Improve Your Speaking for English Tests – Interview with Hadar Shemesh

In this short interview, Hadar Shemesh sits down with Josh MacPherson from TST Prep to discuss how to prepare for the speaking section of high-stakes exams like the TOEFL or IELTS. Hadar not only discusses how to prepare and improve your speaking for these exams, but she goes into detail on how to manage stress and sustain your motivation over the long-term.

Who is Hadar Shemesh?

Hadar Shemesh is a speech, pronunciation, and fluency coach who helps non-native speakers of English speak with confidence. As a non-native speaker, Hadar knows what it’s like to feel stuck, incompetent, and unclear in English, and she has learned what it takes to overcome those barriers and use English freely and clearly. She is committed to teaching that. In her training, she combines pronunciation, mindset, learning strategy, high-performance practice, community learning, and building habits. Additionally, she has developed the Pronunciation Confidence Method™ to improve all aspects of fluency.

Here are the notes to our interview about how to prepare and improve your speaking:

Introduction

Josh: Privilege of being here with Hadar Shemesh who is an owner of Accent’s Way and hadarshemash.com. I’m sorry if I don’t, still…

Hadar: Good, really, I am very impressed. Thank you, thank you. You know, you Americanized it a bit, but it’s okay because I do that too.

Josh: So, and she’s here to talk about, well, her specialty is pronunciation and accent training and she’s going to help us a bit kind of combine that knowledge with studying for English tests like TOEFL or IELTS, or another test is Duolingo English Test is becoming more popular. And so, I’m really excited to have you here. So Hadar, thank you so much for coming.

Hadar: Thank you so much for having me, I’m happy to be here.

Introducing Hadar Shemesh

Josh: So, why don’t we just, you know, I’m very familiar with your work, you’re very popular on YouTube and social media, but maybe you want to just give a quick introduction of yourself, your background and, you know, what you do.

Hadar: Sure! So I’m a speech, pronunciation, and fluency coach. I help people who are non-native speakers of English, or new speakers of English, speak English with confidence and sounding clear, and feeling authentic when speaking, so bringing the language closer to you. And I help people from around the world. I’m a non-native speaker of English myself, so a lot of the things that I teach are things that I have learned myself and integrated into my own personal journey with English. I think that pronunciation is key when it comes to spoken English, but it all goes together, like pronunciation, and fluency and the knowledge of the language, and the actual practice. So, we really tried to find the most efficient and effective way to speak English without hesitations or without second-guessing yourself. And that’s it, that’s ultimately what I do and what we do in the company.

How to speak English more comfortably and naturally

Josh: You know, something we talk about with our students is automaticity, like it feels like you know, it feels like something automatic that just kind of comes out without you thinking about it. And I guess that’s the kind of goal, right, it’s like so you first learn about it, you practice intentionally with it, and hopefully…

Hadar: I would also add a step that is like even repeating phrases. Within my experience, it has helped significantly, has helped my students significantly just repeating grammar forms, or maybe specific tenses or specific prepositions, definitely with sounds. So, repeating it in a context that you don’t have to come up with. And the reason why I think it’s helpful is because this is how I learned grammar. This is how it helped me because as I used to be an actor, and I started acting in New York, and I had to memorize a lot of text. Every day I used to memorize something. And I remember that those forms got stuck in my brain because I was repeating them, I was like saying them again and again, and again, and again, and then all of a sudden, I was like “Okay, this is the for”, and then I would use it just like adding different words, but I already have the structure in my brain. So, it was really really helpful, and then I was doing it intentionally, and then it became a part of my speech, I wasn’t thinking about it anymore.

Josh: You know that’s interesting that you mentioned acting because, before I found your work, actually I would work with the advanced English language learners, and they were trying to fix some or just try to work on some habits and some things that they wanted to improve. And a lot of helpful advice I found was from dialect coaches and acting coaches. And that the work in ELT there wasn’t a ton of really advanced kind of pronunciation work kind of stuff, and I found that dialect coaches had some of the most helpful exercises information about how to improve your speaking performance. And it’s interesting that you mentioned that.

