevent barriers for Indian people when speaking English:

  • The ‘eh’ in ‘said’, vs the ‘a’ in ‘sad
  • The ‘o’ in ‘lorry’, vs the ‘aw’ sound as in ‘law’ and the ‘ah’ sound as in laugh
  • The ‘i’ ‘tie’ vs the ‘oy’ in toy

To practise, we recommend choosing one vowel at a time. Work on it until regularly you are using it in everyday speech. Record yourself saying it, say it in the mirror and ask friends for feedback in everyday conversation. When you’ve got it perfected, move onto the next vowel. 

2. Make your consonants lighter

Another common challenge for Indian speakers of English is the way we pronounce certain consonants. There are many consonants in English which do not have an equivalent in Indian languages. Often these may be difficult for an Indian speaker of English to master. The English accent also tends to be more ‘airy’ and light. When compared to the Indian accent where the tongue is often pressed and held for longer in the sounds. 

Here are two examples: 

  • The ‘w’ in ‘worse’ versus the ‘v’ in ‘verse’. When pronouncing the ‘w’ sound, your lips should move forward and be more rounded. By comparison to the ‘v’ sound where your lower lip should press against your upper teeth. Try saying ‘woman’, ‘wealth’ and ‘very’ to practise these sounds, and feel the difference in your mouth. 
  • The ‘t’ in ‘bat’ versus the ‘d’ in ‘bad’. Both these sounds are made with the same mouth position – so how do you differentiate? It’s called “voicing” or “devoicing”. When you say the ‘t’ sound, rather than using your voice, you just push air out. With the ‘d’ you use your voice to produce the sound. Practise these sounds whilst resting your hand on your throat, and you will be able to differentiate the two. The difference is subtle but very important in avoiding misunderstanding. The same rule applies to other sounds: ‘z’ vs ‘s’, ‘b’ vs ‘p’ and ‘g’ vs ‘k’.

3. Work on the rhythm and melody of English

While this varies depending on the native language, the most noticeable difference when comparing the two accents, and a common cause for misunderstanding, is the use of raised pitch in an Indian accent to indicate emphasis. In other words, English is less up and down than many Indian languages. Unlike in English, a rise in pitch signifies emphasis in Indian languages, and this can often cause confusion and lack of clarity, as statements and questions follow a rise-fall pattern, which gives rise to the ‘sing-song’ quality which you may have heard from fluent English speakers from India.

In British English, a rise in pitch, or upward inflection, is used to indicate a yes/no question, or to signal uncertainty. Statements should end with a fall in pitch, or downward inflection, particularly when emphasising a point. When you’re asking a what, when, where, why or how question, this can also often end with a fall in pitch.

A great way to practice word stress is by identifying whether a word is a noun or a verb.

First syllable stress = NOUN. Second syllable stress = VERB.

Try with the following words: DEsert, deSERT, CONtrast, conTRAST, OBject, obJECT.

Further English pronunciation tips

Watch this video for 6 more English pronunciation tips on how to sound more British. 

While these are some of the common challenges experienced by English speakers from an Indian background, each of the clients we work with has unique roadblocks depending on their experience and specific accent (there are over 22 official languages in India, as well as hundreds of other dialects!). If you feel like your accent is holding you back from reaching your true potential at work, book in a free 15-minute Discovery Call where we’ll discuss your particular challenges, and how we can help you overcome them with a bespoke Accent Softening course

If you are just beginning your English language journey please check out BiCortex Languages who can help you with learning the basics, improving your grammar and examination preparation. BiCortex Translations also offer sworn and certified translations for all your relocation needs.

Written by Hannah Wright at London Speech Workshop