“How can I improve my pronunciation?” This is one of the most common questions that English learners ask me.
I am not surprised that this is a common question. Good pronunciation is so important if you want to speak English clearly and confidently!
It can feel embarrassing and frustrating when someone asks you to repeat yourself!
Do you know what surprised me? What surprised me was the main problem or obstacle that English learners experienced when they tried to improve their pronunciation.
I have taught a lot of English learners who wanted to improve their English pronunciation. Many of these students were living in English-speaking countries.
All of them had trouble with the same thing.
They didn’t have trouble making the sounds of English. When we practiced in the lesson, they did great with all the activities.
Their biggest problem was that they had a hard time making the sounds in an English conversation, because they felt uncomfortable making the sounds. The sounds of English did not feel natural to them.
Improving your pronunciation may also mean changing your pronunciation. You may need to change the way you make some sounds, and that is difficult.
Do you have the same problem?
What is the problem?
You have been speaking English for a long time in a way that is natural and comfortable to you, even though your listener hears an accent when you speak or doesn’t understand some of the words you use.
When you try to change the way you speak English, you have to learn how to pronounce new sounds, and you have to change the way your mouth and your tongue make the sounds. This is difficult, especially if you do not have the same sounds in your language.
These new movements of your mouth and tongue may feel uncomfortable and unnatural to you. You may feel awkward nervous making the new sounds. This is normal!
It’s important to remember that even though it feels uncomfortable and unnatural to you, your listener hears a standard, natural English accent.
Here’s a great example that explains this problem. There are two TH sounds in English: /θ/ and /ð/. For most English learners, these are new sounds. They don’t exist in many other languages. They are not difficult sounds to make, but they are uncomfortable sounds for many English learners, because you have to stick the tip of your tongue between your teeth. This is unnatural and uncomfortable, so many English learners say the /t/ and /d/ sounds or /s/ and /z/ sounds instead because that feels more comfortable.
This is a problem.
What happens if you say turd /tɚd/ instead of third /ˈθɚd/, because you feel uncomfortable making the /θ/ sound? For example, what if you say January turd /ˈtɚd/?
Do you know what a turd is? Look it up in a dictionary. I’ll wait.
A turd is a slang word for poop.
Would you rather feel uncomfortable saying third /ˈθɚd/ with the th sound, or would you rather be embarrassed about saying turd /tɚd/?
Remember: Even though making English sounds may feel uncomfortable and unnatural to you, your listener hears the normal sounds of English.
What’s the solution?
1. Practice, practice, practice.
You have to keep practicing the sounds of English until they feel natural and comfortable in your mouth. Keep repeating sounds and words over and over again with the right pronunciation. It will take a long time and a lot of practice until you feel comfortable and natural making the sounds of American English. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen eventually! I’ve read that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, so keep going.
Learn more: How to improve your English pronunciation
2. Practice in front of a mirror.
It also helps if you practice in front of a mirror so you can see what your mouth is doing. Watch the way that a native speaker’s mouth moves, and try to copy the movements.
3. Get used to feeling uncomfortable.
It’s OK to feel uncomfortable when speaking English, and you should get used to this feeling, because that’s how you know you are improving your English pronunciation!
What do you do to feel more comfortable speaking English? Share your story in the comments below!