And then one thing that I also mentioned to students, one nice thing about being an actor, is that you have a script that’s contained; you have a certain number of lines, and these are the lines. The English language is so big. It can feel kind of endless and you know that you always have to work on something. So, having like, let’s say lines from a movie that you’re trying to do really well at might be a better exercise.

How to practice speaking like an actor

Hadar: Absolutely. I use that all the time. So, I use a lot of elements from my theater studies in my programs because I find that they love it, and it’s so incredibly useful. So, memorizing texts, for example, and analyzing the sounds, intonation patterns, stress patterns, all of that, and then using it as if it’s your own is really empowering. It really feels like “Okay, I’m using it, I don’t have to think about the words. I’m able to concentrate on many other things, like my emotions, making sure that my voice is projected.” So, all of a sudden you start noticing all these elements that are important also in a test and a speaking test, like you know, your energy, how you speak up if people hear you is key. So, it’s not just about finding the words, not just about using them properly, it’s also about, you know, what you project. And usually, like when you project confidence, you become more confident, and you come like you’re able to breathe into that because stress really affects fluency, it really affects how available the words are. So, mindset is a huge element when it comes to doing the work that we do, and just back to what you said, yes, like voice work, speech work, identifying objectives, tone of voice, it really helps people to use English in a better and more fun way, but funner, funner way.

Josh: I don’t even know, more fun, whatever. It’s like a funny word.

Hadar: But it gives you this freedom and, you know, you want to make the language your own in a way. So, that really allows you to do that.

Josh: I think that’s a good segue to one aspect of the English test which is stress, and you know it’s a performance, and you know it’s like for the TOEFL it’s a contained performance, you know, you have 45-60 seconds to speak. In IELTS you have an interview, and so it’s like ready, speak, and then you have to speak for exactly 45-60 seconds, and IELTS is more conversational, but it’s very artificial in a way.

How to handle TOEFL® and IELTS® test stress

Josh: And so, is there any advice that you have for ways to relax, for people who feel stressed before a test or during a test?

Hadar: Absolutely. So, first of all, come very prepared. I’m sure that most students come prepared, but come prepared with the experience of having to come up with a quick answer to questions and so just the experience of doing that again, and again, and again. It’s like you know how to anticipate the experience and the situation so there’s nothing new. It’s not new, it’s not a new experience that you have to manage and handle.

Managing your breath is key. So, a lot of times, especially when we speak a second language on a test or not on a test, it is like we tend to reduce the breath and then take very shallow breaths. And then you don’t get a lot of oxygen into your body, you don’t really breathe, and when you breathe into your belly, when you breathe deeply when you have enough oxygen too, it really calms you down. It affects the vagus nerve that is responsible for your stress levels and also your voice. So, ultimately breath is key, and taking a few deep breaths, even if it’s just like you have 4 or 5 seconds, take a deep breath and start speaking. If you start speaking without a lot of breath, you’re going to run out of breath, you’re going to hyperventilate maybe, take too many short breaths, and then it’s going to affect your nervous system.

I think working on your goals and giving yourself permission not being too stressed about mistakes is key. So, you have to identify your relationship to mistakes, and your level of perfectionism. Because when you’re trying to get it right, and then the first moment you start speaking you haven’t, you make a mistake and then you’re like “That’s it”, you know, your brain shuts down, then it’s not productive. It’s not productive, it’s not going to help you. A mistake is not going to ruin your abilities to succeed. It’s just like they want your performance first and foremost, and again, like stress can really deteriorate your level of English. Even if your English is much better, it’s not going to come across because fluency is subjective. You don’t have this level of fluency and that’s it, in every single situation you would perform the same way. So, recognizing, like really embracing mistakes and knowing that if you make a mistake and you recognize it, you can either repeat yourself or just don’t get into, don’t get sucked in into that rabbit hole of “That’s it, I ruined my chances right now”. Just move on.
The ability to bounce back from the moment that you perceive as a failure is the secret. To bounce back and not overthink it, not obsess over like, you know, if you know, you don’t feel that. If obsession is not part of your day-to-day patterns of the brain like you can just simply move on and not think about it. And really don’t try to get it perfect because it’s not gonna work, no one’s looking for perfection because perfection doesn’t really exist when it comes to speaking a language. And again, I think it’s a big inhibitor.

