How to improve your pronunciation?
If you’re following me on social media, you may have noticed that I try to improve my pronunciation in English. That brought me to the following idea: writing a post on how you can improve your pronunciation too.
When I tell people that I want to improve my pronunciation, most of them tell me to not even think about it. Having an accent means that you’re able to speak at least two languages, which is already something good. In the end, the most important thing is that people can understand you.
However, I think it’s still a good idea to improve your pronunciation. Here are some benefits:
- When you know how to pronounce words, you’ll be able to understand native speakers more easily. Even when they talk fast
- You’ll speak with more self-confidence because you’ll worry less about what you sound like and whether or not others can understand you
- When you prioritize your pronunciation, you’ll train your voice muscles (you know, those things in your mouth and throat that you use to produce certain sounds). In case you want to become a polyglot, that will help you sound better in other languages.
You don’t necessarily have to speak perfectly. You can improve little by little with time. So here are my tips on how you can improve your pronunciation.
Featured image ‘how to improve your pronunciation’ by Rawpixel via StockSnap
What makes a good pronunciation?
Before we jump into the ‘how’, it’s first important to understand how sounds are produced.
It’s a matter of positioning, tension, and air pressure
Oftentimes, when we want to improve our pronunciation, we try to improve the way we pronounce the letters. But we need to understand that a letter can have several sounds. For example, there are five vowels in English but over 10 different vowel sounds. The ‘a’ in ‘what’ sounds different than the ‘a’ in ‘bad’. The ‘a’ in bad is not the same sound as the ‘e’ in bed.
For each sound, you need to position your tongue, lips, and jaw in a different way but it’s also important to understand how much tension you have to put on your tongue and how you need to breathe.
I embedded the video below to show you how the positioning changes with each sound. But you don’t have to watch the video entirely.
They make a difference in similar sounds
In some cases, two sounds seem similar but are slightly different. That’s because of a difference in positioning, tension, and air pressure.
The ‘ee’ sound in Dutch and English can be a good example here. The Dutch ‘ie’ is similar to the English ‘ee’ but it’s produced deeper in the throat while the ‘ee’ in English is produced mainly in the frontal part of the mouth and sounds more relaxed.
The Dutch ‘ie’ as in ‘iets’ (something): Listen and compare this with the audio below.
The English ‘ee’ as in ‘here’:
With the correct positioning, tension, and air pressure each sound will sound natural in a foreign language.
Practicing your pronunciation is like doing yoga
If you find it hard to pronounce words and letters properly, it’s because you are not used to making the correct movements with your mouth and your voice muscles are not strong enough to produce the sound.
Think of it like yoga. You wouldn’t be able to do the split if you’ve never practiced yoga before.
All you need is consistent practice, time, and patience.
Image by Matthew Henry via StockSnap
How to improve your pronunciation?
Now you understand the factors that are involved in a good pronunciation, we can talk about how you can improve your pronunciation.
Look for ‘reference sounds’
There is always a word in your native language that has a sound that is similar to the sound you want to make in your target language. You can use them as a reference to warm up/train your voice muscles.
For example, I had difficulties with pronouncing the nasal sound ‘ão’ in Portuguese. Native speakers told me that this sounds like the word ‘huh’ in English but without the first letter. I repeated the word a couple of times and then dropped the first letter so I got ‘uh’.
I repeated ‘uh’ a couple of times and I finally was able to pronounce words like não and são properly.
However, the next day, if I forgot the correct positioning when I had to use this sound in other words. That’s not a big deal. It’s important that you use words like ‘huh’ as a reference to train your voice muscles and warm up yourself before you speak your target language. That really helps you improve your pronunciation in the long run.
Use resources that include audio material
This is probably the best advice I can give to help you improve your pronunciation. Use resources that include audio material and repeat along in the same speed and rhythm. When you do this, it will be easier to distinguish different sounds and you may not even have to start learning the phonetic alphabet.
Apps like Duolingo, Babbel, and Glossika are excellent because you can hear the words and sentences while practicing. If you’re using a book, you can visit the website Forvo to look up the pronunciation of words.
Try mimicking phrases
It can also help to watch a video and pause every now and then to repeat what you hear with the same rhythm and speed. If you have a friend who is a native speaker, you can ask him to record some phrases. Listen to them and repeat along.
When you do this, you’ll not only start noticing your mistakes but you’ll also find it easier to speak and understand native speakers.
Recording yourself is one of the most powerful ways to improve your pronunciation because by doing this, you can spot your mistakes.
The first couple times you may find it awkward to hear your voice but once you get used to it, you’ll love it. I do this every day 🙂
Listen to native speakers
Watch movies, talk with native speakers, and listen to podcasts. Do this every day if possible. Listening to native speakers can help you improve your pronunciation because you subconsciously pick up the intonation and new tones.
Also, when you’re already working on your pronunciation, you’ll automatically recognize the difference in sounds in different words.
Learn the phonetic alphabet
If the tips above are not enough, you can consider learning the phonetic alphabet. That is the alphabet of sounds. It shows you from which sounds the language consists and helps you understand the correct positioning, tension, and air pressure. You can find several YouTube videos with a visual explanation. Just search for “pronunciation of [letter] in [your target language]”.
Analyze the sounds of your native language
You can also do the reverse. Analyze the sounds of your native language and pay attention to the way you position your tongue, lips, and jaw. Then, experiment with the sound by changing the positioning, tension, and air pressure until you hear something that sounds correct.
Share your recordings to improve your pronunciation
Sharing your recordings can be very powerful. You can ask your teacher or your native friend for feedback.
But it’s more effective if you share them with people who don’t know you.
Your friends and teachers often get used to the way you speak or they may not be critical enough. Therefore, you can share your recording on apps like HiNative, Reddit (there’s this subreddit called Judge My Accent), social media, or basically in HelloTalk’s timeline and ask for feedback.
This is what I created to help you improve your pronunciation
I know what it feels like when you try to improve your pronunciation. Sometimes we don’t know
where exactly to start and how to improve. Applying everything at once may seem a little overwhelming at the beginning.