Speaking in English is not easy since you have to think about many things at once: tenses, articles, which words to use and you have to do it all quickly in order to produce a flowing sentence without unnecessary breaks. That is why often there’s no time to focus on how the English words are said – the pronunciation. Most English books and teachers don’t pay much attention to pronunciation and it is not uncommon for English learners to reach higher levels of English while still saying some words and sounds in the wrong way. This can sometimes be so bad that the listeners can’t understand at all, even though the grammar and the words used are correct. The good news is that you can do something about it!
Here are some quick tips on how to improve your pronunciation quickly:
1. Hire a pronunciation specialist
Most English teachers will never do pronunciation classes with you if you don’t request them. You can find many English teachers online, but look for someone who is a pronunciation specialist, or at least has proper training in English teaching – the best option is a professional teacher with a university degree in English since they cover English phonetics.
2. Get specialized courses and materials
Pronunciation and accent are not given much space in English courses, especially after the elementary level, but there are course books only for pronunciation and accent improvement. One good example is the Headway Pronunciation series that goes from Elementary to Upper-Intermediate, with CDs included. Another good book which focuses on American accent is Pronounce It Perfectly in English, but don’t get confused since they use non-standard phonetic symbols.
3. Learn the sounds
In order to produce English sounds correctly, you should familiarize yourself with them. Learn the phonemic chart, learn what vowels and consonants are, long and short vowels, and so on. There are videos online demonstrating how to make these sounds. You might have to practice making new positions with your jaw, mouth, tongue and lips, especially if your native language doesn’t have these sounds. If you don’t, you will just keep your own sounds in English and this creates accent.
When you learn new sounds and words, it is important to repeat them as many times as possible because this is the way our brains memorize new language data. Act like a parrot – just repeat after your CD, video, or by yourself. It is perfectly alright to exaggerate in the beginning, go to the extreme: for example if you are practicing saying long /i:/, make it really long to get used to it. Once you start using it in sentences, it will be just right.
5. Minimal pairs and tongue twisters
Minimal pairs are similar words that differ only in one sound, but they have different meanings so it is important not to mix them. This is an excellent place to start improving your accent. Then you can move on to full sentences and even tongue twisters and have some fun.
6. Language exchange
There are many language exchange platforms online: you register and find a native speaker of English to help you with your English, and you help them learn your native language. It is free and you get to talk to native speakers. Not all of them have perfect pronunciation, so look for someone who is easy to understand – standard British, Canadian and American accents will do, but at first it might be better to avoid heavy accents like Irish, Scottish, Australian (unless, of course, that’s where you will be practicing your English the most).
Most importantly, listen attentively and try to copy the sounds and the intonation the best you can. Use TV, radio, films, songs and, if you feel so inclined, karaoke is always an option to test your progress! You can do it!
Written by Lilliana Letic