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Buy One, Get Three Free and the Human Brain

Buy One, Get Three Free and the Human Brain– Aarticle 12


It really is true, for mastering American English, you can “Buy one, get three free.”  Every time you push the blade and tip of the tongue forward in your mouth for the accurate TH no voice speech sound, you are also deliberately practicing the TH with a voice, the L, and the American English Short Vowel A as in “hat.”

That’s because of how the human brain controls speech.

                               What Part of the Brain Controls Speech?

Control of speech is part of a complex network in the brain.  The brain regions called lobes  which control speech include the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes which formulate  or put together what you want to say and are located usually in the left hemisphere (Cafasso, 2019).  —– More later about the importance of “usually”—which is actually critically important for human brains.

The motor cortex in your frontal lobe enables you to speak words. The brain’s language regions work together as a coordinated network with  some parts involved in multiple functions and redundancy in some processing pathways (Abbott, 2016).

To speak clearly, you must move the muscles of your mouth, tongue and throat. This is where the motor cortex participates.  Located in the frontal lobe, the motor cortex takes information from the Broca area, in the front part of the left hemisphere,  and tells the muscles of your face, mouth, tongue, lips, and throat how to move to form speech (Cafasso, 2019).

In particular, past studies have found that a part of the human brain called the ventral sensorimotor cortex, or vSMC, controls speech.  Using electrical stimulation, researchers found which general areas of the vSMC controlled which parts of the face and mouth.  But that kind of electrical stimulation couldn’t trigger meaningful utterances.  That finding reveals that speech sounds are not being stored in discrete brain areas, but rather arise from coordinated motor patterns involving multiple areas (Wein, 2013).

Electrical patterns in the brain transitioned within tens of milliseconds between distinct and different representations or patterns for different consonants and vowels. (Wein, 2013)

Importantly, regions of brain activity during speech have a hierarchical, overlapping structure organized by phonetic feature.   Examples of phonetic features for American English include whether the speech sound has a voice or no voice (like P vs D, F vs V), or for instance whether there is prolonged audible friction of air  as in S, Sh, F, V or in contrast, the speech sound is quick ( such as J, CH, P, D).  Also, scientists found that consonants that require similar tongue locations have overlapping areas of activity (for instance American English T, D, J, Ch for tip of tongue, and NG, K, G for back of the tongue).  Notably, patterns of brain activity differ the most between consonants and vowels. (Wein, 2013).

Wein also emphasized that although the researchers used English,  they found the key phonetic features observed were ones that linguists have observed in spoken languages around the world.

For acquisition of clear American English speech when it is a second or other language (ESL, English as a Second Language), a key skill to master is changing and making different the movement and positioning of the muscles,  and the tension of muscles in the tongue, lips, jaw, and the muscles in the throat for the vocal folds or chords.

To reiterate because it is so important: speech sounds and spoken words require coordinated motor patterns, which are hierarchical and overlapping.  An example of this coordinated motor or movement pattern is the coordinating of making a voice at the vocal folds in your throat with pushing out air from your lunghs and positioning of the top front teeth on the lower lip to make the American English speech sound V.

The research cited above gives physiological and brain insight for an important facet of learning or acquiring clear English pronunciation.  That is, researchers have discovered that the brain is organized for speech according to movements of the face and mouth which includes tongue, lips, jaw and for phonetic features which include voicing or no voice, and audible air friction such as in S, Z, SH, ZH which is SH with a voice.   You probably already know that positioning of muscles of the lips is a critical articulator difference which distinguishes the English speech sound of S from SH and Z from ZH.

Now to swing back to the “Buy one, get three free”  proclamation.  A practical application is that if you train your motor system in the brain for the accurate positioning of your tongue “forward” for TH with voice—such as “the”–  you are also training the positioning of the tongue  for TH with no voice – such as “think”–and also for the consonant L—as in “light” and “tall” and the tongue forward movement  for the American English Short Vowel A as in “hat.”  The same principle applies for the accurate pronunciation of  English speech sounds K, G, and NG  which uses the back of the tongue hitting the roof of the  back of the mouth.  Do one of those K, G, NG accurately and you are making stronger the neural connections in the motor cortex for two more speech sounds.

