Whether you’ve been speaking it for your entire life, or you’re just now learning for the first time, correct pronunciation of the English language is very important in how you come off to those around you. People that speak the English language may have many different accents, be it a deep Southern drawl, or a proper British intonation, learning to correctly pronounce the language doesn’t mean getting rid of your accent, but simply smoothing out some of the rough edges that others may have been too polite to tell you that you have.
If you happen to know where some of your weaknesses lie in your pronunciation, and would like improve upon them, then you’ve come to the right place. Polishing the way you speak can help in countless ways, not least of all, your confidence, and can also help your chances of getting a job, landing a date, and just generally make you sound intelligent and refined. But don’t polish too much, you still want to hold on to any of the charming quirkiness in your diction that makes the way you talk unique, but you do want to learn how to pronounce any new or difficult words correctly. If this is a something you’re serious about taking care of, then you may want to also check out this course on English pronunciation, and this article on American pronunciation if you really want to blend in.
Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation Skills
When learning the various aspects of a new language, from vocabulary to pronunciation, you’re going to have to surrender some of your pride in realizing that you’re doing or saying something incorrectly. Always remember that curiosity is a sign of intelligence, and that there are people who have been speaking a language their entire lives and still say things the wrong way. If you find you continually have trouble with a word or letter or sound, consult the following guidelines to find the root of your problem, and then fix it. If English is your second language, this course on ESL conversational skills might be a good resource for you.
- Learn the Rules: Before you can start correcting any mistakes you might be making, you must first familiarize yourself with the rules of pronunciation. These are some of the most basic building blocks of the English language, and because its various rules sometimes don’t seem to make sense, even to the native speakers, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the basics of English in order to minimize the amount of mistakes you might make later.
- Consult Technical Sources: There are tons of reference books out there, as well as websites, that contain everything you’ll ever need to know about words and their pronunciations. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is one of the oldest and most reliable guides to the Latin alphabet. There are other resources available as well, including The Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary Pronunciation Guide, and websites such as Rachel’s English (which can be found here), which both aid in American pronunciation. For British English, the BBC offers a guide, and there is an IPA chart for British pronunciations, as well.
- Learn the Meaning and Pronunciation: One of the linguistic bad habits that everyone falls prey to is that the longer they mispronounce a word, the harder it is for them to correct that behavior. The best way to fix that is to immediately learn the correct pronunciation of every new word you come across. If you’re in the habit of looking up new words in the dictionary, its pronunciation is right next to it, and the guide at the beginning of the book will help explain the confusing symbols.
- Listen: This is by far the best way to learn correct pronunciation in any language, including English. You can ask a native speaker to pronounce the word, if you’d like, but unless they’re a teacher or a linguist, even they may be saying it wrong. One of the peculiar things about the English language is that there are many different regional accents and personal preferences that affect how each person may say a particular word. For best results, go to YouTube, or simply Google the word, and a handy audio pronunciation will pop up. Keep playing it over and over until you can say it correctly. One of the benefits of watching someone say it is that you can see how their lips and tongue move so you can copy those movements. If you have trouble understanding native English speakers, this course on the secrets to English success will help you hear what they’re saying, and improve your speaking skills, as well.
- Record Yourself: Hearing yourself talk can be a jarring experience, to say the least, but like we said, you’re going to have to do away with any stubbornness or pride when it comes to improving your speech habits. If there’s a particular letter or sound that you want to improve upon, record yourself saying it, then compare it to recordings of how you want to say it, then alter your speech pattern.
- Listen to Podcasts: Sometimes people that are learning a new language will listen to music to try to get a feel for it, but this can be misleading, because in music, sometimes pronunciations are purposefully incorrect. Luckily, we have podcasts to listen to, which feature people speaking very clearly and casually, like they normally would in an everyday conversation. They may not necessarily help with specific letters, sounds, or words, but they can paint a very detailed picture of how your average English speaker talks. Want to produce your own podcast about your language adventures, then check out this course on starting your own podcast.
- Write Things Down: Keep a notebook of any English pronunciation problems you have. This not only will make a good guide for practicing, but you can also use it to ask others how they would say it. Make it like a game, writing down the words you have problems with, and crossing out the ones you’ve mastered, and the proof of how you are progressing will be right in front of you.
- Practice! The first part of improving your English pronunciation is realizing what you’re doing wrong, but once you learn how to say something correctly, you need to practice often, and for at least 30 minutes a day, repeating the correct way to say the problem letter or sound. This is when noticing how the words were actually formed with the mouth comes in handy, because if you are simply saying the sound without understanding its formation, then you’ll run into more problems down the road. When learning English, make sure to not skip the grammar, and this article on daily grammar practice will show you the best ways to do keep up with it.
While learning the English language can be a repetitive, tiring task, and is one of the tougher languages to master, learning the proper way to pronounce words is very important if you want to sound like you have a firm grasp of the language. And don’t forget, if you’re a native speaker, with decades of English experience under your belt, don’t be ashamed or embarrassed when you find out you’ve been pronouncing a word incorrectly for years – look at it as an opportunity to perfect your ability to speak your native language. If you need to brush up on your English skills for your career, this course on American English for success in business will help you sound more professional.