And I think feeling like you deserve to speak, coming in like knowing that what you have to say is important and that you are enough and your English is enough, and really maybe having this mantra that you say to yourself. I know how to do this, this is possible for me. People are interested in what I have to say. My success is inevitable. I really do think that it puts you in a better state than having negative thought patterns because that really doesn’t take you to a place where you want to thrive.

Josh: So, yeah the kind of, I guess that that has to do a bit with the mindset, how you are thinking about yourself. And so, if you have this, there is one thing that we teach students is like your inner coach, there’s probably a lot of other terms for it, but your inner coach, the person who’s talking to you while you’re talking. So is it this negative or positive influence and, most of the time it’s negative. I mean, I just think for almost all of us it’s negative.

Hadar: I would say the inner critic, the inner critic. And the coach would be the one that little voice that says, “You can do it, you can do it.”

Josh: The coach is the cheerleader and the critic is the other 90% usually.

Hadar: So, also recognizing that everyone’s going through that, you and I, we have that negative voice. It’s just the question is how much focus are you allowing it to take or do you take it seriously or not. You know, are you listening to it or you’re like “Shut up!”

Josh: I think that’s one thing that I mentioned sometimes that it never goes away, you know, your stress, and that kind of stuff. It never disappears, but the way that you think about it, as you said, and the way that you manage it is in your control. And in the way that, you know, somewhat is in your control. And I think that what you said is great, you know, just feel like you deserve to be here and focus on your preparation as well.

So, let me also ask about the practice. So, the way that students practice every day, of course when we’re preparing for tests, a lot of students feel like they need to just do a lot of practice, a lot of test practice and that kind of thing. Is there any type of activity that you find is helpful for students to practice at home, especially speaking where it’s hard to do alone?

How to practice speaking for the TOEFL® or IELTS® at home

Hadar: Yeah, yeah, definitely. So, I think that when it comes to speaking alone, you don’t need to do a lot of it, but as I said, at the beginning try to make it it’s more about quality than quantity. Well, speaking is like the more the better, but if you don’t have a lot of time and you need to cover all those different aspects of the test, and you need to do a lot of work, then you know, let’s try to be realistic and see what can you do that you can be consistent with, and do every single day. Because that’s more important than spending five hours a day once a week on speaking and then it doesn’t stick. But if you spend even 15 minutes a day on your speaking practice, but you do it consistently, it’s going to have a much bigger impact on your fluency.

And one of the things that I tell my students to do is either to record themselves or to make videos, making videos is even better. And to do it daily. And I usually send them to go online and look for a list of conversation topics, it’s really easy, just like, you know, conversation topics, you get tons of free lists. And then you choose one topic or you also have the test, the topics that are usually asked in the test. So, you choose a topic and you just press record or turn on the camera and you start speaking.

Now, this is like if you have time and you’re being intentional about it, don’t pause or start the recording over and over and over again because this is usually what people do. They try to get it perfect. And this is also an opportunity to be able to learn how to bounce back from getting stuck, from not finding the words and doing it as a form of practice. Because when you record yourself or turn on the video, it’s the closest thing to being in public when you’re alone. There is something like the energy shifts a little bit, you feel like you have this external gaze and it’s more stressful. And we want to simulate that because that’s closer to how it’s going to be in the test.

One of the ways, if you’re practicing a specific topic, I would recommend making a video and/or recording, if you really don’t like yourself on video, but I would recommend trying to get used to it, and then to watch the video and then give yourself three points for improvement. Maybe your voice was not present enough, maybe you made a grammar mistake, you kept making the same grammar mistake, and you want to be more intentional about it. And maybe there was a part where it was just like not very clear and you can think of a better way to say it and use a better word, and then you want to record it again and then you record it again just thinking of those three things now.