Do you want motivation or a reason for doing a lot of accurate speaking (including reading words and sentences)?   The “Buy one get two or three free”  motivation is powerful reason.

Recall that the same kind of bonus  to “Buy one get one free” motivates humans to buy products in grocery or other stores and online.

To add important actionable information:  Evidence indicates that daily practice of 400 to 800 times leads to reorganization of the brain connections after a stroke, also called “brain attack” or CVA, Cerebrovascular Accident (Vearrier et al 2005; Flint Rehab 2023.  If my arithmetic is accurate, to speak 400 speech sounds consecutively, as in connected speech, reading aloud, takes about 30 minutes.  If you are using a recorded video lesson or recorded audio lesson to accurately imitate, then the practice time is longer because you must listen and perhaps watch before you imitate.   With our more than 800 different student/learners for more than 20 years, most frequently they do 30 minutes of  deliberate practice with their voice speaking Clear English (Careful Leveled-Up Mode or Work-Out Mode) and add minutes for the listening to  audio recorded spoken English with or without video.   For humans, listening and imitating accurately clear English words is quite efficient for learning and mastery for accurate American English pronunciation.

The take-home message is quite good! The good news is that accurate American English is not some random collection of phonetic or speech sound featuresunknowable because they are random.   Instead, systematic learning – which has been our mission for more than 20 years–which uses the scientific evidence of brain organization and function for English speaking can lead to excellent efficiency in learning.  The systematic learning is the crux of the exercises and tasks for learning from video recorded lessons, different audio recorded lessons, and customized textbook with additional tasks for independent speech practice without imitation for deeper learning..

Yay for efficient and long lasting learning based on brain research and evidence and experience with student-learners.  Yay today for “Buy one, get two or three free!”  Way to go, human brain!  Way to go for human being learning!

copyright 2023 Clear Talk Mastery Inc

The Endgame is Procedural Memory

Accent Reduction: The Endgame is Procedural Memory Article 11

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Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasures nor this thing nor that but simply growth.  We are happy when we are growing.   William Butler Yeats.

The endgame is to type on a keyboard without looking at the keys.  Or to safely ride a bike, or safely drive a car, or accurate English speech!

All are procedural memory which end up as automatically retrieved.  When needed procedural memories are automatically retrieved and used for execution of the bringing together of procedures involved in both cognitive and motor skills.  These skills also range from tying shoes, to reading, to acquiring grammatical rules according to Koziol et al, 2012,  Wikipedia, 2023, and Ullman et al, 2005.

Acquisition of clear and accurate English speech communication is  procedural learning.  Procedural memory is a type of long-term memory which aids the performance of particular types of tasks without ongoing conscious awareness of the previous experiences of learning.

Procedural memory is created through procedural learning, or repeating a complex activity over and over again, until all of the relevant neural systems work together  to automatically produce the activity.  Implicit procedural learning is essential for the development of any motor skill or cognitive activity.   Procedural learning and memory are implicit because the actual learning is inferred from an individual’s improvement in performing the task.

Repeating the task over and over is critical.  It is in the repetition that all the relevant and needed neural systems get connected to work together.

We’re lucky to be living in 2023.  Originally, Beaunieux and colleagues (2006) in empirical research  confirmed the existence of three separate phases of procedural learning.  They conceptualized the three phases as a combination of explicit and implicit contributions to the formation of procedural memory.

Specifically, during the repetition of the task, at the beginning of learning a task is where the effortful learning of the cognitive phase happens.  Repeating of a task over and over at the beginning of learning is marked by a steep learning curve.  Then with more repeating of a task, that is followed by gradual improvement and ends in high performance levels without further improvement.  The gradual increases to higher or better performances characterize emerging automatization of the associative phaseSustained highest performance characterizes autonomous procedures when procedural memory has formed (Hong et al, 2019).

