How to Speak English Like a Native English Speaker – English Podcast #38

How to Speak English Like a Native English Speaker – English Podcast #38

O English Experts faz 7 anos no próximo domingo e aqui quem ganha o presente é você. Preparamos um podcast especial sobre a pronúncia do inglês americano. Adir Ferreira e eu conversamos com Rachel Smith do site Rachel’s English. O assunto: Como falar inglês como um nativo (How to speak English like a native English speaker).

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Hi, English Experts friends! Welcome to this special edition of English Podcast. Today, in English, of course. I’m Alessandro Brandão from Brazil. I’m Adir Ferreira from Brazil and I’m Rachel Smith from New York City.

Alessandro: Today we’re going to talk a little bit about “How to speak English like a native English speaker”. So, stay tuned.

Let me tell you a little bit about our today’s guest. Rachel lives in New York City. She was born and raised in Florida, went to college in Indiana where she studied Applied Math, Computer Science, Music and graduate school for Opera Performance in Boston. She loves being connected to people throughout the world through Rachel’s English. Hi Rachel, it’s a pleasure.

Rachel: Hi!
Alessandro: Thank you for joining us today.
Rachel: Sure… Thanks for having me on.
Alessandro: Great! By the way, how’s Lucy?
Rachel: Lucy is doing well. Yep, she’s holding up well, I just rode her around Manhattan this morning, so I’m happy to have her.


Alessandro: Great! Just to let you know, Lucy is Rachel’s new bike, because her old bike had been stolen and she decided to ask readers for suggestions for a new name. Of course, I was rooting for “magrela”. Here in Brazil “magrela” is a common name for a bike. Did you know that?

Rachel: Uh-huh… … Well, I figured it out pretty quickly because many many people were suggesting that as a name.

Alessandro: We used to say also “Camelo” or just Bike in English.

Rachel: Hm-hum , yeah.

Alessandro: Rachel, let me introduce you my friend and partner, Adir Ferreira.

Adir: Hello, Rachel! It’s a pleasure and an honor to have you with us today.

Rachel: It’s nice to meet you.

Adir: Ohh fantastic, nice to meet you too. And as most of our listeners and readers know, I’m a huge aficionado of pronunciation studies and it is always a pleasure to feature your videos on my personal blog and on Transparent Language English blog for Portuguese speakers too, it’s always always good to have you there.

Rachel: Well, thank you for doing that, thank you for helping to spread the word about my work.

Adir: It’s my pleasure.


Alessandro: I don’t know if you remember, but Adir already sent a video response to you. It was a video about the question “What did you do today?” Do you remember?

Rachel: I do actually, I just watched it again today to refresh myself and it was a great video, really appreciated it.

Adir: Thank you!

Rachel: You’re welcome!

Alessandro: Adir is the king of the pronunciation here in Brazil.

Adir: So you say. So you say.

Alessandro: That’s why I’m so nervous today.

Adir: Ahhh, Don’t worry.

Alessandro: So, Rachel you’ve been working on Rachel’s English for over 4 years now. How did it all start?


Rachel: Actually I just had my five-year anniversary last… last month, so I guess I need update that information. It started in 2008, when I was living in Germany and I was studying at a language institute there to learn German and so I was hanging out with a lot of people from all over the world who were there to learn German and one person in particular that was in several of my classes … was from Turkey and was interested in American English and, you know, Hollywood is such a great exporter of the way we speak and he found it very interesting and wanted to know how to sound more American so you know on the bus on the way to a field trip I just gave him few pointers, I mean, it was very informal. ( -Yeah! )

And and he thought that it was really helpful he said oh you’re very good at describing that and I thought. Oh, really… well. I’ve been looking for an idea to develop maybe that should be it. And that’s really how it all started.

Alessandro and Adir: Great, great history. Yes, great history.

Rachel: Thank you.

(som de transição)

Alessandro: Rachel, do you see any difference between Brazilian English students and other students around the world, I mean, pronunciation, rhythm and stuff like that.


Rachel: Yeah definitely every language has its own unique issues when studying

American English, so definitely I noticed that the patterns of Portuguese speakers are different than those of, say, Mandarin speakers, for example… and one of the benefits of having done this for a while and having interacted to a lot of people is I’ve been able to sort of get a general feel.

So, I’ve had a lot of Brazilian students. And so because of that I’ve been able to sort of put together topics that are gonna be more important for Brazilian students.

For example, in Portuguese you have nasalized vowels, but we don’t have any of that in American English, so when we have an ending N, or NG sound or M sound, those are words that will often be slight problematic.

