Popenoe Method

The Art of Pronunciation



From “Shuukan NY Seikatsu” June, 2009

Improving Your American-English Pronunciation

Graphic illustration of newspaper and coffee
The West Village has an unobtrusive appearance with red-bricked apartment buildings along tree-lined streets. Mr. Joshua Popenoe’s studio is located in a corner of this area. He teaches people who have typical Japanese accents how to improve their English pronunciation so they can communicate in English with confidence.

“In order to communicate well, it is important that your English is easy to understand. This is especially true for performers, diplomats, and other prominent people who are required to speak in public.” Mr. Popenoe comments.

Mr. Shinichi Kitaoka, the former Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary-Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, is one such prominent person who studied with Mr. Popenoe.

I asked Mr. Popenoe about his English pronunciation teaching system, the “Popenoe Method.” He explains: “The English language has many sounds that don’t exist in Japanese, and if Japanese people pronounce these sounds with their native Katakana-based mouth shapes, they can be difficult to understand. The key to improving pronunciation is to train the muscles in and around the mouth to make the correct movements and shapes, and practice these until the muscles themselves have memorized them and can produce the right sounds easily when speaking English. For example, in Japanese there is one sound that represents the letter “O”, while English has five distinct common pronunciations, as in TOP, TON, TOSS, TONE, and TO." Using a mirror to monitor their unconscious movements, Mr. Popenoe’s clients are taught the precise mouth shapes to produce these sounds, and encouraged to practice until they sound natural.

Starting with vowels, followed by consonants, rhythm and connection, the Popenoe Method teaches every aspect of English pronunciation, step by step. He added, “When your English is easy to understand, people will focus on the content of what you’re saying, not your pronunciation.”

The initial Popenoe Method course takes 12-weeks. In this series, students first learn the linguistic differences between Japanese and English, then focus on vowels and consonants, the sounds out of which English is formed.

Mr. Popenoe lived in Japan from 1981 to 1998. During his stay, he worked in creative areas related to sound. Among other things he worked as a vocalist, composer, lyricist, DJ, voice actor and narrator. He provided the music for TV and Radio commercials for major corporations. He also appeared in language programs produced by NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). He studied the shakuhachi (a vertical Japanese bamboo flute) when he lived in Kyoto. He is one of the foremost Japanophiles in New York City. (The writer, Kinu)

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