It's safe to say that when it comes to the English language, pronunciation is easily its hardest component. English pronunciation follows no apparent rules and seems to be completely arbitrary, making learners feel helpless and frustrated. But given that accurate pronunciation is an important part of learning any language and speech sounds can have a huge impact on others understanding what you're saying, it's definitely worth to delve into the matter. Here are 10 study tips to help you master English pronunciation in no time.
1. Decide what kind of accent you like
There are many different English accents, but the two most common ones are British and American. Within both British and American you'll find a variety of different pronunciations, but most learning materials are geared at helping you learn either a standard British accent or a standard American accent.
American and British pronunciation differ in many respects. It's not just the question of pronouncing the 'r' sound, but an entire range of vowels. In fact, the British accent has more vowel sounds and some of them are pronounced in a completely different way. To stay on track, decide which pronunciation you'd like to learn before putting in the effort of training.
2. Learn the IPA and individual sounds of English
Even if it looks less than exciting, learning the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is worth your time. This is basically a collection of symbols which represent the different sounds of a language. Once you learn all the sounds of English and the symbols representing those sounds, you'll be able to pronounce practically any word in English.
For the American pronunciation, have a look at this insightful Introduction to the IPA. (http://www.englishteachermelanie.com/an-introduction-to-the-ipa/) If you're interested in learning the British pronunciation, make sure to check the BBC Learning English page (http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/features/pronunciation) and this Interactive IPA Chart. (http://www.ipachart.com/)
3. Record your voice and listen to yourself
It’s hard to check your own pronunciation and spot errors in your speech because you're most often focused on communicating the meaning, not the sounds. If your pronunciation problems are beyond you, you won't stand a chance to correct them. Why not record your speech with a smarthphone or using your PC? This way you can make note of specific areas which need improvement.
4. Adopt a physical perspective on pronunciation
Pronunciation is in its essence a physical skill. By trying to pronounce words in a foreign language, you're training your mouth organs to move in different ways and involve different muscles. Try to see each sound as a separate entity and focus on perfecting your pronunciation one sound at a time.
To correctly pronounce 'th', for instance, you'll need to put your tongue between your teeth and blow the air out of your mouth. Feel that air move over the top of your tongue? You're making a correct sound. Feel where your tongue is in your mouth and Trace your alveolar ridge. Then try to make different sounds – from 's' to 'l'. Make pronunciation into a physical exercise.
5. Learning a new word, learn how to pronounce it correctly
The truth is that the longer you say a word incorrectly, the harder it will be to unlearn it and start pronouncing it correctly. It's like developing a bad habit – and you know it takes time to break habits, don't you? That's why it's a good idea to avoid developing the habit in the first place. Once you learn a new word, check it in the dictionary to learn its precise meanings and correct pronunciation.
Most online dictionaries like MacMillan Online Dictionary show the phonetic transcription of the word, including the information about which syllable must be stressed. This is where the knowledge of the IPA comes in handy. Sometimes you can click on the red speaker icon to hear a native speaker say the word.
6. Find a friend for practice
There's nothing better for practicing your pronunciation than the company of another learner. Together you can go over your learning materials, share useful tips you've learned along the way and simply have fun when trying to pronounce words. Sharing your knowledge, you stand a better chance at correcting your pronunciation. Not to mention the fact that learning with someone else is always much more motivating than doing the same on your own.
7. Imitate and shadow native speakers
Finding both language learning role models and models to imitate pronunciation is crucial. The first ones can be people in your life who worked hard on their pronunciation and now speak English really well. It can be a friend or a teacher – the important thing is that they've worked hard and can explain the process to you. Native speakers have no idea what guides their pronunciation and they won't be able to explain it to you (unless they're teachers).
But you should also find role models whose perfect accents you'd like to imitate. But watching TV and movies, you can easily find someone who has your type of voice or communication style – you could emulate this person when speaking English. You can even memorize parts of movies, imitating the actors.
8. Watch pronunciation videos on YouTube
There are heaps of helpful videos uploaded by dedicated YouTubers who show how to learn correct English pronunciation. Rachel’s English is a series of free videos which are an excellent guide to English phonetics and pronunciation. Other recommended YouTube pronunciation channels are Teacher Melanie or JenniferESL. For British pronunciation, be sure to check out The Phone Voice or VirtuAule.
9. Focus on intonation
You might be inadvertently paying some attention to the music of words, but you ought to know that intonation is key to good pronunciation. You don’t need to listen to more music in English, but focus on the intonation of native speakers.
Listen to their speech – what is the melodic pattern of the language? How do they ask questions? How to they express emotions like astonishment or irritation? That musical element that is fundamental to communication and building a human connection.
Try to hum the language – what would it sound like? Make this awareness a part of your learning process and have fun with this musical side of language.
10. Sing a song
There's no better method to familiarize yourself with the sound of a language than by listening to English music and singing along. Try to learn the words to popular English songs and sing along. It will help you relax and train your intonation and rhythm. This can be a groundbreaking exercise for adult learners who often feel awkward when having to speak words in a different language. When singing, you won't have to focus on the meaning itself, but on the pure sound of language.
Pronunciation is as important to learning English as its other parts like vocabulary or grammar. Follow these 10 tips and you'll be on your way to pronouncing English like a native.