Is it the R’s, the L’s, or TH’s? Perhaps it’s the J’s or Y’s? Spoken English can appear to be full of tongue twisting sounds to the English Language Learner. As with learning any new language, your hope is to one day become fluent enough to avoid pitfalls in pronunciation. Here are a few things for you to try:
Surround yourself with English
One of the easiest ways to improve your pronunciation is to imitate the sounds you hear in spoken English – TV, movies, radio, podcasts, and being around native speakers are all good places to start. Remember there are different pronunciations of English – American, British, and Australian are major ones that have variations between them. Which pronunciation are you interested in? For American Pronunciation, try the Merriam Webster Learner’s Dictionary. If you prefer the British Pronunciation you can try BBC Learning English. For Australian, try Radio Australia. The International Phonetic Alphabet or IPA offers a detailed pronunciation guide.
Develop your listening skills
The better your listening skills, the better your pronunciation will be. Pay close attention. If you are receiving instruction in English, listen to your teacher’s suggestions on pronunciation. Break any bad habits by learning to say the new word correctly as soon as you can.
Do your homework
Become aware of any errors in pronunciation. If you are corrected, make a list of corrected words so you know which ones need more practice. Are there certain sounds that reoccur in your word list? Read out loud from books, magazines, cookbooks, etc. Try to read loud and clear. Videotape yourself or record yourself speaking by using the recorder on your phone or computer. Try to practice for at least 30 minutes every day.
Other sources for help
Resources to improve English pronunciation are numerous. Use the Internet – from online Skype classes, to YouTube videos on pronunciation, to podcasts and pronunciation dictionaries. Check out books on pronunciation at your local library or find them at a bookstore.
Understand your new language
Notice how native speakers run words together? English is considered a “stressed” language (as compared to a “syllabic” language such as Italian or French), meaning that certain content words (typically the nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives) are stressed, while smaller connecting words (ex. conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns, auxiliary verbs) are not. Even though words may be separate, spoken English is compressed without pronouncing every sound or syllable for each word. When you are unsure of how to pronounce something, be sure to ask your teacher or another native speaker.
Last of all
Persevere! In other words, be patient and don’t give up. Speak freely without becoming too preoccupied with your pronunciation. It will take time and a lot of practice.
Written by Marlene Martzke for English Classes by Skype