Learning to drive is one of the most widely known examples of procedural learning among adults.   The more you drive, the better you get at it.  Just reading a manual on driving or observing your parents drive will not suffice, and hence you won’t be a good driver unless you put your foot to the pedals.

What does this have to do with acquisition of clear English speech communication?  Typically nonnative-born adults who find that others are having difficulty (and likely frustrated) with understanding their English speech seek fixing their English speech communication.  (Alternatively, their supervisors recommend instruction.)   Since these adults have spent 18 or more years of speech production in their first language,  the ground floor or core task is their learning how to produce the American English (AE) 25 consonants and 14 vowel sounds accurately so they are easily understood by native-born Americans and other internationally- born persons.   There is cause for rejoicing for the first language consonant and vowel sounds which are the same as American English.  Ground floor is thus focusing on acquiring the position  and speed of the articulators of tongue, lips, teeth and jaw and making a voice or no voice for American English consonants and vowels which are different from the first language.  This is the cognitive stage of learning for the procedural learning of accurate American English speech communication.

In order to go from the first phase of procedural learning which is the effortful phase and cognitive phase (steep curve of learning), through the associative phase (more gradual learning) and onto the final autonomous phase of learning for sustained high performance—all this takes practice over and over again for the speech articulators, vocal folds, and pushing of air from the lungs.  The repeated practice must be accurate!

Again, good thing we live in the 21st century.  Procedural memory is created by repetition of complex tasks until all the requisite neural systems work together to produce automatically the activity.  We actually know a great deal about those required neural systems.  More about those neural systems  later.

Copyright 2023 by Clear Talk Mastery

How Many Words for English Proficiency

English Speaking Skills: How Many Words for English Fluency?


       Here are some rough word counts according to Jakob Gibbon, 2023:

      Advanced: With 4,000-10,000 words your communication goes beyond everyday conversation  and into specialized vocabulary for talking about your professional field, current geo-political and local events and news, opinions and vocabulary for more complex abstract verbal vocabulary.  This is also the C2 level in the Common European Framework for Reference (CEFR).

      Fluent: 10,000+ words.   At around 10,000 words is considered near-native level of vocabulary, with the requisite words for talking about a wide range of topics in detail.   Most importantly, you recognize enough words in every utterance or sentence so that  most frequently you understand the unfamiliar ones from context.  That means you can easily add words to your vocabulary if you read English a lot.

    And just so you know: Estimates of words known by the average native American English speaker vary from 10,000 to 65,000 words.   

     Don’t stop now deliberately adding to your vocabulary!  It’s no wonder that  proficiency in American English speech communication continues for native-born Americans throughout their life.  They are adding vocabulary, along with accurate pronunciation for professional words, scientific words, geo-political words, necessary words (like pandemic, corona virus), and skill for persuasive and information giving speaking communication, and skill for stimulating social conversation and presentations.

     Research suggests that the average American hears between 20,000 and 30,000 words during the course of a 24-hour period according to Rebecca Lake, 2014.  That’s a major source of  “continuing education” for English speech communication, a source for increasing vocabulary and honing or making better the skills for communicating information, emotion, doing presentations, even refining body language to emphasize ideas.

      Relatedly, many (most?) professions in the education world, tech, medical, lawyers, etc. require continuing education.  Got to keep up with the profession and improve communication within the organization.  Such is lifelong learning.

      In the human development of proficiency for English speech communication throughout the lifespan (that’s what native-born speakers of AE do), just remember that the best kind of practice for English speech communication skills is deliberate practice where the purpose is to get better.

