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The 80/20 rule in Accent training

I’ve been teaching English and accent training for over 10 years, and throughout the years I’ve noticed something very interesting.

When my students learn and apply certain sounds they have an immediate impact on their speech, while other sounds barely make a difference. It’s either too subtle, too complicated or too overwhelming.

This is when I started teaching according to the 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 rule is based on the idea that about 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

How can this be applied to YOUR accent or English training?

Let’s divide it into two:
1. What sounds/ topics you choose to focus on.
2. How you practice each topic.

What you choose to focus on:
Pronunciation training is vast and detailed. There’s so much to learn. Especially when you’re learning it on your own.

Start with the 20%: focus only on the topics that will bring you the most apparent results. This will impact your speech a whole lot more than learning EVERYTHING but improving just a bit in each area.

In today’s video I chose to teach you the /oʊ/ as in ‘go’ vowel sound since it’s easy to learn and apply and will get you immediate results.  (Other topics that have the same effect as ow as an go: The R, word stress, rhythm, the /ɑ/ in father, the Flapped T.)

How to practice each sound:
When you focus on a certain sound (for example the /oʊ/ as in ‘go’ ), it’s really hard to know at first WHEN and HOW exactly to use it when speaking.

This is where the 80/20 rule comes into play again.
Practice 20% of the words, but practice the most frequent and popular words, words that you’re actually using on a daily basis.
This will land you better results, you’ll hear the difference when speaking, and that alone will give you the confidence and motivation to learn the sound/topic more thoroughly.

Let’s learn how to say the /oʊ/ as in ‘go’:


Hey guys, it’s Hadar and this is the Accent’s Way. And today we’re gonna talk about the O vowel, the O diphthong as in “Go”, “No”, “Lonely” and “Hotel”.

I can’t believe I haven’t talked to you guys about it, yet. Shame on me, because this is a very important vowel sound for non-native speakers.

Now, here’s the thing. This is not a regular pure vowel. It’s a diphthong, which means, first of all, it’s longer two vowels that are connected. This is how you should think about it.

And second thing, it’s about all the changes. So you’re starting in one point and then you’re changing into another.

So, while you start with a fairly open mouth – ‘aw’, and slightly rounded lips, you close the mouth as you pronounce this sound, and push your lips forward to an ‘oo’ sound. ‘ow’. ‘ow’. Try it with me. Go. No.

Now, you have to be really loose, it’s not so stiff, it’s not ‘no’, ‘go’. Right? And you don’t see a lot of jaw movement here. You got to loosen your jaw and then close it slightly to the ‘oo’ sound. No. Go.

Alright. So you want to visualize as if there is a W sound at the end. This is the only way you’ll actually get to the second sound if you visualize a W sound. Low.

Now, some people may pronounce it as a diphthong. Low, Go, No. When it’s at the end of the word, but at the beginning of the word you may turn it into a quick short “O” sound. And you may say “only” instead of long “O” – ‘o(w)nly’.

Do you hear the difference? It’s not ‘only’, it’s ‘o(w)nly’. It’s not ‘don’t’, it’s ‘do(w)nt’. A long diphthong. It is not ‘wont’, “I ‘wont’ do it”, it’s ‘wo(w)nt’ ‘wo(w)nt’.

Now, I already made a video specifically about the difference between “won’t” and “want”, and if you tend to confuse these two I highly recommend you to watch it.

And as you can see here, it’s very important to reach the W sound. Otherwise, it’s going to be perceived as a different sound. So again: ‘wow’.

Get to the W sound, create change, hear the difference between the beginning and the end of the same vowel. ‘wow’, ‘wo(w)nt’, ‘do(w)nt’, ‘co(w)ld’. It’s not ‘cold’ – ‘co(w)ld’. ‘Scro(w)ll’. Not ‘scroll’, ‘scro(w)ll’.

So it has to be a little longer. ‘ho(w)-tel’, and not ‘hahtel’ or ‘hotel’. ‘how’, ‘how’, ‘how-how-how’, Merry Christmas. ‘ho(w)-tel’. Quick “O”, but still it’s a long vowel.

All right, so visualize the W. Give yourself the time, so make it a longer vowel, double the length of what you might be used to. And start open, so you have where to go. So you can actually close it throughout the pronunciation. ‘ow’.
Now, if you want to practice this sound and the only way to really make a change and the only way to own a new sound is by practicing drilling words, phrases, and sentences, and developing muscle memory. And then it’s just gonna be there for you when you’re speaking, cause it’s very difficult to think about those things when you’re trying to make conversation.

So I prepared a practice sheet for you guys with words and sentences that have the “O” as in “Go” sound and a recording of me, so you can actually drill the words until you get used to the new pronunciation and remember to insert that extra W after the O.

That’s it. Let me know in the comments how you’re doing, and if you have any questions about this sound. And if you don’t then I’ll just see you next week.

The InFluency Podcast
The InFluency Podcast
99. How to pronounce OW as in GO

Now, since I really like shortcuts I made it super easy for you

I prepared a list (and an audio file) of some of the most popular and tricky words with the /oʊ/ as in ‘go’ vowel sound.
Practice the words along with the sentences to assimilate the sound, develop muscle memory and get used to saying these very common words accurately. Get it

I’d love you to tell me in the comments below if you’ve ever used the 80/20 rule in other fields in your life, and also tell me how your /oʊ/ as in ‘go’ practice goes!

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One Response

  1. My Accent reduction teacher was trying to explain this to me, I didn’t get it.

    Now I understand. I like your explanations

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