8 easy ways to improve your pronunciation!
1 Set a goal!
When it comes to pronunciation, the most important thing is that people can understand you. You’re never going to sound like a native speaker. But that isn’t a problem. English is a universal language with hundreds of different accents (both native and non-native ones). So, aim to make your accent as clear and understandable as possible.
Listening is the key to improving your pronunciation. Basically, the more you listen to English, the more you’ll understand; and the more you understand, the easier it’ll be for you to imitate sounds and improve your pronunciation. You can listen to audio novels, podcasts, audio files from language courses, the news in English, television shows, films, the radio, YouTube videos, songs… the options are limitless. Try to listen to English for at least 10 minutes at day.
3 Learn the phonetic alphabet!
As part of improving your pronunciation, you’ll need to know how to pronounce individual words. However, with English this is never easy as there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, but many more sounds. So, you need to learn the International Phonetic Alphabet (the IPA). This is a collection of symbols that represent the different sounds. For example the word face appears as / feɪs / in phonetic script. Learning this will really help you understand these sounds.
4 Identify problem sounds!
Among the many different sounds in English, there will be some that you find more difficult than others. For example, French and German learners of English often find it difficult to pronounce words that begin with the / ð / sound such as this, those and these. Once you’ve identified the sounds that are difficult for you, focus on improving them.
5 Listen out for connected speech!
When you learn a new word, you also need to find how it’s pronounced in sentences with other words. And you’ll notice that sometimes the pronunciation of the word might change. For example, the verb forget is pronounced / fɔːgit /. However, when you put it in a sentence with other words, it changes as the last consonant sound / t / often merges with the first vowel sound of the following word. So, the phrase Don’t forget it! becomes Don’t forge tit! This is known as connected speech.
6 Be aware of word stress!
Another important aspect of pronunciation is word stress. Every word has a different stress pattern. For example the word amazing has the stress on the second syllable: amazing. When you look up a word in the dictionary, you can see where the stress goes. This is extremely important. If you put the stress on the wrong part of the word, other people will find it hard to understand you.
7 Learn about sentence stress!
Another important aspect of pronunciation is sentence stress. English is a stress-timed language. This means that the stress falls on specific words in a sentence while quickly gliding over other non-stressed words. Stressed words mostly include nouns (dog, table, etc.), verbs (sit, run, etc.), adjectives (beautiful, wonderful, etc.) and adverbs (quickly, slowly, etc.). For example, a native speaker would probably stress these words (marked in bold) in the following sentence: I left at midday to catch the train. If you put the stress on the other words, people might not understand you.
A lot of sounds in English may be completely new for you and difficult to pronounce. So, you’re going to have to practise saying them until they feel natural and comfortable. Here are some ideas of little exercises that you can do to improve your pronunciation:
■ Speak the language out loud. Read paragraphs from online articles, newspapers and books, or sing along to your favourite songs. Transferring language from your mind to your mouth is an effective technique for improving your pronunciation.
■ Find a recording of a conversation or article. Then, practise saying it to yourself. When you’re ready, record yourself reading it out loud. Then, compare your version with the original. When you listen to yourself speaking English, you’ll be able to identify any problem areas.
■ Listen to people on the news, on TV shows or in films and try to copy the way they speak. Watch the position of their mouth and try to follow what they’re saying. Newsreaders are good as they speak directly to the camera. Hear how the pitch goes up and down, and try to copy the intonation.
■ Get a recording (about three minutes long) of someone speaking in English. Listen to it a few times to get familiar with it. Then, play the first sentence again. As you listen, say the sentence out loud at the same time as the person on the recording. Try to copy the intonation, pronunciation and stress patterns. Do it several times. Then, move on to the next sentence. Keep going till you get to the end. And then start the whole process again until you can do it all by heart.
Good luck improving your English pronunciation!
Copyright © 2014 by Hot English PublishingGlossary
to glide over phr vb = if you “glide over” words, you say them smoothly and quickly without placing any emphasis on them.
pitch n = the “pitch” of a sound is how high or low it is.
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