It’s Aisya here! I’m writing to answer a question we received from one of our students about pronunciation. She asked us how she could sound more like a native English speaker.
While it’s not important to sound like a native—as English is a colourful language comprised of many different accents and dialects that can reflect an individual’s unique background— clear pronunciation plays an important role in effective communication.
Fortunately, pronunciation is a skill, and like every other skill, it can be learned. Here are just a few tips to help you!
1. Learn to listen.
First of all, you’ll need to get to know the sounds used in the language you want to speak more fluently in. Learning to spot the different sounds in the English language will make it easier for you to utter them. In order to familiarise yourself with these sounds, you’ll need to listen closely.
Whenever possible, watch interesting English movies (animated movies are good for this, as they usually use simpler language targeted to younger audiences), listen to your favourite English songs and pay attention to the lyrics, or put on a podcast about whatever interests you (YouTube is your friend!). Try to imitate the sounds you hear, even if you’re not sure what they mean!
2. Speak out loud.
Learning how to pronounce sounds and words correctly is a lot like training in sports. The more you practice, the better you get at it. This is because your mouth has something called muscle memory. It will take some time, but if you practice consistently, your muscle memory will eventually make you utter the right sounds automatically.
To create muscle memory for speaking English, record your voice as you read out loud, and listen for pronunciation mistakes. Focus on practicing one difficult sound a day. For example, if you have trouble pronouncing ‘th’, like in the word ‘three’, focus on getting that sound right on its own first. Then, practice saying out loud words that contain that sound, like ‘path’, ‘thanks’ and ‘through’, for example. Take things slowly. You can check whether you’re pronouncing the words correctly by going to https://en.oxforddictionaries.com. Click on the speaker icon next to the word you’re practicing to hear the correct pronunciation. Once you feel like you’ve mastered the sound, you can move on to the next one.
3. Add some rhythm!
If you’ve been listening closely, you’d have noticed that the English language is quite melodic. Sentences have rhythm and melody, much like songs do! This comes from intonation and stress, both of which can affect the meaning of the words you’re saying.
Depending on which part of a word is stressed and its position in a sentence, it can either be a noun or a verb. Take the words present and present, for instance. If it’s pronounced ‘pri-ZENT’, it’s a verb that means to give something to somebody, especially formally at a ceremony. However, if it’s heard as ‘PRE-znt’, then it’s a noun that refers to an object given to someone as a gift.
Sentences have stresses too. Words that are more important are uttered with more clarity and strength than the rest of the sentence. Try reading this sentence out loud: “I drank some green tea this morning.” To sound more fluent, make sure you stress the words that are in bold by saying them more slowly than the rest of the sentence.
Now, all this might sound a bit too complicated, but don’t worry! The most effective way to learn is through listening and practicing. Most native speakers don’t even know these rules either, and just say what ‘sounds right’ to them. If you practice enough, you’ll soon be able to automatically determine what sounds right, too.