      Along with expanding their spoken vocabulary, nonnative-born persons can experience “pronunciation drift.”  Pronunciation drift is real and happens when AE pronunciation has gotten sloppy or inaccurate or the speaker has forgotten how to do American English speech sounds accurately or has forgotten the pronunciation rules.   Most likely is drift to  accented- English (Chinglish, Spanglish,  Indian English, Arabic English, etc.)  Most likely is also drift or movement of articulators (tongue, lips, jaw) to go lax and not tense, with decreased force or range of movement, and into difficult to understand consonants and slurring of words.

      Fact is, the kind of work environment makes a difference for vocabulary development, pronunciation  (and other English speech communication skills such a voice inflection or presentation skills). 

     Do you work in an organization where verbal English communication takes between 30 minutes and two hours or more?  If so, then you can do deliberate practice of clear English speech daily.

       Or does your profession call for less than 30 minutes or even less than 15 minutes of oral communication in English speech?    A good number of professions call for  extensive  computer work (or other forms of solo-work)  where hearing and speaking  English may be very limited.   Especially for the second circumstance, it’s not surprising that persons with English as a second language forget skills and may have very limited opportunity to deliberately practice American English speech skills in work and daily life. Deliberate practice of clear American English is the remedy. Take every opportunity to practice accurate and clear English speech by reading aloud anything from books to your children, online newspapers, several pages from a fiction book, or abstract or portions of a research article.

      For English speech communication, deliberate practice strengthens the accurate motor or muscle memory—including adding to vocabulary.  Deliberate practicc can be done no matter what stage in the lifecycle.  Ack, you could be 99 years old and benefit from doing deliberate practice to improve your deficits or make your strengths even stronger.   In other words, producing  strong, vibrant, accurate English speaking for a vocabulary of 10,000 words to 65,000  benefits with deliberate practice, no matter the life circumstances or age.

     Do native-born speakers deliberately practice pronouncing new vocabulary for work and social life? Absolutely!  One strategy is to pronounce words after a news broadcaster or entertaining program while streaming or while viewing YouTube.  Another strategy for native-borns is to enter vocabulary words to their smart phone, on the computer, or a notebook, and deliberately practice the pronunciation over and over until it is fluently and easily accurate.

     Funny thing is, deliberate practice for the motor and muscle activity of English speech takes about the same amount of time as “mindless” practice.  But the results are accuracy, proficiency, and long lasting… and deeper learning.   More on  “deeper learning” later.

Copyright 2023 by Clear Talk Mastery, Inc.

Proficiency?? There’s More to the Story!

Proficiency?? There’s More to the Story. Article 9


      The burning question is: How Long Does It Take to Become Proficient for English Speech? 

     Here’s more of the story.  Becoming highly proficient in  AE (American English) speech communication includes  more than skills for accurate pronunciation and enunciation of  AE consonant and vowels. But the fact is, if you don’t have that, then the other proficiency skills are not worth a hill of beans.

      Critical is that proficiency means mastering AE word syllable accent stress for multiple syllable words.

     Critical is mastering AE voice inflection so your connected speech (sentences) are NOT monotone, flat and boring.  Critical are the multiple voice inflection techniques to help listeners understand and remember your information.  This is career changing.  Experts consider voice inflection to be the critical  communication skill  to boosting your career.

      Proficiency means being able to determine the pronunciation of unfamiliar multiple syllable words.  Fact is, each profession has its own core vocabulary and employs other  current vocabularies, such as from business, psychology, sociology, and tech, etc. So you need accurate pronunciation of many multiple syllable words for proficiency in English speaking communication.

The keystone here is mastery of  dividing into syllables written words to be proficient in pronouncing unfamiliar multiple syllable words.  Just so you know,  there are eight basic rules for written words and the essential skill of recognizing roots.

     Proficiency means being able to determine the meaning of words, especially multiple syllable words, with solid learning of roots, root words, stems  and prefixes and suffixes which primarily come from proto-German, Norman French, French, and Latin origins. Sorry guys, English is a polyglot!