Just by repeating it, you’re already going to be a bit more confident and more fluent in saying it and using it. So, you’re gonna say that and make sure that you’re implementing those three things that you’re thinking about. That’s intentional practice. And if you don’t feel satisfied with it, you do it again. It doesn’t have to be on the same day, you can do it every other day. So that’s one thing of small, it’s more of an in-depth work, but in general, I would recommend choosing a topic every single day, also to practice thinking really quickly of the answer and answering it. So that could also be, but the thing is if you want to be able to speak about something quickly, you need to do a lot of it every single day.

Recording yourself would be great, but you can also just speak to yourself whenever you have time, like walk around, pretend like you’re on the phone, and start having a conversation that you need to have with someone or speak out your thoughts. That really helps with the translation. Whatever you see, whatever you think, whatever you’re thinking, you want to say it out loud. That’s another great exercise that can help you with translation and also improve your speaking skills.

Josh: So, producing it, and then kind of watching it, and reflecting on it, being very specific – one, two, or three things – that you want to improve, do it again, and just kind of focusing on doing that on a daily basis or almost daily basis.

You know one thing that comes up when I give this type of advice is often, you know, I don’t like my voice or I don’t like my, you know, I don’t like how I look on film, and it happens pretty often. And I don’t really have any suggestion for that so much. It’s kind of like nobody does. Do you have any advice for people who are in that situation?

What to do if you don’t like the sound of your voice?

Hadar: Well, first, to explain why it feels so weird to listen to our voice. Because when we speak, we hear our voice differently than how we how it is when it’s recorded because when we speak, we hear it resonating inside our face, in our mouth, so it sounds differently than when we hear it through a machine. And then it’s like, “Is this how I sound?” In a way, yes, but not how you sound to yourself, this is why the gap. And it is just like with everything, you do it enough times until it’s no longer an issue.

But you gotta give yourself the opportunity because it’s such an incredible tool, it really is, definitely with pronunciation because you can’t hear your mistakes if you don’t record them because you’re so concentrated on what you’re producing. But it really is such a great tool so that roadblock is something that you can get past and then gain all the advantages that this exercise offers. So I think that this is definitely something that you need to just be persistent and to keep doing until you get comfortable with your voice.

And I also think of athletes, like a soccer player that plays on the field. What they do on the field is really intuitive, but then, to be able to improve their performance, they have to watch it. They have to look at what they did, and then be like, “Okay, here I have a tendency of running to the other side or moving. I need to be focused on changing it”. So, reviewing your performance and then taking notes, and being intentional about integrating those notes is the secret of all breakthroughs. Otherwise, it’s just going to be, everyone will improve still, but you can have massive improvement and a real transformation if you just pay attention and you get comfortable.

Also, start loving how you sound. Why don’t you love what you hear? If you don’t love what you hear, then obviously you’re not going to love what’s happening when you speak. So there’s again the mindset. How do you expect to love your English, if you constantly judge your voice and how you sound and, “Oh, I don’t like”. Why would you think that other people want to hear you if you don’t want to hear yourself?

Josh: Right, that’s a good point, that’s a good point.

Hadar: Get over yourself, listen to yourself enough times. I get it, but it’s like it passes. I see it, like it does pass, just give it enough time.

Josh: That’s good advice. If you don’t like it, why is anybody listening to it? That’s good.

Hadar: At least in your brain, like subconsciously, that’s what you’re saying to yourself. No one is going to like my voice.

Josh: Right, that’s a good point. Yeah, I think, you know, I think we have a tendency to just kind of try to put blinders on the kind of things that we don’t like about ourselves, you know, and so we don’t have to think about it. And then we find ourselves in a situation like maybe you have to take a test where you have no choice, you can’t kind of have to confront this issue, and then that’s when it’s a little painful.

You know what, one thing that comes up with students is motivation. And so, you know, I find that for at least you’re studying for a test, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world. It’s, you know, you kind of want to just get it over with you know pretty quickly. And so, I find that people have a kind of almost one to three-month window, maybe pushing it by about six months of like pretty keen motivation to do something about their TOEFL score, let’s say. And then that motivation does fade eventually. And so, I don’t know if you found a similar experience with some of your students, and then you know how do you help them with sustaining their motivation?

