Are you working to improve your pronuciation?
I have a DVD with an interactive Italian course. And with this DVD it is possible to train your pronouciation. It gives you a feedback on your pronounciation with an indication in a scale of zero to 100 % for each word and each sentence. It would be nice if LingQ had a simular function.
I am. Pronunciation is just another part of learning a language and it takes the same process of getting exposed, paying attention and practising. It also develops gradually, as any other aspect: you have to go back to it and improve it gradually, just as you keep developing your vocabulary (both passive and active), use of grammatical structures and so on.
At any given time in your learning process you must set standards of what you consider "good enough" which depend on your goals in each target language. For example, there are languages in which I strive to approach a "native-like" accent (it'll never be exact but you can get quite close) and others in which I am happy with a pronunciation that's easy to understand but clearly foreign.
There are two extreme positions about this issue which many learners take and which IMO are equally harmful:
A) Forget about improving your pronunciation and accept whatever approximation to the pronunciation you can get from using the phoneme inventory in your mother tongue.
B) Obsessing about getting a "perfect" accent as a prerequisite for getting exposed to the language intendint it to get it right once and for all, which just doesn't work in most cases (there are some exceptions, of course).
This is a list of techniques (rather than "tricks") that I use:
- Of course, listen to the language and try to imitate the sounds, intonation, ...
- I practice not only in conversation but also by reading aloud or even repeating syllables, words, sentences, ...
- I do find useful to read descriptions of the phonemes, which include transcription ot IPA, explanation of place and mode of articulation, what you feel when you pronounce the sounds, and so on. Good descriptions are hard to find but they do exist. There are a variety of resources from academic descriptions to gifted teachers who are able to give you useful clues to resources for singers. Yes, they must pronounce very accurately when they sing in other languages. I've found a few very useful explanations for singers wanting to perform in German and French, for example.
In general, I consider the pronunciation of a foreign language to be a kind of athletic skill and I train it accordingly. For example, when I learn skiing techniques or dancing moves or workout techniques, I like to get a clear image of what I want to achieve, get to know the technique, get some mental clues and then go and practice the movement with those clues in mind, then find out what I do wrong, go back, clear up doubts, try again and so on and on.
When I'm learning I go from a "conscious" idea to what I want to achieve to the practice of the skill and then compare my performance with my intended result. The final goal is to go associate movement with a sensation. In the case of the pronunciation is the association of the movement of the mouth and other organs with the sound you hear. Once that association is automatic and reliable you can consider that you've "mastered" that particular phoneme. The next step is to try and use it in conversation, which may take a while.
One more interesting fact about pronunciation training: research shows that very often being able to pronounce a new phoneme accurately occurs _before_ you are able to recognize it when you hear it. That is, learning pronunciation can improve your listening comprehension and not only the other way around. This is sometimes called "listening with your mouth". For example Japanese speakers learning English typically learn to pronounce "l" and "r" correctly before they can tell them apart in other people's speech. This goes on to show the interdependence of the different skills involved in learning a language. Indeed "speaking helps learning" as you pointed out.
I'll give you a couple of examples of "phoneme descriptions" that I find useful. From your profile I suppose that you're a native English speaker who's main target language right now is Ukrainian. Am I correct?
If so, I'll give you one example of a useful description of a tricky English phoneme and then an example of a useful description the pronunciation of the "ы" sound in Russian (which is like the "и" in Ukranian) and of the difference between "soft" and "hard" consonants, again from the point of view of Russian but that can be also applied to Ukranian.
- Pronunciation of Russian ы / Ukrainian и:
- Hard/soft consonants. This is particularly good IMO and very detailed because it goes through every single consonant pair. Even so, I have combined this resource with others and I have practiced very extensively this particular critial and complicated pronunciation point:
- American English "stop T":
In general, that channel (Rachel's English) has loads of useful explanations for the pronunciation of American English, it combines IPA transcriptions with mouth diagrams, explanations of the articulation and exercises and it discusses everything from schwa pronunciation to sentence stress. This is exactly the kind of description that I try to apply to my pronunciation practice.
