I’ve noticed that whenever I travel abroad, people routinely ask me what time it is. Invariably it’s the same scene:

I’m walking down an unfamiliar crowded street. Someone, a local person, approaches.

Local Person: Excuse, what time is it please?

Me: Oh, yes, it is. . .11:45.

Local Person:  Thank you, sir.

That person then joins up with three or four friends, and they all start giggling and congratulating the person who asked me for the time.  They usually give me a friendly wave and then disappear into the crowd.  At first I just think that watches must be scarce in the rest of the world. Then it dawns on me . . . .

They wanted to test out their English.  In fact, they wanted to test out their American English.

For a brief moment, I’m filled with a sense of pride for some unexplained reason. Then I realize I didn’t really do anything except be born in America where I grew up speaking English, apparently with an American accent.

My first English teaching job was in Seoul, South Korea. All of my students, mostly adult business men and women, emphatically wanted to learn American English. I didn’t realize that American English was a thing until then.

SCHWA

Sorry my fellow Brit and Aussie friends, but yeah, it’s a thing. This was pre-Internet technology days, so I was only able to bring Adam Renfro American English to about a dozen Koreans at a time, but it was a great experience, hopefully for everyone involved.

Technology has changed that, though.

I recently discovered Saundz, an app that teaches ESL students American English pronunciation. It’s a great app for people studying English abroad, and it also has practical use in the ESL classroom.  The program features Simone, the app’s “personal virtual assistant.”

Simone
Simone, the Personal Virtual Assistant.

Simone guides the user through the process of learning American English pronunciation. She introduces the user to the 40 different sounds in American English and over 400 of the most problematic words that have difficult consonant-vowel combinations. Here is the Saundz promo video:

I had the opportunity to chat with Jennifer Collins, who is a linguist and content developer on the Saundz team.  So let’s dive deeper into the app.

Website

http://saundz.com/

What’s your elevator speech?

Saundz is a new pronunciation learning software app designed to help English as a second language learners worldwide improve their pronunciation skills. Saundz is completely innovative and is based on a concise, well planned curriculum that helps non-native speakers of American English learn in a building-block format.  This unique approach features the direct assistance of a virtual teacher we call Simone, a 100% computer generated animation.Simone is a key advantage of our software and the feature that distinctly differentiates Saundz from other similar applications. Simone demonstrates a front and side view and shows actual word pronunciation with visual effects that enable users to view the whole anatomy of speech. Saundz runs within a browser on desktop PCs and Macs and is available for iPads and Windows 8 tablets.

What are Saundz’s key features?

The key advantage of Saundz software over the other similar applications is the virtual assistant, Simone, who demonstrates actual word pronunciation with visual effects.

Besides Simone, there are three other professionally recorded native American English speakers whose voice a learner can hear.

Record and compare functionality enables efficient learning as it offers the opportunity for learners to hear their own voice and realize what they are doing wrong.

Building block approach – Saundz curriculum is developed by phonology experts and it includes 37 chapters and 161 lesson dealing with 40 sounds of American English and some of the most problematic consonant groups.

Saundz also contains more than 400 words with dictionary definitions, sentence examples and images.

 sAUNDZ 2

How does Saundz impact the classroom, district, or community?

From our experience teaching English as a second language we know that pronunciation is the most frequently overlooked aspect in an ESL curriculum. Unlike grammar and vocabulary, pronunciation cannot be learned from textbooks but requires hours of individual practice. The lack of efficient tools that learners can use to practice American English pronunciation inspired us to develop the Saundz app in order to help all those who see their pronunciation skills as an obstacle to getting better professional or academic opportunities.

Our goal is to become a respected member of the worldwide ESL community by offering the best software for both ESL teachers and learners to enable them to easily and effectively deal with the problems of English language pronunciation. We will work tirelessly to become an irreplaceable educational resource and we are asking you to please review our product and comment on its potential.

What are the results or testimonials for Saundz?

One of our students said: “This helped me to hear my pronunciation and compare it with Simon’s, and also to see what position language need to take, to make the most precisely, accurate and the most similar tone to one that produce people from American region.”

What the technology behind Saundz?

Saundz runs within a browser on desktop PCs and Macs and is available for iPads and Windows 8 tablets. Android app will be available in September 2013.

What’s your user support structure like?

Saundz website provides users with a comprehensive user guide and FAQs. You can also contact us via email: [email protected]

What’s your pricing model?

Our free trial includes the first seven chapters.

The full program is $9.99 or 7.63 EUR.

Thanks for that Jennifer, and good luck with Saundz!

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Adam Renfro

Adam was a classroom English teacher for ten years and began teaching online in 1998. He now works for the North Carolina Virtual Public School, the 2nd largest virtual school in the nation. Adam has blogged for Getting Smart since September of 2011. Creatives can follow Adam on Tumblr at http://adamrenfro.tumblr.com/. You can also follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AdamRenfro, and you can follow his Flipboard magazine Edu-Nation at http://flip.it/Apupn.

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