Perfect pronunciation is one of the last major challenges that stands between you and fluent spoken English. It can also be one of the hardest, with many students taking years to master it. Some simply don’t bother or fool themselves into thinking it’s not as important as perfect grammar – but don’t forget, a grammatically correct sentence could still be confusing to an audience if they don’t understand the words you’re saying.
To help you overcome this challenge we’ve put together a few simple tips for improving your English pronunciation:
1. Speak in English all the time – even to yourself
It goes without saying but – practice makes perfect. Like English grammar, correct pronunciation is based on a set of rules. You need to remember these rules and practice saying words correctly over and over so you can be confident when you come to have a conversation with someone in English. Practice with a native English teacher is, of course, the best way, but just talking to yourself in the mirror can be just as useful!
Just make sure you pay attention to the pronunciation. A simple way of doing that is to familiarise yourself with the prosody pyramid. It’s a simple system for getting rid of your accent but it really works.
2. Actively monitor and correct your mistakes
Correcting your own poor pronunciation requires the discipline to constantly listen to what you’re saying and note when you make a mistake. This is best done with a pen and paper – write down the words you make mistakes on and consciously practise the correct way of saying them.
Remember, mistakes are rarely random, they are often part of a pattern of words you will continue to get wrong. Knowing what they are will help you get better over time. This type of deliberate practice can help you with anything from grammar rules to perfect pronunciation.
3. Listen to other people as well
Expose yourself to native speakers as often as you can, whether you do this in person or by watching as much TV as you can (without becoming a couch potato!). Another good tip is to pick up story audiobooks. They are enjoyable and easy to listen to while you’re travelling or at the gym, for example.
These days, there’s also plenty of other excellent audio content out there to help you. You can start with these excellent podcasts for English learners.
4. Learn to think to yourself in English
Some people, particularly beginners, develop the habit of translating everything they hear and say to and from their native language first. While this might be easier it makes learning slower. Converting a sentence from one language to another is never that clean and simple and there is always the risk that some of the meaning will get lost. Thinking to yourself in English also gives you valuable chances to improve the pronunciation of a word without ever having to open your mouth.
This habit does not come naturally and it does take a little bit of practice to think in a foreign language. However, once you master this technique, you’ll make practising your target language a lot easier for yourself.
5. Listen to the music the words make
Every language sounds different and understanding the musical elements of a language will help you get better at pronunciation. Listen carefully to the intonation of a native speaker and your ability to say words correctly will drastically increase. While tonal languages take this musicality to the next level, even English uses intonation and pitch to carry meaning, so it’s important to practise these aspects to make yourself understood and improve your pronunciation.
And if you need more help understanding intonation there are plenty of videos on Youtube. Like this one:
Conclusion – Pay attention and use deliberate practice to improve pronunciation
Improving your accent is a tough job. Most people who start learning a foreign language in their adulthood will always have at least a slight accent. However, if you pay attention to how English sounds and make a special effort to monitor and correct your pronunciation mistakes, you will be able to drastically improve how your English sounds. Just keep talking to yourself in English and even switch your thinking language to see quicker results.