How to Improve Your English Pronunciation
English Pronunciation can be tricky.
There are quite a few sounds in English that are specific to the language and do not even exist in other languages. For example, some English as second language learners have difficulty with the /th/ sounds and the American /r/. However, having clear pronunciation is not only about knowing how to formulate the sounds of English. There is a lot more involved.
Here are some great tips to get you pronouncing English more clearly and confidently right away.
Tip # 1 – Listen
Becoming an active listener is the first, and perhaps most important, step in understanding how English pronunciation works.
A great way to start is to begin listening to radio, podcasts, songs and watching television and movies in English. If you enjoy watching TV and films, you can use English subtitles to read the words as they are being spoken, and you can backtrack and rewind to pronounce the actors’ phrases.
In the United States, some of the most popular TV and movie providers are Netflix and Hulu.
Here at The English Language Institute of Pace University, we also have a fantastic free streaming service available for all staff, faculty and students called Kanopy. As a Pace student, you can easily access and enjoy Kanopy on all of your devices.
Tip # 2 – Use Some Guides
Many free online resources are great for improving your pronunciation.
One of my students’ favorites is The English Language Club. There are dozens of free videos to help you focus on specific aspects of English pronunciation. For example, there are videos to help you pronounce ‘-ed’ endings correctly. (Did you know there are three different ways we pronounce –ed endings?)
There are also mini-lesson videos focusing on the vowel sounds, which can be confusing and difficult. For instance, the sound /e/ in bed is different from /æ/ in bad, and the /ɪ / sound in hit is different from the /i:/ sound in heat. Students often have difficulty distinguishing between and producing these sounds correctly. The best part is, all of the videos are short − usually two to three minutes − so you can try to do one every day.
Another great website I recommend is Pronuncian. This website features podcasts that focus on specific areas of pronunciation – including intonation and stress – key areas to master.
Lastly, it’s important to learn how to use a dictionary to learn some of the key symbols used to show how a word is pronounced. A dictionary also helps you identify syllables and stress in a word. Here at Pace’s English Language Institute, we love using the Merriam Webster Learner’s Dictionary. Not only is this dictionary designed for English language learners, it also has audio files. When you want to hear how a word is pronounced, you can click on it and listen multiple times. You can even download the app for free and have it handy on your phone at any time. Students taking English classes in America love using this learner’s dictionary to help them with both vocabulary and pronunciation.
Tip # 3 – Practice
Is it possible to practice your pronunciation alone? The answer is a resounding “YES!”
A great site to use is Easy Pronunciation. For each sound in American English, you can click on the sound, here a word, and even watch a video of a real person speaking that sound. Then you can try it yourself.
Use a mirror and watch yourself repeat the same word and sound. Does your mouth look like the person in the video? Do you sound the same? Keep trying and pay close attention to your mouth movements. Sometimes adjusting your lips, tongue and teeth slightly can really change the sounds you produce, resulting in perfect pronunciation.
English pronunciation can be crazy, and sometimes challenging, because very often spelling does not match with the way words are pronounced. Remember, take small steps every day to work on your pronunciation. After all, the main purpose of language is to understand and be understood, right?
Keep that in mind, and you will be on your way to feeling like a comfortable and confident English speaker in no time.
- tricky (adj) – difficult to do; requiring skill
- formulate (verb) – to create or produce (something) by careful thought and effort
- subtitles (noun) – words that appear on the screen during a movie, video, or television show and that are translations of what the actors are saying
- backtrack (verb) – to return to something that was mentioned before
- dozens (noun) – large numbers of people or things
- intonation (noun) - the rise and fall in the sound of your voice when you speak
WRITTEN BY A. WOFFORD.