How to sustain your motivation

Hadar: Great, so that’s a great question and definitely something that needs to be addressed because, on one hand, you have to stay motivated about what you’re doing. And the motivation is not about passing the test. It’s a lot deeper, it’s like what is going to be the result of you passing the test. And you need to constantly have that, to visualize that outcome in your mind to remember what is really driving you. Is it just to self-actualize yourself, is it to get a better job, is it to relocate, is it to study, right? So, you have to visualize the outcome to keep reminding you of why you do what you do.

Now, motivation is not enough, and this is why we need to build or form healthy learning habits, so when you don’t feel motivated, the habits will kick in and get you to stick to the work.

So, one of the ways to build habits is, first of all, to recognize how habits are formed and/or not formed, like what is preventing you from forming a healthy habit and also what would get you to stay consistent. I do believe that when you’re practicing, when you’re learning or studying for a test, or when you want to improve your English, you have to make it a part of your life. So, you do want to do it daily. And, when it comes to doing it daily, what happens is that people get super motivated and they spend three hours a day, four hours a day sometimes practicing or learning, studying. And then it’s not sustainable, it’s not really possible for most people who have maybe a family, or they have a job, or they just, you know, want to do other things, to do it. And then they think this is like the only way to study and then they don’t do the work.

So, it’s better to put an upper threshold to your work at least at the beginning, to be like “Okay, I’m going to study up until one hour or two hours”. It’s very individual for each person, but you want to do it, but you want to create a habit-streak that you show up to do something in English every single day. And also to recognize what is distracting you from doing the work to make sure that you have a safe environment. You don’t have a lot of people around you, talking to you. You don’t have your phone on and all the notifications. You don’t go back and forth between other things because it’s not going to be effective and it’s going to move you away from doing the thing, the thing that you do. So, I think that reminding yourself of your true “why”, the outcome, the real outcome of not passing the test, that’s not going to be sustainable, and building strong learning habits, I think together is what is going to get people to the finish line.

Josh: Great, yeah. So, focusing on the why, what you’re doing and not just you don’t want to score, you want to go to a school, you want to move abroad, you want a better job.

The importance of why and visualizing English test success

Hadar: And even then, like you want to go to school, why? That’s not the end result. What is going to happen as a result of you attending that particular school? How is that going to affect you and the people around you?

Josh: Right, right, is it somebody who said like “Ask why five times” or something like that to get to the heart of why you’re doing something. I just I thought about it when you said to go another step further and yeah, if you keep saying why, why, and you get even deeper why you’re going to school, for your family, and then it could be even deeper, you can get a real emotionally charged kind of answer that that’ll help sustain you. I think that’s great.

Hadar: And have an image, like really visualize yourself doing the thing. Do it, like, you know, being that person that is after, the test and school, and the job, and all of that.

Josh: I think I’ve heard you say in a previous interview that you kind of visualize the job that you want in the future, the business that you want to have, and that kind of thing. And so, obviously, for you as well, you think it’s important to actually spend a minute or two actually thinking about the image, you know, actually thinking about what you want.

Hadar: Yeah, because it gives you a lot of clarity. And even if it feels impossible, you open the option of it happening in your life in your mind, and then you’re more likely to take the right action and to do the work. Like if you don’t even have that as a possibility, if you constantly say to yourself, “No, it’s not possible, it’s not going to happen to me,” then you’re less likely to take the right action. It’s going to affect your emotions and, when you feel down or discouraged, you’re less likely to show up and practice for the test if you think “I’m going to fail”.

So, I like to visualize, to be very clear about what I’m trying to get, and to have a picture of it in my mind because, to me, that’s more powerful than journaling. Each person is different, but I think that that is like you always go back to it. There is a possibility, it charges you with positive emotions and from there you move on to doing the things that are necessary for you to get there.

Josh: Nice, so I should do that more.

Hadar: We all should, every day, yeah.

Josh: Yeah, you know, you get caught up in the daily grind, and then you just kind of forget the bigger picture, and I think that’s very very important to focus on.