And I’ve also noticed that, my Brazilian speakers tend to have a problem with N versus NG, so rather than making those two distinctly different sounds, they sort of make a one sound that is somewhere in between. But in American English the N is very forward and the NG is made at the very back of the mouth. So those are just a few of the issues but, the short answer is yes. Every language has its own special things that make it difficult to learn English and Portuguese is no exception.

Alessandro: Great! American English speakers also has (oops!) difficult to speak words like pão…mão…


Rachel: Yeah! I’m sure I mean… anytime that you know… we’re learning a language and we’re coming across sounds that are not in our own language that’s where it’s gonna be difficult, so nasalized vowels I can totally understand how Americans would have a hard time with that. Especially, you know, if they’re not at the very beginning, told about the sounds and how to make them I mean, they’re really the building blocks of the words and if you’re not comfortable with the building blocks pronunciation in general is going to be really difficult, I think and, I think that’s one thing that’s lacking in a lot of language learning programs is the building blocks at the sounds themselves. I think it’s very important when you’re learning a new language to look at what sounds here are new to me. (- Yes.) Then really try to learn how to make them and not substitute something that you are familiar with from your own language that is close.

Adir: Let me interrupt you here, so for example, (- Yeah.) Brazilians learning English have the hardest time saying words like think, thought, these… and then instead of that they say “fink” or “sink”, you know, so that yet, so they transfer those sounds into Portuguese and that’s (-Right) …a real hassle for teachers, you know, because it’s really hard to do and something I usually tell my students to do is to exaggerate at first, right! Then your articulation will get more… more comfortable with the new sounds and also your muscles will develop more it’s like going to the gym right. ( – Right! ) So each day is another day.


Rachel: Yeah I know, I think that’s exactly what I mean TH is one of the sounds that exists almost nowhere but English, so pretty much everyone has a problem with that one, and yet is so common to substitute F, V, S, Z and all of this things, but just like you said if you practice different methods like exaggeration or repetition and all you’re doing is focusing on the movement of that sound with time it can become much more comfortable for you to the point where you can actually put it into a word in conversation.

But just like you said it’s like going to the gym, it’s a discipline and you have to make time. Specifically to retrain your muscles to get them comfortable with some of these new sounds.

Adir: Yeah, I was telling Alessandro today, we were practicing a few sentences here and then he was like “Ohh, man. I so frustrated because I can’t get this right”, then I said “ok, so first do it slowly don’t try to rush it, don’t try rush because you aren’t gonna get it in one fell swoop”. And know so you go like “tanann”, and then you go, and then as you get more comfortable with it you’ll be able to say this like very very easily.


Rachel: Right! Yeah. You know and for me when I was starting out so I didn’t train obviously you know you’re listening to my academic background I didn’t study languages. I didn’t study Education, I didn’t study English a second language, so for me when I was sort of building my ideas for how to work on pronunciation I was drawing on my background as an opera singer and if I’m learning a new piece as a singer and there’s maybe a long run with many notes it’s quite complex I would never just sit down and do that whole thing over and over.

I break it up I look for (- exactly!) you know notes to go to notes to come away from maybe I’ll just drill for notes together twenty times then I’ll bring in the next set of four but it would never be beneficial to just take the whole thing and bang my head against the wall doing that over and over.

It has to be broken up into pieces and it gonna be more digestible and and drill individually.

Adir: Well I’m also a singer. Did you know that?

Rachel: I didn’t know.

Adir: Yeah! I’m also a singer so so… I can relate because when I’m learning it a new song for my concerts it’s a it’s always okay, so this is a hard song the metrics and the cadence of the rhythm are all difficult so would take one stanza at a time and that’s the whole point of pronunciation practice too, one word sentence, one word, one liaison on at a time.

Rachel: Right! And I also tell people slow it down as much as you have to do it the right way. It’s never worth your time to be drilling at pace when it’s wrong because then you’re just drilling… drilling it wrong and making that habit even stronger.

So I always tell people slow down until you can do it the right way and then you know drill at that pace when it’s a little more comfortable speed it up a little bit but never sacrifice doing it the right way for speed.

Alessandro: Exactly! Yeah. Perfect. Is it the placement?


Rachel: Well. Yeah. Well placement is… it’s a hard thing to talk about in to teach but it really is important a lot of people can have a lot of the sounds in order but the feeling isn’t quite right because the placement and in Portuguese because there are a lot of nasal vowels, if they bring those nasal vowels into English then that’s gonna lift the sound a bit so I don’t know if you know the mechanics of it but it has to do with the soft palate being raised or lowered so when the soft palate is lowered it allows the air to go up into the nasal passages and that’s why it’s called an nasal consonant.

