Improving pronunciation is one of the issues native and non-native English speakers typically face. It is an important facet to avoid misunderstanding and negative impression. Proper pronunciation is the basis of effective communication.
Many how-tos and video tutorials are available online. Some are effective and some are confusing. One thing to consider is the type of English you are learning or speaking, American English and British English. Overall, English has several dialects, which means differences in grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary and spelling exist.
Linguists differentiate the major native English dialect into categories – North America, the British Isles and Australasia. Given this scenario, it is important to choose which type of English you want to study and for what purpose. Each English speaking country typically has a Standard English that the majority of the population follows, although most English speakers use American English as their basis.
If you are a language learner you might also encounter the term, ”unaccented English.” It is not another English dialect but one that accent coaches teach. Others call it Standard Speech or Standard American. This is idealized English dialect that could be learned through professional training. It is often taken up by professional communicators and actors to reduce their accent. It removes their social or regional sounds so they would not be evident when they speak.
Effects of bad pronunciation
Taking steps to improve pronunciation removes negative impression. Your pronunciation would be the first thing that people who hear you speak will notice. Even if you have good grammar and an extensive vocabulary, if your pronunciation is bad, people would not notice that your grammar is good.
Knowing more words than the other person does not make you a good speaker if you are unable to pronounce those words correctly. Improving your pronunciation will help avoid misunderstanding. It’s good to increase your vocabulary but knowing the right pronunciation is critical for you to be understood properly. For example, the word ”primer” has two meaning. If you pronounce it as ”primm-er” it means a short informative writing or a small book, whereas when you mean the first coat of paint, you should say ”PRY-mer.” Another example is ”victuals” that means provisions or supplies of food. The correct pronunciation of the term is ”VIT-ulz.” Other words that are pronounced differently from the way they are written are ”conch” (KAHNK), ”waistcoat” (WESS-kut), ”boatswain” (BOH-sun), and ”solder” (SAH-der) among others.
If your accent is too strong that it makes it difficult for people to understand you, it is time to find help to improve your pronunciation. You may get irritated when people keep on asking you to repeat what you’ve just said. Eventually, people will try to avoid talking with you. You will cherish good communication when your accent is reduced and people can understand what you are trying to say.
In fact, many people like to believe that they are communicating in English because they are able to communicate with fellow students and teachers. This is because teachers have gotten used to listening and hearing bad English for many years that their minds are conditioned to understand what a poor communicator is trying to say. Because you may be with fellow students from your country who speak with the same accent and use the same type of English as you do, all of you are conditioned to understand one another.
However, the scenario would not be the same if you were communicating with people outside of your social group. They are not used to hearing what you’re saying, which makes it difficult for them to understand you.
Why improve your pronunciation?
Improving your pronunciation is important in order for you to be understood. Conversely, the constant practice helps improve your listening skills as well. It also helps you to understand a fast-talking native speaker. While American English is mentioned here, these tips can also be applied to other languages.
Generally, you can improve your pronunciation by:
- Use the dictionary to look up every new word you encounter to find the proper pronunciation. The online version of Merriam-Webster has audio clips on how to pronounce words correctly.
- Listen to native speakers of the language so you will be familiar with the accent. Supplement your recorded lessons by listening to songs, watching movies and listening to people conducting everyday communication in native English or the language you are learning.
- Practice mouth, lips and throat movements in front of the mirror. This helps you to move them correctly as you say different words.
- Be patient and continue practicing because improving your pronunciation will not happen overnight. It can be a long and tough journey, but it will be worth it.
You will realize many benefits when your pronunciation improves.
- You’ll be able to understand native speakers even if they talk very fast because you understand the words they say.
- You’ll have more confidence in yourself, which will enable you to speak without hesitation because you know how the words sound and you know that other people can understand what you’re saying.
- While practicing to improve your pronunciation, you also train your voice muscles, allowing you to produce sounds clearly. This will help you as well when you learn other languages.
Improving your pronunciation
If you speak a foreign language and learning English, it is important to listen to the English words. They may sound different from your own language and your tongue and lips are not used to the different positions when you say the words.
- It is recommended that you practice saying the words for about 20 minutes each day (preferably in front of the mirror) until you become very familiar with the sounds.
- Make it a habit to learn a new word each day. Be sure that you learn the correct pronunciation of the word as well. If you pronounce a word incorrectly for a long time, it will be harder for you to change it and you’ll be inclined to pronounce words similar to them incorrectly. You can learn how words are pronounced using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) together with a good dictionary. Try online dictionaries that have audio features to help you learn the correct pronunciation.
- Listen to a podcast, watch a movie, TV, or video from streaming sites. Listen to the words or a sentence, pause the video and imitate the spoken language. Pay particular attention to the intonation and stress applied to each word.
- Although it may prove difficult, try to record yourself while speaking in the language you’re learning. This will help you to know how you actually sound like when you’re speaking the language. Use a sentence or phrase that you have heard spoken by a native speaker. Record the same thing as you say it yourself and compare your recording to the original and see where you can improve.
- It is easier to improve your pronunciation by listening to native speakers conversing. You can listen to them talking in the market, in shops, in cafés and restaurants. You’ll hear how they connect the words to make their speech fluid. You do not have to be obvious about it. Browse the shops or sit in a café or a restaurant, enjoy a drink or a meal while you eavesdrop on the conversations of native speakers. It’s a good way to supplement your efforts to improve your pronunciation and language learning.
- Listen to the intonation, stress patterns, weak forms and rhythm and identify the types of words you hear such as verbs, adjectives and nouns and how pronouns, modals and articles are used. Doing this helps to improve your pronunciation, your listening skills and your vocabulary.
If you want to improve your pronunciation, you make the effort to improve the pronunciation of each letter. However, in English or in any other language, a letter can have many sounds depending on the letter before and after it. In English, there are only five vowels. But in American English, these five vowels have up to 15 different sounds.
- /i:/ eat, bead, bee
- /ɪ/ id, bid, pit
- /eɪ/ eight, wade, bay
- /ɛ/ bet, fed
- /æ/ ask, bat, glad
- /ʌ/ under, putt, bud
- /ɑ:/ cot, bomb
- /u:/ boot, two, tube
- /ʊ/ foot, should, put
- /oʊ/ oat, own, zone, blow
- /ɔ/ caught, paw, port
- /ɚ/ merge, bird, further
- /aɪ/ ice, bite, tie
- /aʊ/ out, gown, plow
- /oɪ/ oyster, coil, boy
Each sound is created by a different position of your tongue, jaw and lips together with the level of tension put on the tongue and how much air is expressed. You can find tutorials online on how each sound is produced.
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