Tools and apps to practice speaking at home

Josh: So, I just want to add just a couple more quick questions. One thing is about, do you have any kind of tools, or apps, or anything that you would recommend to people who want to practice speaking at home, who might not have, you know, so of course, they should have an audio recorder or a video camera to record or just a phone to record themselves, is there any other tools that you recommend for practicing speaking?

Hadar: So, for speaking, I would recommend finding communities online that are free, where you can practice speaking with other people. So, there is free4talk, you just go there, and there are like a bunch of rooms, and then you can go and there are sometimes topics that you can just go and speak with other people. Again, practicing on your own is great, but when you are, you know, one of the biggest inhibitors is how people see you, what happens when you’re exposed to other people.

You can get to a certain level on your own, but then when you’re confronting, you’re confronted with other people, then the judgment starts. What are they thinking about me, what are they gonna say, how am I going to sound to them. So, this experience is also important, and again, there are a lot of free online environments or platforms where you can do that. There’s also The InFluency Community, my community on Facebook, absolutely free, and there is a speaking club where people can join, and there are like four or five a week that you can just join, and join small rooms, and have that conversation.

So, I know that people are really busy, but if you want to try that, you know, I think that that could definitely help. And when you go into that room, or conversation, or even practice on your own, again, be intentional and say to yourself before “what should I be focusing on?”. So, is it managing my breath, is it being clear, making sure that I’m finishing the sentences, pronouncing all the sounds at the end of words, is it using new words, is it focusing on articles, making sure that I’m not skipping those articles. So, I think that, and then like have one thing that you want to pay attention to. So, when you go into a conversation it’s not just something that you do on the go, but it’s like you’re really trying to integrate new things because it’s a safe environment, it’s not the test.

But the test is like the end result in a way in this particular journey. So, try to give yourself the experience of doing things as similar as possible to the experience in the test. So, I think that’s it. I think using notes or speech to text and just recording yourself and seeing what comes out, dictating something, and then to see if it dictates what you’re saying. And if not, then you need to see, “Okay, it didn’t pick up on what I was saying, why is that? Did I mispronounce it? Was I not clear about it?” Go investigate it, don’t just keep, don’t just move forward, be very thorough in that sense. Again, quality over quantity. So, I think that’s also a really good tool to practice on your own.

Josh: Right. I often recommend voice typing on Google Docs for that. And I think what you said, quality over quantity is perfect. Because speaking can feel like it kind of comes and goes pretty quickly. It’s hard to kind of pin down. So, recording yourself, being intentional when you’re going to speak to people, I think these the things that really help you get that quality, that you don’t really need to spend too much time every day doing it, but as long as it’s focused practice. And I think that’s perfect.

So, one thing that you mentioned actually in the beginning, was kind of how your work focuses not just on pronunciation but also on people speaking in a way that integrates with who they feel like they are, and they feel comfortable speaking a certain way.

When should TOEFL® and IELTS® test takers work on pronunciation

Josh: Some students aren’t sure if they need to work on pronunciation. They’re not sure if that’s actually, you know, an actual issue or not. Just from the test, they say that from their standpoint, it’s not accent but intelligibility, as long as you are understood, you know is the most important thing. And so, if a student’s not sure if they should work on pronunciation or not, of course, everybody’s different, but what would you say about working on pronunciation?

Hadar: So, I think there are a few key elements that you need to understand that are in a way critical for clarity. So, for example, primary stress, like if you misplace the primary stress, it’s going to be hard for people to understand what you’re saying in the flow of a conversation without context. I would see, so I’m gonna name a few elements that the students need to pay attention to and see if this is something that they’re doing because if it is, then the answer is yes, like you definitely want to work on that.

Sheep – ship important but not critical, this is like I would say that’s a medium priority. It’s good to be able to differentiate between cheap and chip, but if, you know, you’re gonna say I picked up my “keeds” instead of my “kids”, everyone will understand you, it’s okay, it’s just an accent. But if you say she’s a great “engineer” instead of “engineer”, then that would be, it could also it could become problematic because people would not think that you’re saying the word engineer. So, primary stress is key.