In American English we don’t have any of those and our placement tends to sit a little bit lower in the body and I feel it more connected to my chest and… and the place where my neck and my chest to meet but if you’re soft palate is lowered a lot and you’re getting a lot of nasal sounds, then that’s going to mean that your placement is higher and it’s more than nasal passages in the face. So this is one of the issues that I work with for my students from Brazil.

( som de transição )


Adir: Cuban journalist Ismael Calas says that “el secreto del buen hablar es saber escuchar”, it is “the secret to good speaking is to know how to listen”. I’ve been telling my readers that listening plays a major role in spoken fluency. How would you rate listening, the listening process in the process of oral fluency?

Rachel: I think it is well… I mean it’s probably the most important thing, I mean, if you’re not hearing it right, if you’re not hearing it is going to be hard to reproduce and a lot of what I what I do in my teaching and in some of my videos I have these things called imitation exercises. Where it’s just simply a matter of hearing something putting it back out there exactly as you heard it. And in this particular exercise I tell people not even to worry about what they’re saying because they already have preconceived notions about words and sounds but just so literally repeat exactly as you hear, sounds, rhythm, pitch, even if you haven’t understood the meaning.

So that’s one approach I also have some Ben Franklin exercises where I try to teach people how to listen and when you learn how to listen to native speakers, then you start to notice things that you were never noticing before and when you notice them then you can use them I mean if you’re not aware there they even exist then you’re never going to be able to integrate those habits into your own speech so listening is extremely important to sounding like a native speaker.


Adir: Ok! Would you say that it is awareness, noticing and then production.

Rachel: Yes so, I think the key to really getting your pronunciation in line I think there’s two different ways. One is the listening and being able to repeat back as you hear, and that sort of more intuitive to me, it involves less of the mind less if the brain and a little bit more intuition – on the other side it is the brain and we can train something like the TH tong position you can learn intellectually what that means you can, with your mind, to make your muscles do it and train over and over.

So the two side by side are really important. For example, if I’m having a student who’s having difficulties making the difference between the E and (ae) vowel. I mean some students start out not even being able to hear the difference.

So for them the intuition isn’t gonna work that well because they’re not hearing it. So for them we might start with what are the physical differences and try to take a brain approach and then when they make a little headway there then maybe we start doing more just listening over and over to minimal pairs starting to understand. “okay, get a little bit more information maybe some of it that’s even bypassing intellectual brain to the point where you can develop a little bit intuition for it”.

So I think both… both sides if it can be really important for students and probably both of them are necessary for a complete understanding over the pronunciation of a language.

Alessandro: It may be a local phenomenon, but here in Brazil lots of students (myself included, of course) don’t just want to speak English they want to speak English like a native English speaker. What do you think of that?


Rachel: Well, I sometimes get criticized for teaching pronunciation and that I don’t think it’s okay to have an accent. Which is not true. I have… when I speak foreign languages I haven’t mastered every foreign language I’ve ever tried to speak and for sure, I’ve had an accent at times. And so… for me I really want to exist for people who aren’t happy with their level. Hum.. and you know if your saying in Brazil people are wanting more and more to sound native. I mean… I say, why not!

If you’re learning the language in the whole point is to feel really comfortable and be really really well understood the most that you can… the closest that you can get to native the better, for reaching those goals. But I just do and emphasize that, I don’t think there’s any shame in speaking English with an accent.

Alessandro: Great! So, the question is… How can we speak English like a native English Speaker?


Rachel: That is a good question actually, my most viewed video on YouTube has that exact title I think… And in it I describe a couple of different exercises and actually it really follows up to what I was just saying the dual approach of intuition versus mind. So I have these imitation exercises that focus purely on intuition and then the Ben Franklin exercises, which focus on the mind. So if you can do a little bit of work in both that’s really going to help you out.

Now for a lot of people they’ll be listening to a native speaker and not really get what they’re hearing and I don’t mean content. I mean they’re not noticing reductions that are happening.

So I might say the word probably to someone and I might say “probly” and they hear the word they understand it and if they say it back to me they say probably even though that’s not how I said it I set with two syllables they’re saying it back to me with three because they identify the word and in their mind they knew how to say it. So, when they say it they use information that’s in their mind and they’re not using the information that’s in their ear from what they heard from me.