      There are many levels of learning – skill sets—for proficient English communication.   Proficiency includes mastering the most important presentation skills, including persuasive techniques. Notably, presentation skills are typically not taught in the U.S. until latter high school at the earliest, and college.  Persuasive speech communication is university level learning.

      Recall that numerous motor skills are best learned through extensive repetition of proper form—that’s deliberate practice.    Proficiency in accurate, intelligible, and pleasing to the ear, easy to understand and remember information  AE speech is also best learned through extensive repetition of “proper form” ( “It’s not practice makes perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect.”)  

      What does “best learned” mean?  It’s what most people want — efficiency in time and  long lasting learning.

       So here is the deal.  Based on our experience (more than 20 years) and expertise,(almost 1000 different human beings from more than 60 countries and first languages), our scientific assessments (pre course, mid course, and post course) ,  and our past and present deep academic research into multiple topics including motor skill development for the human body, motor skill development for speech (and English), English clear speech, deliberate practice, procedural learning (that’s what acquiring English speech is), linguistics, “deeper” learning, learning methodologies including mastery learning — Antonia Johnson simply loves to learn– we propose the following.  Humans need to get perhaps 10 years of practice and likely 4,000 to 8,000 hours of practice under their belts to become highly proficient in American English speech communication. 


Does this seem impossible? 10 years and likely between 4,000 and 8,000 hours of practice?


Here’s why this is NOT impossible. What is important is how to calculate that “10 years of practice” and the likely between 4,000 and 8,000 hours of practice to become proficient in English speech communication.

DO THIS: include in your calculation your prior instruction in your home country and other English speech instruction perhaps in North America, or France, or Germany, etc. That might add up as much as 5 to 7 years. Then include the amount of time in hours of your taking every opportunity to deliver clear English speech communication in daily life, Then add in any other deliberate practice of clear English speech– maybe  for getting ready for a presentation.  All those hours count.  Every deliberate practice in hours counts!

Fact is, you are closer to proficiency than you think.

Then take a concentrated look at your English speech communication skill. What is missing? Sometimes that self-analysis is painful. But do it.

THEN focus on what is missing or needs to be better..

        Then remember this — Concentrated deliberate practice  using the distributed practice schedule is the most efficient route to acquiring proficiency in English skill sets.   The sequencing of those skill sets can make the mastery easy. 

Moderate and high proficiency is the goal for high satisfaction for career and daily life.  

Just so you know– minimum proficiency for most professions  which use English is 50% whole word intelligibility.  Is that proficiency? Not. And that is also why organizations are generally happy to finance or pay the tuition for efficient and long lasting instruction for English speech communication.

50% whole word intelligibility is minimum.  Notably, 50% means that listeners are working hard to understand.   Frustration and miscommunication are collateral damage at 50% intelligibility. That is recognized by the English talker and supervisors. (More later.)

How Long to Get Proficient English Speech?

How Long to get Proficient English Speech? Deliberate Practice –Article 8


One of the first questions most instructors for American English (AE) get from nonnative-born new students is : “How long is it going to take until I am proficient at speaking English.” 

That simple question  about how long does it take to become proficient (mastery) has been the subject of many years of research from foremost minds in the industry of motor skill development.   Motor skill development is skill which involves brain and muscles/movement and a lot of research has been done for sports—a major pastime all over the world in which proficiency is highly valued for amateurs and professionals alike.   Relatedly, mastering accurate and easy to understand American English speech is a motor skill—it takes brain and muscles.

The first to say to become an expert required about 10 years of experience was Herbert A. Simon (Nobel Prize 1976).  He and his colleagues estimated that expertise was the result of learning about 50,000 chunks of information.

For motor skill high proficiency, a range of research shows 4,000 hours, some show  6,000 hours including Gibbons and Forster’s landmark study in “The Path to Excellence” for US Olympic athletes.  All studies agree that a significant investment of time is required.   Much of the debate about how many hours is required is due to lack of agreement between experts on what they consider practice (Rose, 2013).

