#ELSAStory – Thi Nguyen – HUGE ELSA Fan!!!

Welcome back to #ELSAStory! This week, we interviewed Thi Nguyen, someone who attended ELSA’s offline event and has been very interested in what we do here!

“Ever since Vu Van came to Saigon to talk, I became more interested in ELSA. I’m also going to the ELSA offline meeting tonight!”

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  • Where are you from, where have you lived?
    • Answer: “I’m from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and have lived here my whole life”
  • In a few words, describe how being an English Language Learner has affected your living on a daily basis.
    • Answer: “I learn English every day, but I don’t use it everyday. We don’t speak English much in Vietnam, but speaking English has given me the chance to meet a lot of people and I’ve given talks here and communicate with a lot of people from different countries. Before I spoke, people didn’t understand me much, but as I focused more on my pronunciation, people understood me better.”
  • Tell us about one time when not being confident and great at speaking English severely affected you
    • Answer: “There are cases when i speak and people don’t understand — it’s very embarrassing. I’ve tried to spell out the word, which makes me really sad.”
  • What have you done to improve your English speaking skill and gain your confidence? Have you succeeded?
    • Answer: “To improve, I’ve been using a lot of different applications, especially ELSA. ELSA helps with pronunciation, and some other applications as well. The combination is awesome. My English has gotten a lot better.”
  • Do you think you’d be more successful if you were better at English? If so, then how?
    • Answer: “Of course! There’s no doubt! If I was better at English, I’d be more confident, and it sounds cool if you master a language. Being bilingual is really cool.”
  • Was there ever an embarrassing situation when you said something and someone misunderstood you because of the way you pronounced the word?
    • Answer: “I think only when people don’t understand me and have to repeat myself. It’s always embarrassing when I mispronounce words multiple times in a row and have to spell out the word.”
  • Do you have any advice for other English Language Learners?”
    • Answer: “I think from my own experience, I would say when they start learning English, try to learn pronunciation first. It’s like the best thing ever. THe first thought should be pronunciation. Words and grammar are ok, but it doesn’t mean anything when you can’t pronounce them correctly! That’s the problem with education here in VN — we know the words, but we don’t know how to pronounce them and we can’t understand native speakers!”

Thanks so much Thi for your participation!


10 English Pronunciation Errors by Japanese Speakers

If your native language is Japanese, you might find some sounds in English to be more difficult to express than others. English is a tough language to learn. ELSA presents you with 10 common pronunciation errors made by Japanese speakers.

1: /r/

Japanese English learners are unable to pronounce /r/ or confuse between the /r/ and the /l/, because the sound /r/ doesn’t exist in Japanese

To pronounce the sound /r/ correctly, the corners of your lips come in (slightly rounded). The tongue tip is up and curled slightly back over the tongue slightly. Remember, the English ‘r’ sound is called a semi-vowel, meaning it is a lot like a vowel rather than a consonant. And like a vowel, the tongue tip should NOT touch anything in your mouth

“The rat made a right turn into the house.”

2: /l/

It’s tough for Japanese English learners to control the movement of their lips in the pronunciation of /l/ — the forward motion of the lips distorts the sound.

To create the /l/ sound, your lips are completely relaxed and slightly open, but they don’t move and are not rounded. The tongue tip is pressed against the upper tooth ridge and touch the upper ridge.

Lauren likes the new lights.”

3: /z/

In Japanese, /z/ is never at the end of the word and is always substituted with /s/. The sound /s/ and /z/ are very similar to each other, but one is voiced (/z/ sound) and the other one is unvoiced (/s/ sound). Think a hissing sound for /s/, and a buzzing sound for /z/.

To fix, place the front of the tongue close to the tooth ridge (keep the tip close to the upper backside of the top front teeth. Keep the tongue tense as air is pushed between the small groove along the center of the tip and the front of the tooth ridge

We all rise for the national anthem.”

4: Word Stress

Japanese English speakers place equal stress on each syllable, which can make some longer words unclear. Remember to place your stress on the correct syllable by speaking it louder, longer and with higher tone, rather than putting an equal stress on each syllable.

Apparently, it’s very complicated.”

5: Added Syllable

Japanese speakers sometimes add an extra ‘o’ sound after consonants at the end of some syllables. You need to be careful and not add an extra ‘o’ sound. For example, market would be pronounced mar-ket-o, training = trai-ning-o.

“James made a very nice soup.”

6: /θ/

This is unvoiced, meaning only air passes through the mouth. To make this sound, the very tip of the tongue comes through the teeth. The rest of the mouth remains relaxed.

“I think that my father is going out today.”

7: /i:/

Japanese learners substitute this with /ɪ/ in English because they find difficulty in elevating the tongue. Stretch your lips as if you’re smiling, keep the tongue tense.

“I need to meet a friend who needs help.”

8: /eɪ/

This is a diphthong, your mouth will change position and shape when you fuse the two vowels together. Start on the position of /e/ and finish on /i/ . We keep our lips stretched like we’re smiling, but our mouth will close as we get closer to the /ɪ/. Push the tongue forward It’s similar to saying ‘ey-uh’, but with ‘uh’ being said very rapidly.

It’s tough to play the game that they created.”

9: /ӕ/

Often substituted by /ɑː/ or /e/. To fix, make sure to stretch and lengthen the vowel /e/ when speaking. With repetition, you will begin to understand the differences between the vowels.

The cat in the back is extremely fat.”

