One of the most common questions I am asked is, “How can I improve my pronunciation?” I wrote this post to answer that question, and hopefully help you improve your English pronunciation! I believe that good pronunciation is essential for speaking AND understanding spoken English well. Below is a list of my best tips for improving your English pronunciation.
1) Decide what kind of accent you would like 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 letter ‘t’ and an ‘r’ after a vowel), but the vowel sounds are very different. The British accent has more vowel sounds, and some vowel letters are pronounced differently.
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
The longer 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 say you see a new word when you’re reading a book: outrageous. How do you pronounce this word? Let’s check two of the online 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/
You can also click on the red speaker icon to hear someone say the word.
4) Watch YouTube pronunciation videos
5) Try to imitate spoken English
To ‘imitate’ means to copy someone/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 (podcasts, songs, TV shows, movies, etc.). 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.
6) Practice HEARING the sounds of English
Before you listen to an English podcast, song, etc. read the words first. Highlight, circle, or underline the sound you want to work on. For example, if you have trouble with the /I/ sound, highlight all the words that you think have the /I/ sound. Read the passage out loud to yourself, focusing on the words with /I/. Listen to the podcast (or song, etc.). Can you hear the /I/ sound? Practice the sound by trying to imitate what the speaker is saying.
7) 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 record yourself reading a sentence from one of my podcasts. Then, listen to me say the same sentence and compare your pronunciation.
You may also be able to find a cheap digital voice recorder at your local electronics store.
8) Practice for at least 30 minutes every day
There is no way around it: the only way your pronunciation will improve is if you 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) 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. Buy these books online.
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 each and every sound (like the book below does). It focuses on the things that will help a non-native speaker speak with a standard American accent (like the kind you hear on CNN!): 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 different nationalities (Chinese, Spanish, Russian, etc.) need to focus on. The book also includes 4 CDs so that the learner can listen to someone speaking 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.|
10) Have your pronunciation professionally evaluated
When your pronunciation is evaluated by a teacher, he/she can tell you exactly what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. He/She can tell you exactly what sounds you need to work on to sound more like a native speaker.
Use the search terms “English pronunciation assessment” or “English pronunciation evaluation” to find teachers online.
11. Get Used to Feeling Uncomfortable
One of the biggest obstacles to improving your pronunciation is feeling uncomfortable when making the sounds of English. Learn more about it here.