TIP #7 -- STUDY THE VOWELS
Almost all students of English have some kind of difficulty with vowel sounds. That is because there are 15 different vowel sounds in English, so it can get confusing.
One important key is knowing that there are 2 types of vowels:
1) some need to be pronounced with a relaxed tongue
2) others require a very active tongue because they have 2 parts
Another problem is that there are only 5 written letters to spell the 15 different sounds. The secret is knowing that each vowel letter has 2 or 3 different sounds that they normally use. You need to know what the normal sounds are for each vowel letter, and then you can start to learn when to use them.
TIP #8 -- FIND YOUR SPECIAL CONSONANTS
The English consonants are usually less difficult than the vowels. Most students pronounce most of the consonants well. However, there are often one or two that are difficult because of a difference between English and your first language. So, watch for the consonants that are especially tricky for your language and be extra careful. These kinds of mistakes can sometimes cause some funny (or embarrassing) mix-ups!
SPECIAL CONSONANTS FOR EVERYONE: R & TH
The R sound -- this is difficult for almost all students. This is because English R is somewhat unusual – it sounds almost like a vowel. In fact, it does act as a vowel sometimes). The biggest piece of advice for pronouncing R well is this: the tip of the tongue should not move or touch the top of the mouth when you say it.
The TH sound -- this is difficult for most learners, but it is also a sound that is mispronounced very often, so people don't notice it too much, usually. However, there are some words that can be confused, and if your goal is to speak English very well, then you should work on TH.
TIP #9 -- MASTER THE FREQUENT WORDS
Be careful with the frequently used words. – make sure that you are saying these words right. You need to use them every time you speak English.
>> If you started learning English years ago, and you learned some of them incorrectly at the beginning, then you probably have been practicing saying them wrong for a long time.
>> If you are a beginner, make sure you know how to say these words correctly now, so that you don't have to fix them later.
NOTE: there is a higher percentage of unusual spellings among the most frequent words – so you have a higher chance of mispronouncing the frequent words if you are trying to say them by looking at the letters.
Check yourself! Practice the 150 most frequently used words of English. Get a pdf copy then listen to the list.
TIP #4 -- EXAGGERATE!
This is a key to practicing well.
I have often seen students try something new with their English pronunciation, but the new sound is just barely noticeable -- it is just a tiny bit different from the way they normally speak. On the inside, they feel like they have produced a big change, but on the outside it does not sound so big. So, I often tell students to try to say the new sound too strongly. Then when they do that, it usually sounds just right.
When you are learning to pronounce a new language, you are training your mouth muscles, your voice, and your breathing muscles to do new things. You are using them in new ways, and it feels different. You need to exaggerate when you first practice something new, so that those muscles can develop new patterns adequately. It may feel strange – but that's ok! Be brave. Be bold. Go ahead: exaggerate!
TIP #1 -- BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR DICTIONARY
Different dictionaries use different systems or symbols to show how words should be pronounced. If you use your dictionary to figure out how to say a new word, you need to know what the symbols mean. If you have more than one dictionary, each dictionary may have a different system.
Example One: Word Stress
There are different ways to show where a word should
be stressed. Some dictionaries show the stressed syllable
with bold or capitalized letters, and other dictionaries put
a mark in front of, or after, or above the strongest syllable.
(Stress = the strongest part, or syllable, of the word)
Example Two: Vowel Sounds
There are different systems for showing vowel sounds.
For example, the sound of the letter A in a word such as
“name” (which is sometimes called “Long A”) could be
shown with a variety of different symbols.
So be careful! You need to understand the system that YOUR dictionary uses so that you don't get mixed up. Dictionaries have a guide that explains what the symbols mean. This is usually located in the front, somewhere in the introductory pages.
TIP #2 -- WATCH YOUR FACE!
To pronounce English well, you need to learn to use your mouth the same way that a native English speaker does.
TRY THIS: Observe how a native English speaker moves their mouth and face. Watch some news, but with the sound turned off. Look at how the reporter's mouth and face move while they talk. Then watch a news reporter in your language (again, with the sound off) to see the difference.
You will pronounce English better if you learn to move your mouth the way that an English speaker does. You could also try video-recording yourself to see if you can make your face look right in English.
Some common problems that I see in students are:
>> A stiff jaw. Some students do not open their mouth wide enough for clear English. Others seem to have a jaw that does not want to move freely.
>> Not willing to let the tongue or teeth be visible. It is difficult to pronounce English well if you try to keep the teeth or the tongue hidden.
In English, the tongue, the face, and also the voice are all quite active.
TIP #5 -- REPETITION
Repetition is key because you are training your speech muscles. This is similar to an athlete training their body, or a pianist training their fingers.
>> It is best to practice a little bit every day (or even twice a day)
>> 10 minutes every day is better than an hour once per week
THINGS TO TRY
>> Listen to and imitate a news reporter
>> Find a brief conversation in a DVD movie - repeat it over and over until you can say it simultaneously
>> Get an audio book, plus a hard copy of the book, and read along out loud
TIP #10 -- LISTEN TO THE MUSIC
Have you ever heard someone speaking a language that you do not know, but you could guess which language it was just by the way it sounded? Perhaps you thought: "That sounds like French" or "I think they are speaking Russian" or "That must be Chinese". Many people can recognize other languages, even if they do not understand a single word of the conversation. But, How?
Each language has it's own special sound, or "music." The musical part comes from the rhythm of the words and syllables, the stress patterns, and the intonation patterns. Learning to imitate the "music" of a language will help you sound much more natural, and people will understand you more easily.
English has very active "music" patterns, with strong words and weak words, and high notes and low notes all together in each sentence. Pay attention to this when you listen to English, and try to imitate it.
Be ready! It may feel strange to speak English this way. I have heard different reactions, such as, "I feel like I have to speak with an angry voice" or "It makes me feel silly". But, do your best, because if you do not speak with enough "music" in English, then it might make you sound like you are bored, or boring, or sleepy, or sad, or not very smart. However, using sufficient "music" in English can help make you sound like you are somebody who is friendly, positive, and intelligent.
TOP TEN TIPS
TIP #3 -- REVERSE IMITATION
Listen to English speakers trying to speak your language. What kind of mistakes do they make? Do they slide around too much on vowel sounds? Do they articulate some consonants too strongly or too weakly? Do they make their voice sing too much, or too little?
The “foreign” sound that English speakers typically make while speaking your language can give you some clues about how you should try to sound when you speak English.
TIP #6 -- BEGIN EARLY!
The best time to focus on pronunciation is sooner rather than later. If you train your mouth correctly when you begin, then you will not have to unlearn bad habits and relearn good pronunciation later.
If you can already speak English, but your pronunciation is your weak point, then you will need to be patient and persistent. Making new pronunciation patterns a normal part of your speaking will probably take some time.
STAGES IN PRONUNCIATION DEVELOPMENT
Level 1: awareness of an sound or pattern
Level 2: ability to hear, notice, or recognize the sound or pattern
Level 3: ability to control it in a single word or short phrase
Level 4: ability to maintain control in a sentence or simple dialogue
Level 5: ability to integrate it into everyday speaking
Moving from one level to the next usually gets harder the higher you go. Going from Level 1 to Level 2 usually happens quite quickly and easily. Then, depending on your first language and the particular aspect of pronunciation you are working on, it may or may not be easy to get to Level 3. It is harder to get to Level 4, and reaching Level 5 requires a lot practice and self-discipline.