Any English learner finds out soon enough that pronouncing English words perfectly is not an easy task. There are a number of irregularities, and some sounds are quite hard to grasp. Words like strength, length, arduous, continuous or supercalifragilisticexpialidocious may prove difficult to pronounce correctly, right? Here’s some advice.
“How can I improve English pronunciation?”
Many students ask this question, though there are a number of answers, because each person is different. Some tips and tricks will work for one person, and won’t work for another. However, there are three clear actions that everyone can do to make it possible to improve their pronunciation.
First, to other English speakers. Listen to people talking. If you cannot find any in your area, try watching movies or listening to the radio, that is a good alternative. Movies are even better as you can actually watch people pronounce words and phrases, which could prove useful. Also, listen to yourself. Try to pay attention to how you speak, because normally people tend to concentrate on communicating. This makes it harder to hear the sound they are making. You cannot improve if you are not able to identify problems. If this proves a bit too difficult, record yourself on your phone or your computer and play your speech back to you. This way, you will be able to make some notes as a reminder for yourself. Finally, listen to some English music. This may not be as helpful in the very beginning, though. However, if you have already absorbed some knowledge and want to practice more, songs in English may help you a lot. Try to sing along, even learn some songs by heart. This will enable you to complete the next two steps, as described below. Pronouncing words with a rhythm and melody makes it much easier to follow the sounds you hear.
Want to speak just like this famous movie star? Or a beloved music revelation? Listen and replicate. Try to do what they do. You can even compare what you are saying to what they are saying. Keep in mind, though, there are some differences between English-speaking people from different places. A dock worker from Plymouth will pronounce words differently from an academic residing in New York, and so on. However, this effect is less relevant if you listen to people who often perform/speak in public as they tend to polish their speech and use pronunciation that is recognisable to the public.
What are some useful pronunciation exercises?
Try to pronounce words while standing in front of a mirror. This will help you see how your lips and tongue appear while you pronounce specific words or their sections. If you understand how some sets of phones are pronounced, it will be easier to learn and remember. Try to use words which seem similar, but are actually not the same, such as “heat” and “hit” or “rose” and “rows”.
Have a recording ready – of yourself or any English native – and listen to it. If you have the latter, your job is simpler. Just try to repeat what you hear. If it is a recording of yourself, there is a catch. You need to compare yourself to an English native speaker and see if you make any mistakes. Then, try to repeat what you hear, correcting any errors.
Use the International Phonetic Alphabet. It was created to accurately represent the pronunciation of languages. It shows a unique symbol for each distinctive sound – or a phoneme – in a language. At first, it may seem an unnecessary step, but it will help you recognise the sounds and understand the differences between them. Also, these symbols are often used in dictionaries, and learning them is actually a useful thing to do for the future.
You may also find a lot of convenient exercises on the Internet. Googling “English pronunciation exercises” shows a number of websites with suitable tasks. These often include pronouncing vowels and consonants in words which look similar but have different meanings (homographs) or words which are pronounced similarly but have different meanings (homophones). It is worth comparing them, trying to replicate the correct pronunciation, to find out which is which and how you can recognise them in a listening exercise. It is a long journey, but it can be a lot of fun.