Thank for your in depth answer. I'm learning English and trying to sound natural. It somehow doesn't work for me with pure mocking. Trying to reach it through sentence stress and connected speech.
Pronunciation comes from literarily developing and retraining muscles in your mouth to function differently when you speak a different language. The best bet for good pronunciation is lots of listening and lots of speaking.
The good news is that humans have evolved to mimic our environment in an effort to fit in. The more you listen, the more you'll cement in your brain what "proper" pronunciation is and the more your mouth with try to achieve the same sound as your brain remembers as proper.
t_harangi, do you recommend a silent period for developing listening skills before opening your mouth?
There is definitely nothing wrong with having a silent period -- but to say I "recommend" it would be perhaps too much. The way I would put it is this: There are benefits to speaking early, but it's not a big deal if you don't speak early. Depending on your study method and location etc. you may end up being silent for a while, and that's OK.
But then again, this is one benefit to starting out with an Assimil type program where you do reading, listening, and repeating out loud, then shadowing text etc. so you're at least practicing speaking out loud on your own, even if you don't get to do it in an interactive way. You can also do this with the Mini Stories, or any other content.
Thanks for your informative reply as always.
'Mimic' sounds quite natural. Thanks for that insight.
Thanks, it totally makes sense. But it's still overwhelming like... just listen to Steve Vai and mimic... its a matter of training our finger muscles, you know ))
I know that there are those who think pronunciation is not that important but I am not one of them. For me, when your own pronunciation is better, others are able to understand you better as well. Of course, how well you speak depends on your level. If you have a heavy accent as a beginner, then people afford you a lot of slack, but as your knowledge increases, your pronunciation should improve. Some improvement may occur effortlessly as you listen more to native speakers, but I have found that some deliberate, conscious attention and practice is also necessary and should occur before your incorrect pronunciation hardens (ossifies) and is harder to change.
A compelling reason to pay attention to one's pronunciation from the beginning is that it helps your own memorization of words and phrases and your understanding of native speakers. Two years ago I discovered in a scholarly article that there is a link between pronouncing something out loud and memorizing it. It was a turning point for me. I realized that I had to pronounce out loud the long Russian words that I had previously stumbled over and could never remember. (I knew them when I read them but could never remember them well enough to use them.) The first week, it was a chore to say all new vocabulary out loud -- particularly long words -- but over time, doing so (however many times it took me to say it without hesitation) DID work and it became much easier to remember all new vocabulary. I also deliberately wrote less as a way of practicing vocabulary and grammar and instead relied on saying things out loud to learn them. The improvement was dramatic. I not only could speak with greater ease, but could easily learn new, long words and my listening comprehension improved as well. Gosh, I thought, I should have done this from the beginning!
Regarding techniques, I found it very effective to listen to lessons on my phone where one sentence at a time is displayed. I listened to what the narrator said and repeated it out loud based on what I heard, not based on what I read. (For some reason this is easier to do when I am doing something else -- e.g., cleaning, gardening, walking the dog -- since my hands are occupied and I have no choice but to LISTEN and REPEAT.) Thus, I am focused on pronunciation and intonation, not what the words LOOK LIKE. I do this only after I know a lesson well and for those that have vocabulary that is conversational -- i.e., that I want to use when speaking. (I don't do this with newspaper articles but with Youtube videos in which a native speaker talks about something in a casual way.) This is not easy to do and so I do it for however long or short I want.
In Russian in particular, learning how a specific word is pronounced is not enough to understand it in conversation since what words precede and follow it affects pronunciation. Moreover, where a stress is can change with grammatical case. Thus, I find that learning and repeating short, commonly used phrases is much more effective both in terms of improving my listening comprehension and pronunciation (as well as for reinforcing grammatical patterns) because that is how the words appear in conversational usage.
Another change I made is that I switched to only using the dictation function on LingQ as a way of testing and reinforcing my listening comprehension AND my pronunciation (when I do this exercise I repeat all answers out loud). (Be careful however because sometimes the Google voice is incorrect so always use the native speaker's pronunciation.)
