One of the key parts of learning a new language is getting your pronunciation right. If you want to be able to communicate effectively, clear and accurate pronunciation is extremely important.
After you’ve mastered the basics, such as learning a new vocabulary and the correct spelling, you will eventually want to enhance your pronunciation so that you begin to sound more like a native speaker. Mastering your pronunciation will allow you to express yourself clearly and be easily understood by others. However, English pronunciation can be challenging, especially for non-native speakers. There are plenty of ways you can improve your English pronunciation skills. Let’s begin by looking at the differences between ‘pronunciation’ and ‘accent’.
Although ‘pronunciation’ and ‘accent’ are quite similar, they have slightly different meanings:
Pronunciation: Pronunciation refers to the way you articulate a word. It includes the way you shape your mouth, how you move your tongue, and how you voice each syllable.
Accent: An accent refers to the melody and rhythm when you speak and specific accents are connected with specific places and regions. People with different accents pronounce words in a variety of ways. An accent is not just about pronunciation, it refers to different vocabulary that is used too.
If you are listening to different accents, it can sometimes be hard to understand what someone is saying, even if you understand the language! When you are learning a new language,
- Listen to native speakers: One of the best ways to improve your English pronunciation is by listening to native speakers and familiarising yourself to how they speak. Make sure to close attention to their pronunciation, rhythm, intonation, and what words and syllables they place stress on. There are many ways to do this, including listening to authentic English audio materials, including podcasts, news broadcasts, or watching English movies or TV shows with English subtitles.
- Learn the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet): In English, the IPA is a system of phonetic symbols that explain the sounds of human speech. Familiarising yourself with the IPA can improve your understanding of how to correctly pronounce the syllables of English words and improve your pronunciation skills. Spend some time getting to know the IPA symbols and their corresponding sounds, and use them as a reference when learning new words.
- Record yourself speaking: This is a great tool to improve your pronunciation because you can listen back to yourself and make a note of what you need to improve of. Use your smartphone or a recording device to record yourself reading aloud or practising general conversation in English. Listen back to the recordings and compare your pronunciation with that of native speakers. Make note of the areas where you need improvement and practise those specific sounds or words.
- Practice minimal pairs: Minimal pairs are pairs of words that differ by only one sound, such as "ship" and "sheep," or "cat" and "cut." When learning a new language, it can be easy to mix up these words and make mistakes when you are speaking or writing. Practising minimal pairs can help you distinguish between similar sounds in English and improve your pronunciation accuracy. Look for minimal pair exercises online or in pronunciation textbooks and practice them regularly.
- Focus on individual sounds: English has many different sounds that may not exist in your native language, and mastering these sounds can significantly improve your pronunciation. Some sounds will be difficult to pronounce at first, but you can find videos, audio recordings, and websites that provide exercises to allow you to practise specific sounds, such as ‘th’ and ‘r’. Try practising these sounds in isolation, then pronounce them in words, and finally try using them in sentences to develop your muscle memory and improve your accuracy.
- Pay attention to word stress: Different languages put different emphasis on different words and in some languages this can even change the meaning of the word which is spoken. Word stress refers to the emphasis that is placed on different syllables and you can find dictionaries or online resources that provide information on word stress, or use the IPA to indicate stress marks in words.
- Slow down and enunciate: Many non-native speakers tend to speak quickly in an effort to sound more fluent. However, speaking too fast can lead to poor pronunciation and make it difficult for others to understand you. Practise speaking slowly and clearly, enunciating each sound and word. This will give you more control over your pronunciation and allow you to focus on the correct pronunciation of each sound.
- Practise connected speech: English is a language that often involves connected speech, where sounds, words, and phrases are linked together in a natural way. You can practise connected speech by linking sounds and words together in phrases and sentences when you are speaking. Pay attention to reductions, elisions and assimilations that occur in connected speech, and practise using them in your own speech. This will help you sound more natural and fluent in English when you are talking.
- Use technology: There are various technological tools and resources that can help you improve your English pronunciation. For example, there are pronunciation apps and different videos you can watch online to familiarise yourself with the correct pronunciation of English words.
- Talk to natives: One of the best ways to enhance your English pronunciation is to listen carefully when English speakers are talking. You can attend in person English language classes at The Language Gallery, or you can watch English films, or if you’re living in an English-speaking country, go out and talk to people and get to grips with some British slang too!
When you’re learning a new language, remember that you don’t have to be perfect with your pronunciation. Its ok to keep a slight accent as long as people are able to understand you when you speak English. Keep in mind that even native English speakers sometimes have trouble understanding different dialects and pronunciation and there are different accents in Scotland, England, Canada, Wales etc. Take a look at some of The Language Gallery’s General English courses to get started with your language learning journey.