6 Neat Tricks to Improve Your English Pronunciation
Let’s face it – proper English pronunciation is the gift that keeps on giving. What I mean is: even if you can communicate fairly well and you’ve aced every English exam in your life, if your pronunciation lacks precision (or quality – for the lack of a better term), your fluency in the eyes and ears of other English speakers is not going to be at the level you expect.
I don’t blame you though. There are some pretty tricky English words out there. Your tongue gets twisted every now and then (mine does even to this day). Plus, trying to “imitate” how native speakers talk is one of the greatest challenges in English for non-native speakers.
It is simply one of those world languages that is not pronounced as it is spelled, which is what makes English so hard when it comes to pronunciation. Today, you get the chance to put a stop to this! Here are some tried-and-tested tricks and techniques that can help you significantly improve your English pronunciation and take your fluency to the next level.
Focusing on English pronunciation
Stop thinking so much (but not entirely) about “what” you’re saying and focus on “how” you’re saying it. Consider this as an exercise of switching your focus. Are you “swallowing” or “adding” any sounds, e.g. saying “com-for-table” instead of “comf-ta-ble” or blending words together that you shouldn’t, e.g. saying “aintchu” instead of “ain’t you”?
Are you hitting every single sound correctly? A good way to assess your current quality of pronunciation is to stand in front of a mirror and just focus on how your mouth moves. Even better, you can record a video of yourself so you can clearly “see” where your pronunciation errors lie and know exactly what to improve.
Bonus: This technique also gives you the chance to understand how you actually come across to others while communicating with them, as you get to see some other parts of your “speech”, such as gestures, body posture, etc.
When you’re recording yourself, you kind of have to measure your pronunciation quality against something to actually know how far you still need to go to reach that true native-like sound. My advice is: choose an accent you like, e.g. British, and focus on pronouncing each word you say the same way native-speakers with that accent would do.
On the other hand, you can just pick your favorite celebrity or any native-speaker for that matter and try to imitate them. There are so many resources out there that can help you do this, from watching TV shows or YouTube videos to listening to podcasts and interviews. Again, you should focus on how they talk and pronounce certain words you might have trouble with.
Regardless of which route you choose, imitating native-speakers is a good way to improve your English pronunciation, especially if you don’t live in a native-speaking environment. It’s how you can push yourself to literally sound like a native English speaker (without too much effort, actually).
When we’re reading a book or article online, we subconsciously try to maintain a pace at which we’re reading. If anything gets in the way, e.g. a tricky word or a very long sentence, our reading experience is affected. However, this is less or barely noticeable when we’re not reading aloud. To really give your English pronunciation quality a boost, read aloud.
This technique not only compels you to maintain a steady reading pace but also to make pauses where necessary and stress certain words – all of the things a native speaker would normally do while speaking. Most importantly, it demands that you focus on each and every sound you pronounce, which brings me to my next point…
Double down on certain sounds
So, I have a little confession to make here (but it’s a good thing, I promise). I find that the only way for you to reach that native-like level of precision is to not allow yourself to “slack off” while talking. This means that you should hit every single sound right – the thing we talked about earlier. Naturally, as an English teacher, I’m veeery strict when it comes to pronouncing certain English sounds – in particular, the two-way “th” sound.
The thing with “th” is that it can resemble both a “d” and a “t” sound, depending on the word. However, it’s definitely not the same as simply saying the sounds “d” and “t” instead of the appropriate version of “th”, as it completely changes the meaning of what you’re saying. Let me give you a few examples:
“Think” is pronounced with a “th”, not a “t” as in “tink”.
“Thought” is pronounced with a “th”, not a “t” as in “taught”.
“Though” is pronounced with a “th”, not a “d” as in “dough”.
“Breathe” is pronounced with a “th”, not a “d” as in “breed”.
As you can see, these singular sounds make all the difference in the world. Most of my students find this small trick extremely annoying in the beginning but it pays off in the long run! I’ve even had students visit me a couple of years after graduating just to thank me for “torturing” them with these little sounds, as they found that it makes a huge difference in their everyday speech and writing, as well.
Talk to yourself
Hmmm… so, all of the tricks and techniques in this article so far are great but you’re still thinking about where to get some quality resources for practice. The answer is: nowhere! Taking all of the above into account, one of the best ways to improve your English pronunciation is to simply talk to yourself, as weird as that may sound.
So, find a topic of interest that you can really talk at length about, e.g. your favorite movie, a global issue, etc. Also, figure out which accent or speaker you want to imitate. Then, stand in front of a mirror, record yourself, aim to focus on every single sound you utter, and see how you did. After that, repeat and improve. After all, “repetitio est mater studiorum”!
Note: This technique isn’t just good for improving your pronunciation but your overall communication skills in English, as well.
Practice tongue twisters.
Last but not least, we have my favorite technique – tongue twisters! The thing with tongue twisters is that they might seem extremely challenging but the more you do them, the easier they get. Plus, you inevitably transfer that “precision” to your everyday speech if you practice them on a regular basis.
Don’t believe me? Let’s try it together!
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers?
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
Thirty thousand thirsty snakes thirstily drank three thousand lakes.
Now, go out there and speak, read, and hit those small sounds as much as you can! To really improve your English pronunciation, remember to frequently record yourself, be realistic about where you still have some room for improvement, and try to practice any of today’s tricks as much as you can.
Until next time… happy learning, everyone!
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Jasmin Alić is an award-winning EFL/ESL teacher and writing aficionado from Bosnia and Herzegovina with years of experience in multicultural learning environments.