“How can I improve my pronunciation?”
This is one of the most common questions I am asked. I wrote this post to answer that question, and help you improve your English pronunciation! Good pronunciation is essential for speaking AND understanding spoken English. Below is a list of my best tips for improving your English pronunciation.
1. Decide which accent you want to speak with.
There are many different kinds of English accents. The two most common are British and American. There are many different accents even within British or American pronunciation, but most learning materials will help you learn either a standard British accent or a standard American accent.
American pronunciation and British pronunciation are completely different. The consonant sounds are the same (except for the T sound and the R sound after a vowel), but the vowel sounds are very different. The British accent has more vowel sounds, and some vowel letters are pronounced differently.
On this website, I teach general American pronunciation.
2. Learn the IPA and the individual sounds of English.
The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a collection of symbols that represent the different sounds of a language. When you know all the sounds of English and the symbols that represent those sounds, you will be able to pronounce any word in English. [Click to tweet this!]
An Introduction to the IPA
3. When you learn a new word, learn how to pronounce it correctly.
Say it right the first time.
The more times you say a word incorrectly, the harder it becomes to learn to say it correctly. You’ve developed a bad habit, and it takes a long time to break a bad habit! This is why it is so important to learn the IPA and use dictionaries specifically for English learners. [Click to tweet this!]
For example, let’s pretend you are reading a book and you see: outrageous. How do you pronounce this word? Use dictionaries specifically for English learners:
MW Learner’s Dictionary
MacMillan Online Dictionary
Both of these dictionaries show you the IPA phonetic transcription of the word, including which syllable you must stress: /aʊtˈreɪʤəs/
Next to the IPA transcription of the word, you can see a picture of a red speaker. When you click on this icon, you can hear someone say the word.
4. Try to imitate spoken English.
To imitate means to copy someone or something, to do something the same way, or to do the same things as someone else. Do you really like the way someone speaks English? Try to copy the way they speak.
Do you ever try to make fun of someone from another part of your country by imitating his accent? That’s what you need to do in English!
This is a great activity to try: Close your eyes while you’re listening to something in English, like a podcast, a TV show, or a movie. Listen carefully to what the speaker is saying and try to make the same sounds. Hear the sounds, don’t try to see the words. Choose a word or sentence, and listen to it many times.
Try to imitate the sounds that native speakers make.
5. Record yourself.
It’s important to hear what you sound like speaking English so you know what you need to improve! You can compare what you sound like to what you want to sound like. For example, you can record yourself reading a sentence from one of my podcast episodes. Then, listen to me say the same sentence and compare your pronunciation.
6. Listen to the English Teacher Melanie Podcast.
Each episode of my podcast includes a story and a pronunciation tip. The pronunciation tip explains a feature of natural spoken English. You can read the words to the story while you listen to the story, so instead of seeing the words, you can hear the words and match the correct sounds to the words.
You can listen to the story at a slow speed and at a normal speed. You can get used to the sounds of natural spoken English.
7. Read & Listen to Pronunciation Books.
Here are the two books that I use to understand and teach American pronunciation. Check your local library for these books. If you attend a private language school, ask if it has these books. If you live in a large city, look for these books at an English bookstore. You can also buy these books online from Amazon.com.
Mastering the American Accent – Lisa Mojsin
This is quite possibly the greatest book on American pronunciation for both teachers and advanced learners! It does not go through every sound like the book below does, but it focuses on the things that will help a non-native speaker speak with a standard American accent: difficult consonant sounds, linking, syllable and word stress, intonation, and the difference between casual and formal speech. At the back of the book there is a native language guide that explains what speakers of different languages, like Chinese, Spanish, Russian, etc., need to focus on. The book also includes 4 CDs so that the learner can listen to someone saying almost every exercise.
English Pronunciation Made Simple – Paulette Dale and Lillian Poms
This book explains each individual sound in standard American English, as well as all the other elements of spoken English: rhythm, stress, intonation, consonant clusters, plurals, contractions, past tense verbs, etc. This is a great book for teachers to use as a classroom textbook as there are a lot of exercises teachers will find useful in the classroom. It is better for teachers than for students, as the 2 included CDs don’t say all the words and exercises. This book also helps to learn the IPA as it uses the IPA symbols to help explain American English pronunciation.
8. Practice for at least 30 minutes every day.
Let’s be honest. You can’t improve your pronunciation if you don’t practice, practice, practice! Your pronunciation will not magically improve just because you’re speaking English. The sounds of English may be very different from the sounds in your language. It may be difficult and even uncomfortable for your mouth to make some of the sounds in English.
You need to practice with a purpose. [Click to tweet this!] Practice the sounds of English until they feel as natural and comfortable as the sounds of your language. It won’t happen overnight, but gradually your pronunciation will improve.
9. Get Used to Feeling Uncomfortable.
One of the biggest problems for English learners is feeling uncomfortable when making the sounds of English. You have been speaking English your way for a long time. It feels natural to you. When you try to improve your pronunciation, it doesn’t feel natural. It feels strange making new positions with your tongue and lips. Learn more about it here.