Dropping consonants or adding consonants is also key. So, if in your language, that happens a lot with Spanish speakers, Mandarin speakers, Chinese, Cantonese speakers, like some Asian languages where there where a sequence of consonants is not allowed, then I would like then sometimes the way to resolve that in English because in English you have a lot of words with a bunch of consonants at the end. If that’s not allowed, a lot of people resolve it by dropping consonant consonants, “mine” instead of “mind”, or “tech” instead of “text”, and then that can result in like then people might not understand you. So, if you tend to do that or add vowels, then I would say try to work on that because that could be significant in how people understand you. It doesn’t matter if you choose the right word. If they don’t get it, they won’t be able to understand the flow of conversation.

And the last thing that is critical I think is replacing sounds, consonants in particular. So, for example, if you tend to substitute the “l”’s and the “r”’s right or if you tend to put an “l” at the end of um, an “u” instead of an “l” at the end of words, then that could be challenging for your clarity. Again, one word would be interpreted as a different word. And I’m saying consonants and not vowels in particular because there is more freedom when it comes to substituting vowels, “bed” instead of “bad”. That is also, but again, if you don’t have a lot of time and you need to focus on what is really important, I would focus on those things.

The second thing is to see if there is hierarchy in how you deliver the words, meaning some words are more important than others. And if you stress every single word the same, again it’s going to affect your intelligibility. So, we need to understand that content words – nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs – usually take more room, take up more space in the sentence. They’re longer, they’re higher in pitch. They don’t all sound the same, but they’re more dominant versus content words, all the prepositions, and the verb “be”, and the auxiliary verbs – “and”, “on”, “out”, “could”, “would”, “should”, “am”, “is”, “are” – that is usually reduced. We don’t want to stress them. So, if you’re able to find that balance, it’s going to definitely help improve your clarity.

So, I think that this needs to be a part of the work that we do. And all the rest, you know, fine-tuning your “r”, pool – pull, sheep – ship, would be only if you want to fine-tune it or to improve it afterward for your own purposes.

Josh: Okay, I’m gonna leave out some things, but basically, mixing up vowel sounds is not as critical as something like, for example, putting equal stress on content and function words, function words are like “a”, “and”, “the”, and that kind of thing.

And then also, if you are adding some sounds to words that are not there, for example, a lot of Asian languages, in Japan, for example, they don’t really have single letters but they’re in groups of two, so like “ta”, “te”, “ti”. So, you know, any word, if it ends with a consonant, they’ll add a vowel or just drop a consonant. So, a “hamburger” is “hambaga”. And so, if you do, if you have a tendency to do that, then it might be an issue as well.
And so, and with a couple of other things that you mentioned.

Hadar: Dropping consonants, the same thing with dropping consonants and replacing consonants, swapping consonants, one consonant with another, two consonants that exist in English.

Josh: Okay, so like the “r” sound is a common one that’s a difficult one.

Hadar: Yeah, “r”’s and “l”s, “l”’s and “w”’s and “b” and “v” for Spanish speakers, “th” not so much. “Th”, “d”, “t” like, you know, if you say “tink” instead of “think”, it would still be clear. People are used to recognizing that, that change.

Josh: All right, great. Well, Hadar, thank you so much. I think everybody learned a whole lot and let me, let us know where can students find out more about you and what you do and, you know, find more helpful tips like these.

Hadar: Yeah, sure. So, I have my YoutTube channel Accent’s Way English with Hadar and my podcast the InFluency Podcast. And on Instagram, I’m at @hadar.accentsway.

Josh: That’s great. Hadar, it’s been an honor, I’ve learned so much. Thank you, thank you so much.

Hadar: Thank you so much for having me. Thank you so much.

You can learn more about Hadar Shemesh and her accent programs here.

If you need help improving your TOEFL Speaking skills check out our Score Builder program for the TOEFL iBT®, with over 100 exercises, 13 practice tests, and hours of video lectures designed to help you improve your score.

And what did you think of the interview? Do you agree with Hadar’s advice?

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