Many English learners feel overwhelmed when they start learning the language. English comes with its set of challenges, especially when it comes to pronunciation. Students often feel that they will never be able to correctly pronounce the tricky sounds for which there is no equivalent in their native languages.
Coming across challenges when it comes pronunciation is no reason to get discouraged and give up. It is a skill that will slowly but surely improve with practice. However, before we get into tips and techniques on improving your English pronunciation, let’s first go over what accents, how they are formed, and why it isn’t always up to you to lose them completely.
Don’t worry THAT much about the accent.
When we are children, we learn our native language very easily. At that point in our lives, the part of our brain that is responsible for learning a language is very plastic. Scientists say that we develop our accents by as early as the age of 6 months.
As we get older and develop a mastery for our language, our brains then focus on performing other activities and lose that language learning plasticity. This is why when we start learning a new language as adults, it is much more difficult to get rid of our pesky accent.
When we start learning a language, there are many factors that affect our pronunciation. Some of those are
- Our age – When we are young and we learn several languages at once, we use the same area of our brain. As we get older and start learning another language, we don’t use that same area. Instead, it is an area of the brain that is adjacent to the one we used as children.
- The length of time we have been exposed to the second language – By the time we are fluent in our native tongue, we are 5 or 6 years old. This means that we get over 5 years’ worth of listening and repeating practice.
- Our natural aptitude for mimicking accents – Some people are naturally good at recreating foreign accents. In other words, they have an “ear” for languages.
Having said all this, we want to stress the fact that it’s still very much possible to achieve near-native speech. And also, do yourself a favor and keep in mind that a flawless accent isn’t necessarily an indication of one’s command on a language. You can speak with an accent and be an extremely eloquent speaker.
Nevertheless, there are some excellent tips to help you improve your English pronunciation, which we have provided below.
1. Speak Slowly and Exaggerate the Sounds
Many English students think that the faster they speak, the better an impression they will make. This isn’t usually the case. Speaking fast tends to slur their speech and reinforce bad habits. Speaking slowly, on the other hand, will give you time to think about what you are saying and how you are saying it. It will also make you feel more relaxed.
Also, as you practice your speech, it’s always a good idea to exaggerate your sounds at the beginning. Pay special attention to the ones you have trouble pronouncing. This may see a little strange to you at first, but don’t worry. It’s excellent exercise for improving your pronunciation.
2. Pay Attention to the Physical Aspect of Pronunciation
When speaking a foreign language, you will be using your speech organs differently. In other words, your tongue, your mouth, and your throat will be utilized in a way that isn’t familiar to you. This is why it is important to pay attention to the mouths of native speakers and try to mimic them in front of the mirror.
3. Listen to Pronunciation-Focused Podcasts and Videos
One of the great things about the Internet is that it provides a wealth of free resources on about any topic. With a quick search, you’ll see that there are many helpful videos made on YouTube that focus on ways to help you improve your English pronunciation.
If you prefer podcasts over videos, there are some great ones, like pronuncian.com that focus specifically on pronunciation techniques.
4. Practice Saying Tongue Twisters
Tongue twisters are a time-tested method of improving pronunciation. A tongue twister is a phrase that is difficult to pronounce, because it is made up of many similar sounds. For example,
- She sells seashells on the seashore.
- How much wood would a woodchuck chuck?
Start off by trying to pronounce all of the words in the tongue twister slowly, but correctly. Then try to pick up the pace until you can say them really fast. You will see for yourself that they are an excellent way of exercising your speech organs.
5. Incorporate English Listening into Your Lifestyle
A big part of pronunciation is actually hearing the correct way of pronouncing the different English sounds. There are many nuances, which the untrained ear doesn’t pick up. The only way to learn to discern those sounds and get used to the way they are pronounced is by listening to a lot of English. This is why it’s important that you try to surround yourself with as much English video and audio as possible.
6. Practice Difficult Sounds and Break Down Words into Syllables
There are many diagrams and videos in textbooks and online that illustrate how to use your tongue and your mouth when pronouncing each sound. Start practicing difficult sounds in front of the mirror by first learning where to place your tongue and how to shape your mouth.
If you are pronouncing a difficult word, not just a sound, it helps to break down that word into syllables and say each of them slowly.
7. Practice at Home and Record Yourself
The reason why pronunciation problems persist is that students are too afraid to make mistakes. Remember, that it is a skill that gets better only with practice. So, in order to avoid feeling shy, practice your speech at home. Pretend that someone has asked you questions and create a dialog by yourself.
As you practice, it will be very helpful if you record yourself either on video or camera so that you can go back and watch yourself to listen for your mistakes.
A great exercise you can try is to listen to chunks of native English speech, then record yourself repeating those chunks. Try this several times. See how close you can get to the native speakers in pronouncing the utterances.
Do pay special attention to the intonation of the native speakers and how they stress the words. The rhythm and music aspect of speech are as important as pronouncing the sounds themselves.
8. Shadow Native Speakers
By shadowing, we mean repeating after native speakers. The way to do this is to listen to any native English audio or video material in small sections, hit the pause button, and try to copy the speaker. Many experts say that this technique is the closest you can get to the way children learn their native language.
9. Read Aloud Every Day
Reading out loud every day is a wonderful way to improve your skills, but only if you have mastered the basics of pronunciation. Otherwise, you may be unaware that you are making mistakes, and constant reading would only make it worse. If you are unsure about some aspects of your pronunciation, ask an English speaker to monitor you, if you have the chance.
10. Join English Ninjas
The absolute best way to polish your pronunciation is to immerse yourself in real-life English speech. The way to do that is by engaging in as much conversation with native English speakers as possible. If you feel that this is impossible to achieve especially if you don’t live in a non-English speaking country, we’re here to tell you it isn’t.
We created English Ninjas especially for people who for one reason or another find it difficult to practice their English skills with a native speaker. With us, you have the opportunity to hone your pronunciation skills with our experienced tutors. They will allocate as much time as you need to help you improve and will completely accommodate your schedule.
First off, let’s remind ourselves yet again that pronunciation doesn’t need to be perfect in order for the speaker to be understood. You will be happy to know that most native English speakers find foreign accents quite charming. On top of that, they are also great conversation starters.
As an English learner you just have to make sure that your accent isn’t too thick, which would actually make it difficult to understand you. Luckily there are many ways that will help you improve your pronunciation. Try the abovementioned techniques and see which ones work best for you.