Can you repeat that, please? How many times do you hear this when you are speaking? Although you master grammar and vocabulary, if your pronunciation is not accurate, it will still be quite hard for people to understand you because of your pronunciation, and learning to pronounce words correctly is one of the hardest parts of learning English.
Depending on your native language, you will notice that you have to learn how to make completely new sounds that you are not familiar with. Spanish, for example, is quite straightforward regarding its pronunciation, as words are pronounced in the same way they are written.
English is a whole different story, as English vowels make it really tricky to know how to say a word. “Way”, “weigh” and “whey” are all said the same, for example, while “comb”, “bomb” and “tomb” are all pronounced differently. This has proven to bring some serious stress to students, so in this article, I give you six tips to help you pronounce English words better.
How to Improve your Pronunciation: 6 Tips to Pronounce Better in English
Before you learn how to speak, you need to learn to listen better. In English, some sounds can be hard to tell apart when you are listening. Did he say sleep or slip? Is it buy or pie? If you can hear the difference, it will be easier to speak the difference.
There are many guides that can help you get started with learning how to listen. The pronunciation practice at Many Things is one of the best because of its huge selection of minimal pairs. Minimal pairs are two words like buy or pie, that are only different by one sound. On the website, you can click on each word to hear the complete sentence. Then you can have a quiz to click the correct answer.
Pay attention to your lips and mouth
When you speak, you move your mouth, and the way you move your mouth affects how you pronounce a word.
The first step to correct your mouth shape is simply to become aware of it and pay close attention. For this, put yourself in front of a mirror and see each movement you make when you pronounce tricky words.
Watch other people and notice the shape their mouth and lips make when they talk and try following along. Can you repeat the faces and sounds that the actors are making? Another great resource to learn to move your mouth properly is called Sounds of English, as it has some good explanations for pronouncing specific words.
Pay attention to your tongue
The main difference between rice and lice is the movement of your tongue. When you speak, make these movements without thinking them. To improve your English pronunciation, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to check what your tongue is doing.
Some difficult sounds for non-native speakers to make are the letters “L” and “R”. The “TH” sound is quite tricky as well. Pronouncing them correctly is all in the tongue.
To make the “L” sound, your tongue should touch the back of your front teeth and the top of your mouth, just behind your teeth. Try it now: Say the word “light.” Say it a few times. Feel where your tongue is in your mouth. Make sure it touches the top of your mouth.
To make the “R” sound, your tongue should not touch the top of your mouth. Pull your tongue back to the middle of your mouth, near where it naturally rests if you weren’t saying anything. As you say the sound, your lips should be a little rounded. Try it now: Say the word “right” a few times. You should feel air blowing between your tongue and the top of your mouth as you speak. You should also feel your lips get a little rounder when you make the sound.
To make the “TH” sound. This one may seem strange if you don’t have a similar sound in your native language. To make this sound, put your tongue between your top and bottom teeth. Your tongue should stick out a little between your teeth, and as you push air out of your mouth, let some air escape between your tongue and teeth—that’s what makes the sound. Try it now: Say the word “think.” Repeat it a few times. Make sure you push your tongue between your teeth.
Now that you know where to put your tongue, can you hear the difference?
If you are looking for a more detailed explanation on how to make these sounds correctly, watch this video from Club English. If you need more assistance, try asking someone. Ask them to say a word with that sound and detail what they do with their tongue. Most likely they never paid attention to this!
Focus on the stress of words
English is a stressed language. What that means is that some words and sounds are more important than others. You can hear this when you say a word out loud. For example, the word “introduce” is pronounced with a stress at the end, so it sounds like this: “in-tro-DUCE.”
Sometimes the stress of a word will determine the word’s meaning. Say this word out loud: “present”. If you say “PREsent”, you are talking about a noun that means either at this moment or “a gift”. If you said “preSENT”, you are talking about a verb that means “to give or to show”.
There are many rules related to this, however, the best way to learn is by listening and practicing. Always remember that most native English speakers don’t know the rules either, they just know when something sounds right or not. With enough practice, you will also be able to tell the difference as well.
Keep practicing by reading out loud, having conversations and listening well where others place stress when they speak.
Break down words into sounds
Words are made up of syllables, or parts, and turning words into these parts can make them easier to pronounce. Let’s take the word “syllable” for example. If you divide it, you get three syllables: “sy-lla-ble”.
If you want to check how many syllables a word was, place your hand flat just under your chin and say the word slowly. Each time your chin touches your hand, that’s a syllable.
You can even write the word down in parts. Leave a space or draw a between each syllable (every syllable should have at least one vowel: a, e, i, o, u, y). Now try saying the word. Say it slowly and pause after each syllable. Easier, isn’t it?
If you read my last article, you will probably be using your phone’s voice recorder every day. Now is time to raise the bar and use a camera. You need to do this because it is necessary for you to see how you speak, not only hear it This is the best way to tell for yourself if your practice is working.
You don’t need any special software to record yourself, as all phones have a video capturing app, usually as part of the camera app.
Compare your recording to someone else saying the same words or sounds. Find a video of your favorite part from a movie and choose one or two sentences. Record yourself trying to match the stress, tone, and pronunciation of the video. Compare the two and see what you did differently, and repeat. Ask yourself some questions: Am I moving my mouth the right way? Am I stressing the right part of the word? Is my tongue in the right place?