Accurate pronunciation is an important part of learning any language, and especially when you’re learning English. The way your speech sounds can have a big impact on whether or not people understand what you are saying and their initial impression of you. The tricky thing about pronunciation is that it not just a question of acquiring knowledge, it’s a physical skill that you need to practise regularly.
How to improve English pronunciation
There are no shortcuts to perfect pronunciation, however there are some ways you can practise more effectively and improve your skills faster. Follow our ten top tips, start improving your pronunciation today and take a step closer towards your goal of perfect English pronunciation.
- Listen to yourself
- Slow down!
- Picture it…
- Get physical!
- Watch yourself
- Copy the experts
- Practice English alone
- Find a language buddy
- Pay attention to intonation and stress
- Sing a song!
Listen to yourself
It’s often difficult to hear pronunciation errors in your own speech because you are concentrating actually communicating rather than the sound you are making. If you can’t hear your pronunciation problems, it’s tough to correct them. Try recording your speech with your smartphone or PC and making a note of specific areas you need to improve on
Many English learners think that speaking fluently means they need to speak fast. This is wrong. Speaking too fast reinforces bad habits and makes the speaker sound nervous and indecisive. Speaking slowly will give you time to breathe properly and think about what you want to say next. Because it gives you time to think while you are speaking, you’ll feel more relaxed and be able to concentrate on making your English sound fantastic.
Close your eyes and think about how to make a sound before saying it. Visualize the positioning of your mouth and face. If you have studied with the phonemic chart, think about the sound you are making and how it relates to other English phonemes. If you have used diagrams of the mouth and tongue, think about the shape you need to make inside your mouth if you want to make the sound correctly.
Pronunciation is a physical skill. You’re teaching your mouth a new way to move and using different muscles. Focus on difficult sounds each day. Having trouble with ‘th’? Put your tongue between your teeth (don’t bite down) and blow air out of your mouth. Feel the air move over the top of your tongue.
Stand in front of a mirror to see the placement of your tongue, lips, and shape of your mouth when you make certain sounds. Compare what you see with a video of a native-speaker saying the same thing.
Copy the experts
There’s no replacement for learning pronunciation from the experts – native-speakers. So listen! Listen to English radio programs and watch television and movies in English. Imitate what you’re hearing – even if you’re not sure what they’re saying yet.
Practice English alone
Pronunciation problems persist because we’re afraid to make mistakes. Create scenarios – meeting someone for the first time, ordering at a restaurant, asking for directions – then act out the dialogue by yourself. Don’t be shy.
Find a language buddy
Getting feedback from an outside observer is crucial. Find a friend who’s also interested in improving their English. Try exchanging recorded messages so you can listen closely to each other’s pronunciation.
Pay attention to intonation and stress
Good pronunciation is more than just mastering individual sounds. It’s also understanding intonation (the rise and fall of the voice) and stress (some sounds in words and some words in sentences are louder or clearer than others). Read poems, speeches and songs aloud, concentrating on the word stress and intonation.
Sing a song!
Learn the words to popular English songs and sing along. Singing helps you relax and just get those words out, as well as helping your rhythm and intonation. Because you don’t need to concentrate on constructing sentences for yourself, you can concentrate on making your pronunciation sound great!
Give each of these tips a try next time you have a chance and find out which of them works best for you. Remember, none of them is an instant fix but they will all help you reach your goals as part of regular practice.
Not an EF English Live student? Sign up for a free 7 day trial!