Finally, another reason I think pronunciation is important is because it affects your interactions with native speakers. Again, I'm not talking about a rank beginner but when you are at the intermediate level and higher, your pronunciation does broadcast how much you care about speaking well which involves not merely getting the grammar right, but also respecting/noticing how the target language is DIFFERENT from your own and embracing that difference. I am not saying that anything less than native-like pronunciation is not acceptable. However, when your pronunciation is poor, then you remain "other," "foreign" which is ok for asking directions and reading a menu but is not what I am seeking when learning a foreign language. For me, pronouncing a foreign language as well as I can improves my ability to connect with native speakers, that is, having a meaningful conversation with someone at length. I am an anthropologist and conduct interviews as part of my professional work. I know from experience that there are many factors that contribute to how well I am able to connect with a person from another region, profession, ethnic background, or country. Last year (right before Covid) I went to Spain on vacation, eager to test the results of my work in Spanish, using LingQ during the previous year to boost what had been an intermediate level. (I had written about these strategies on the forum.) I was thrilled with the results; I had several long conversations with native speakers in Spanish which were the highlight of my trip. For me, good pronunciation is part of the package of language learning.
Thanks for this incredible novel big answer!
I tend to believe that speaking helps learning. Lets look at it this way, speaking is prior to reading historically. Apparently, the next language learning theory will put listening and speaking on top of reading and writing )))
I don't think the pronunciation is very important for you.
It's much more important than native speakers can understand you and you can understand them.
I don't believe than the grown-up learners can obtain the same pronuncian as the native speakers.
Only when you live in a new country since your childhood, you can achieve it.
But by more and more listening you can gradually improve your pronunciation up to a good level.
A large active vocabulary is more important for language learners.
Maybe, but do you really believe that listening might somehow improve pronunciation? I mean listening to music brings me new ideas what to play but never improves my performance. Why would listening improve pronunciation? )
Because you have to hear what it sounds like in order to reproduce it. Then you have to reproduce it a lot.
I'm not a musician myself, but I find it shocking that one could not improve playing a song he's working on by listening to someone better, especially the original artist, playing it. The more you observe and practice anything, the better you get--with my pretty much anything.
To answer your OP, pronunciation is not THAT important to me insofar as I do want to learn the proper what to pronounce the words in the sense that they are clear and understood by native speakers. However, I do not need to be indistinguishable from a native speaker. That seems to be very rare, and unnecessary.
What I've seen people suggest, including the Master himself, is to listen to the same amount of content, over and over again, being hyperfocused on how each sound is produced.
For me in Spanish, I'll listen to content and even choose to mimic the "Castillian" Spanish accent, but that's about it.
Listening to music definitely improves performance. The voice is an instrument.
I know a lot of R&B classics from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Some I haven't heard in years, but I can replicate them a cappella fairly faithfully or sing along when they're played with a decent impression of the voices, even if I haven't heard the songs in a long time. I can do the same with my favorite French songs.
Reading is like sheet music. You can come close to 100% correct pronunciation, but there's nothing like hearing a native pronouncing what you're reading. Hearing the words sung in an arrangement that appeals to you is even better.
I think there are advanced L2 learners who get comfortable speaking however they want to, as long as they're understood. I definitely sound like an American when I speak French but I sound much better when I'm singing one of my favorite songs.
There's probably a good explanation why my brain insists I replicate lyrics in music as faithfully as possible, but decides to relax into an American comfort zone when speaking. I don't know what that reason is, but it's true for me.
Your comparison with listening to music is very strange for me. But even in this case e.x. the Beatles were listening tons and tons to American music and then they became ready to create your own melodies.
And listening to sounds and words following by imitating them helps the babies to obtain their native language.
Though I'm a language teacher, I hate all these artificial exercises how to put the tongue in your mouth to pronounce better this or that sound. For me it's a nonsense!..
Only listening and imitation the native speakers can really help you to have good pronunciation!
I mean watching a game doesn't necessarily make you a good player
Alas, my profile is project management and pronunciation is very important for me )