10: /w/

Japanese learners struggle to use /w/ to connect a word ending with /uː/ or /ʊ/. To correctly pronounce the /w/ sound, keep the jaw mostly closed and the lips formed in a small, tight circle.

Would Wbody like to have lunch with us?”

#ELSAStory – Surya: Zero English – English Class Star!

Welcome to this weeks #ELSAStory! Today, we talked to a friend of ours who just immigrated to the United States of America from India.

Our friend, Surya, is from the small city of Gwalior, India. He grew up speaking Hindi, and didn’t feel the need to learn English until he got to high school. He moved over to Delhi for high school, and was shocked to see that most of the kids there were fairly proficient at English. Surya felt very out of place as he started school here — he had to think of something quick in order to learn.

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To begin his journey, he started attending English classes taught by a retired professor who lived in the same housing tract as him; however, this wasn’t enough. Surya wanted to learn English even faster. A good friend of his, Takumi, who lives in Japan and knew him from a summer trip the two had met on, reccomended that he use ELSA! Surya, at first, had tried to learn from various other apps on the iPhone App store such as Duolingo, and HELLO English, but fell in love with using ELSA.

ELSA gave Surya the feedback he needed to really improve his speaking ability. We asked him:

How did ELSA help you speak better English and better prepare you for your English classes with that retired professor?

Surya: Well, using the ELSA application on my new iPhone helped me a lot because my pronunciation was getting a lot better, and I found myself doing much better than the other people in my class. When I started taking the classes a few months ago, I was towards the bottom compared to all the other people in the class; however, once I started using ELSA, I found that the other people there were shocked at my speaking ability. They all asked me what my secret was. A lot of them don’t have smartphones, so they could not use ELSA, but they were definitely very impressed by the app when I did a small demo for them.

All in all, ELSA served to be a great catalyzer for Surya’s English speaking journey. We asked him:

How long did you spend a day using ELSA?

Surya: I would use it when I woke up, and before I went to asleep, about 15-20 minutes a day. It helps a lot. I recommend all people to do the same.

10 minutes a day is all it takes to improve your pronunciation! Surya is one of thousands of success stories ELSA has had. Tune in next week for another great #ELSAStory!

#ELSAStory – The Story of Pejman: $700 to $20 billion.

This week, we’re going to do something different. Rather than interviewing someone with a set of questions, ELSA is going to tell a story about someone. This week, we tell the story of Pejman Nozad, Co-Founder of Pejman Mar Ventures, a well-respected Venture Capital firm in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Pejman grew up in Iran, and was a huge soccer fan — he hosted the most popular sports radio show in the country. He had fallen for a girl he grew up with as well. In 1992, he left his native Iran and moved to the Silicon Valley, with just $700. Pejman didn’t speak English, and his job as a sports radio host did not help him at all in getting a job in the area. He worked in a yogurt shop, and lived in the attic of the shop. One day while watching TV in that same attic, he saw an ad for the Medallion Rug Gallery — they were hiring. He immediately picked up the phone and called them. He got the job.

While working at the rug gallery, he asked lots of questions, he was curious, he learned about the “world around him.” He eventually told his boss, “We need to start a tech venture fund.”

It was tough at first, since most of the clients were coming straight from bigger meetings on Sand Hill Road, but Pejman and his boss served tea in the back of a store. They made some bad investments at first, but their luck changed in 2000, when they funded Andy Rubin, founder of Android. Today, the companies he has invested in are worth more than $20 billion.

Pejman accomplished all of what he did from 1992 until now while being an English language learner, like you and me. He took classes at a community college when he first came to America to learn English. He never gave up, and is now very, very, successful. You can do the same! All you need to do is persevere and never give up on what you want.

#ELSAStory – The Story of Aman – Relationship or Relationshit?

Welcome to Part 4 of ELSA Speak’s Interview series! Today we interviewed Aman Agarwal. Aman grew up in Jaipur, India, and made his way over to California to study at Stanford University this past year. Aman took huge steps to perfect his English — check out his story here.

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  • Where are you from, where have you lived, etc.
    • Answer: My name is Aman Agarwal and I am from Jaipur, India. I had lived in America for the last year to do my studies at Stanford University.


  • In a few words, describe how being an English Language Learner has affected your living on a daily basis.
    • Answer: Not being very good at English affected me because all of the other students around me were more than proficient at the language. It made me feel very behind compared to everyone else.
  • Tell us about one time when not being confident and great at speaking English severely affected you
    • Answer: One time, my group of friends and me were gathered together at someone’s house. We were talking about our past boyfriend and girlfriend and I referred to my current relationship as “relationshit.” Everyone started to worry about me even though I was very happy with where I was.”
  • What have you done to improve your English speaking skill and gain your confidence? Have you succeeded?
    • Answer: I started doing some English classes online, just some free ones which I found — they helped a lot. Also, just talking to new people and making new friends helped my English a lot as well.
  • Do you think you’d be more successful if you were better at English? If so, then how?
    • Answer: I think I would be a lot more successful – studying at Stanford was very tough for me because everyone around was very smart, and I wasn’t as competent as them because of my English. If I spoke better, I’d be more successful.
  • Do you have any advice for other English Language Learners?
    • Answer: Do not be afraid to go out and ask for help. Asking for help is not a bad thing, and you should not be scared. Everyone will try to help you, not the opposite. Good luck to your English learning journey!

Aman worked extremely hard this past year to perfect his English. Being at one of the best schools in the world and having that disadvantage was tough for him; however, he made the best of it and now has lots of stories to tell. Tune in next week for our next #ELSAStory!