Alessandro: It happens to me all the time…


Rachel: Yeah! That happens a lot… and so sometimes you know that’s the whole purpose of my videos, is to point this kinda stuff out. And once you start listening for it. Oh, actually when someone gives the sentence, says a sentence with the word for I’m probably going to hear more as “fur” and then as they start noticing that they start hearing it then they can start doing that themselves and they speak.

Oh, no this is for work, this is for school, this is for the party and then all the sudden their pronunciation becomes better, even though, they were understanding what a native speaker was saying… when they’re reducing the word for… they weren’t necessarily noticing the reduction.

(som de transição)

Adir: Rachel could you tell us a little bit about the Ben Franklin exercise, how it works and how it can improve your fluency and pronunciation?

Rachel: Sure! Well so… the whole thing with Ben Franklin exercises is I got this idea a long time ago, when I was reading a book. The book was called “Talent is overrated”…

Adir: I love that book.


Rachel: Ohh you know it! Ok. So… The book was written by a guy named Jeff Coven and in this book, he describes a method that Ben Franklin used to work on his writing skills, and what Ben Franklin would do is he would take a great article in an important publication and he would take very detailed notes about the form, maybe vocabulary choices, structure of a sentence, this kind of thing.

And then he would put it away and maybe a couple days later maybe a couple months later he would come back to it and he would take just his notes he wouldn’t look at the article.

And from the notes that he had taken he would try to write the same article. Then he would compare what he had written with the original and see… Okay what did I do well and what did I miss. And that sort of what that Ben Franklin, that’s where the idea came from so the idea for the Ben Franklin exercises to listen to a native speaker that you admire or content that is important for your work.

You know, listen to someone, a conversation or a lecture or whatever and then listen to what they’re doing I mean how are they pronouncing the words that it’s important for you to know in your line of work or what’s what reductions are they using in a given sentence, how are they making a T, are they flapping it? This kind of thing and then after you’ve done that to then take the text and take the notes that you’ve made about the text and record yourself doing it, and then compare it with the original and say, okay did I flat my T where I wanted to. Did I reduce the word for, did I reduce the word to. This kind of thing, did I connect things the way the native speaker did.

Now this is a pretty time intensive exercise on but I think the benefit is is huge. It’s probably one of the most beneficial things that you can do other than some very short repetitious drilling up one particular concept. And what I do in some of my videos is I do then note taking part for you.

So it’s basically I want people to learn how to take notes when they’re listening to a native speaker. What is important to notice. What are different ways you could know take that in a text so that when you come back to it later, you can try to emulate that person better.


Adir: Ok, so.. the Talent is Overrated book in Portuguese is called “Desafiando o Talento” and it is sold in major bookstores online and in every city. Ok! So it’s a very good book. I really like it.

Ok, so Rachel. I’ve also been giving workshops and lectures all over Brazil to teachers to English teachers on vocabulary teaching with music and pronunciation and I’ve noticed that many EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teachers are not “prepared” to teach pronunciation because they haven’t had any training or they also take pronunciation for granted. Right, in their English classes. What would you tell those teachers who are still reluctant or actually unwilling to include pronunciation teaching in their classes?

Rachel: Well I guess I would ask why… why would someone be unwilling? I mean from my experience students wanted and are asking for it.

And I think that’s part of why my videos have become popular is because they’re not getting it in the classroom And, you know, if you’re teaching someone and you’re not you’re not coaching them on their pronunciation as they go basically you’re allowing them to learn things not quite right you’re allowing them to learn some wrong things and breaking a bad habit can be very time-consuming when the effort is being put into learn.

I really think that, you know, it’s gonna benefit the students if the learning is done right and completely. And if you’re only focusing on grammar then your not really giving the students the full picture and I think that’s a shame, because I have a lot of students who are extremely gifted in writing I would never know that they weren’t native and then they have such a hard time communicating that they’re not actually getting the work that they are seeking out and I think that’s really unfortunate.

( som de transição )


Alessandro: You have lots of students and fans here in Brazil. This morning I sent a message on Facebook, the message was “Hi everyone! Today I’m going to talk to Rachel of Rachel’s English. Do you have any questions?”

So, a couple of readers sent “A big shout out”, Fábio Eduardo, Thiago Pietro, Juliana Lazari. She says: “She’s so great! I love her videos!”.

Rachel: Oh! That’s nice.

Alessandro: Erik Spencer sent a question. “Ask her what she thinks about Krashen, Asher, and the use of grammar in the classroom”.