One of our first student-learners had been practicing speaking American English two hours a day, five to seven days a week for months before he came to us.  Initial whole word English speech intelligibility was about 34%.  Gist of the problem was that this Arabic first language person did not know what to change.   Like most of our student-learners, he had 5 to 7 years of English language learning  in his home country.

Is all practice the same?  Easy to see that if you practice inaccurate American English pronunciation for hours, there is no improvement in intelligibility.

Rose, 2013 described motor learning experts Ericcsson, Krampe and Tesch-Romer, 1993’s comprehensive review of what type of practice is best if human beings want to get better.  Conclusion: the most effective learning occurs through doing highly structured activity defined as ‘deliberate practice.’  It’s totally opposite to ‘mindless practice.’

It’s easy to do mindless practice or to slip into mindless practice.  A while back we had a student who made great progress for his first course, and subsequently was making very little progress on the next level of skills.  Turned out he was spending less than 30 minutes on deliberate practice/homework in talking between coaching sessions and was spending most of his time ‘reviewing’ with his eyes only the previous coaching session’s work.  Our recommendation is at least 30 minutes of deliberate practice/homework five days a week.  That’s called distributed or spaced practice, which is widely agreed to be the best schedule of practice for procedural learning (learning to speak clear English is a kind of procedural learning).  Later I will get back to that.

Ericsson defined deliberate practice as, “activities that have been specifically designed to improve the current level of performance.   Deliberate practice requires effort and is not inherently enjoyable.”   Rose adds,  deliberate practice’s motivation is to get better.

Blanda, 2012 in Lifehacker further reported that “top performers select the difficult aspects of their work and repeat them endlessly until they are engrained as habit.”  His example was the anecdote of Shaquille O’Neal practicing his free throws – his weak point rather than practicing slam dunks.

Deliberate practice is not inherently fun, like playing a game for a sport is fun.  The renown mathematician  Herbert Simon recognized both the importance of deliberate practice and the likelihood of boredom.  The answer for him was the requirement that the teacher creatively design the deliberate practice activities to prevent boredom.

Rose also describes the Cote and May 2002 emphasis on the importance of deliberate play (as contrasted to deliberate practice) in the early years of elite athletes. (Also Bloom, 1985, Carlson, 1988).  Deliberate play activities are those designed for enjoyment and have simple rules.  Enjoyment is part and parcel for the long term involvement and deliberate practice for high proficiency of a skill.

Is deliberate play also a form of practice?  Rose gives a definite, “Yes.”

How does all of this relate to becoming proficient at speaking clear English (intelligible and easy to understand English for everybody—native-born and nonnative-born speakers of  English)?

To speed up learning, we recommend minimum deliberate practice of clear English speaking skills for at least 30 minutes a day and 5 days a week.  To get better, aim for accuracy.  “It’s not practice makes perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect, “ asserted Jack Nicklaus, one of the all-time great golf champions.

Since on average it takes 70 days to establish a habit, we do a course for  three months, which is  10 weeks of learning and assessment and feedback.  For more information on amount of years and hours to  become highly proficient or fully master a skill (elite!)  Link here to elite blog.

How to keep that deliberate practice from getting to be deadly boring?   Our answer has many dimensions:  Importantly, use variety of audio and video lessons and textbook for deliberate practice. Include phrases and sentences frequently needed and used in daily and work life. Include practice on sentences inherently interesting (wisdom and famous quotations).  Also, vary the difficulty of the practice words and sentences,  Notably, include the equivalent of deliberate play via conversation during each coaching session.  Likewise for deliberate practice at home, include the task of clearly speaking answers to conversation questions of the ice breaking variety.

Take home message—to acquire proficiency in any motor skill takes a considerable amount of time.  Best  for efficient success is deliberate practice.  Best for combatting boredom is variety and doses of “interesting.”   That’s true also for acquiring proficiency in English speaking!