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Improving pronunciation

cartoon of child with tongue sticking out and twisted

Helpful tips for improving pronunciation; this blog ask the question, ‘Will I ever improve my pronunciation?’ For sure, students often ask this question, but so do teachers! For instance, an English teacher in France asked me how to improve her pronunciation, wondering if she would ever sound like a native. Here’s my reply.

Sounding like a native

Improving pronunciation is necessary for clear spoken communication, but you don’t need to speak English like a native. After all, what is native pronunciation? There are many accents in the UK alone, not to mention the US, Australia, or New Zealand. That said, wherever you are in the world, it is essential to speak clearly to help others understand you.

Improving pronunciation is a tall order

When teaching pronunciation, it’s often difficult to get a result because people find it hard to make brand new sounds. What is more, a slight foreign accent is inevitable for most speakers, aside from those who decide to take elocution seriously. For instance, my singing teacher is the only person I have ever met who had no foreign accent whatsoever because she had to get pronunciation perfect for performances.

It’s intelligent to accept imperfect pronunciation and be careful not to make a big issue over it because students can rapidly become discouraged. If you are a real stickler, your English language learners may even become paranoid about saying anything at all!

Try improving pronunciation with this!

French students find making the ‘th’ sound, as in ‘the’ difficult. Fortunately, this sound is easy to demonstrate because you can see the tongue sticking out between the teeth. I get students to put their tongue between their teeth and keep it there, in silence, and only then make the sound. It works, but only during the demo. Afterwards, as soon as we go back to speaking, students revert to “z” as if we had never done the exercise! Well, at least I gave them a tool to use if they so desire. Clearly, you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink!

Use a mirror

The mouth changes shape from starting and finishing a sound. So, use a mirror to practise common words and exaggerate the movements. Take the word ‘ear’ for example, and say this sound while looking in the mirror. Then, introduce other words with the same sound. You will then see how the words’ ear’, ‘hear,’ and ‘weary’ have the same sound and make your mouth move in the same way.

Not everyone has the luxury of speaking or hearing normally, so it is helpful to learn how your mouth moves to specific sounds to communicate that knowledge. Most people who find it hard to hear will look at your mouth and lip-read what you say.

Repetition and Pronunciation Games

If you’d like games to work on pronunciation, please check out my books for children and adults in download from my website and Amazon in Kindle and paperback.

Other blogs on pronunciation

Please visit this post on the hows and whys of teaching pronunciation for information on phonemes and overcoming barriers to proper pronunciation.

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