Rachel: Okay! Well, here’s an interesting confession for me I’m not actually in a classroom I’ve taught English as a second language in a classroom for a total of about six weeks. My experience is very different than most teachers and I am the first to admit that. Which is part of why it’s really great for me to hear from teachers how can myvideos be better to use in the classroom.

But that is… yeah that’s really. Believe it or not, that’s really even something that I don’t even feel like I can comments on grammar in the classroom. Ok!

And, so certainly… Obviously I know when I speak with correct grammar most of the time but because I’m a native speaker who has never studied the teaching of it. When I actually get grammar questions I basically well… turn those people to other resources because I can know what’s right but I’m not going to be able to give a very in-depth explanation of why something is right. (-Ok!)

And there are other people out there who can do that much better than I. I really focus on the pronunciation.

Alessandro: Great! Perfect! I just, I have to tell you about the other readers here. Marcelo Andrade, Riella Costa says “Just say to her we love Rachel’s videos”… and Celso Souza, Rogerio Lima. They all love your videos.

Adir: Celebrity time… Celebrity time…

Rachel: Oh my…

Alessandro: And last but not least. Do you plan to organize a meetup here in Brazil?


Rachel: There’s nothing that’s being planned at the moment but I would definitely like to make something happen there at some point. I’m currently working with the idea of putting together some workshops. Right now, as you probably know all of my work is online.

And so I’m not actually meeting with people, and one of the things I wanna do is put together workshops or I can meet with people and go over some of … You know… the biggest topics and be available for questions and have some in person coaching and that kind of thing. So I think you know once I can develop that and do a couple trial runs here in New York City.

That then, I can really go anywhere with that and certainly Brazil is where a lot of my fans are located so it would be an obvious destination.

Alessandro: Great! Good news… Just out of curiosity, how do you make your videos? I heard you’re using the Youtube studios in Manhattan.

Rachel: I am, yeah. I’ve been doing that for about nine months. I’ve been doing most of my recording there. Not all of it, but most of it. And that’s been really helpful because you know I do live in New York City in space is expensive, my apartment is very small and so I don’t really have the space to leave equipment set up and that kind of thing to have a dedicated room for recording.

So it’s great for me to be able to have the resource of the YouTube space here in Manhattan to be able to go do my recording at.

Alessandro: Yeah. Great. Rachel Thanks for talking with us today. Could you leave a message to the Brazilian students.


Rachel: Yeah, sure… Well I just want to thank everybody for being so involved. I mean, the Brazilian students are some of the most vocal in my community and for me that’s really important because a lot of my time I spend alone in my apartment at my computer and I’m, I don’t have a lot of interaction with people. So to have people comment on my videos and to have people post video responses, as you did and comments on my Facebook posts that really helps me to get engaged on what people want to hear and learn and it also just keeps me motivated because it reminds me there are real people out there, that are using the videos and that are learning from them and… so yet it’s great. Thank you, Brazil.

Alessandro: I’m one of them.
Adir: I’m one of them too.
Alessandro: Do you speak Portuguese?
Rachel: I do not, no… So… Unfortunately, I have never…
Alessandro: Let’s go… I know don’t speak… I know you don’t speak Portuguese but… Could you please repeat after me…
Rachel: I can but you can’t do whole one long sentence, you have to break it up.
Alessandro: Um abraço…
Rachel: Um Abraço…
Alessandro: para os leitores…
Rachel: para os leitores…
Alessandro: e ouvintes…
Rachel: e ouvintes…
Alessandro: do English experts.
Rachel: do English Experts.
Alessandro and Adir: Great. That was great. – Great pronunciation.
Rachel: Thank you.
Adir: You may have a knack for that, right?

Rachel: …have a knack for learning languages, right. I think, I have a knack for repeating what I hear, whether or not I’m actually gonna remember that well enough to say it again in two seconds I don’t know.

Adir: One step at a time. One step at a time.
Rachel: Yeah, exactly.
Alessandro: Rachel, thank you so much.
Rachel: You’re so welcome this was fun.

( som de transição )


Rachel: I’m Rachel and you can find me on
Adir: I’m Adir Ferreira and you can find the on

Alessandro: And I’m Alessandro Brandão and you can find me on I hope this English Podcast this valuable to you. I’m sure there will be good comments and good discussion about this subject and I’m looking forward to reading them.

Please subscribe to this podcast using the podcasts App for iPhone, iPad or Android. To download or just listen to other episodes go to and click on podcast menu.

We’ll see you again next week for another edition of English Podcast.

Take care!

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