One of the most challenging aspects of learning English is developing clear pronunciation.
One thing to remember - and it’s something I always remind my students - is that pronunciation is different to accent! When practising pronunciation, the goal is to speak clearly so that people all over the world can understand you.
And here’s the thing: You don’t have to sound like a native English speaker from London to achieve this!
So, how can you improve your pronunciation so that people all over the world can understand you clearly? Below are my five favourite tips for practising and perfecting your English pronunciation! (I also went live on Facebook recently with Hey Lady! Founder, Emma, to share these powerful pronunciation tips - you can watch the recording here!
Get your notepads ready - these tips will transform your English pronunciation!
1. Learn to listen - to yourself and to others!
Observation is key to learning in many areas of our life and your English journey is no exception. If improving your pronunciation is your goal, why not take some time to sit back and observe.
Try observing how others pronounce sounds, words and sentences. After carefully listening to yourself, aim to pinpoint what sounds are difficult for you and then focus your observation on these sounds. What should your mouth look like? Where is your tongue? Should your vocal chords be involved?
It’s also important to observe the facial expressions of the person you are speaking with. If they are smiling and nodding, most likely, they are following along in the conversation.
On the other hand, if their face looks puzzled or expressionless, perhaps you could back up a little in your conversation and focus more on pronunciation. Try the sentence again and see if their facial expression shows understanding and interest.
2. Record yourself speaking
It can be nerve-racking to hear yourself speak English, but recording yourself is a tried and true way to work on pronunciation. When you record yourself and take some time to analyse the recording, it becomes easier to diagnose your troublesome areas.
After you have found a sound (or word) or two that are difficult for you, take some time to practice those sounds and words using your pronunciation resources (more on that below) until you feel like you’re making some improvement. Later, you can record yourself saying the same text again and compare the recordings to notice progress.
Bonus tip for the brave: If you’re having trouble pinpointing your areas of difficulty, consider sharing your recording with a speaking partner. Sometimes having another set of eyes (or ears) can help us discover weak points that we can’t find on our own. This is the beauty of practising and improving your English alongside other people, like we do inside Hey Lady!
3. Practise with the imitation technique
It’s common to learn English visually through printed materials like books, worksheets or blogs! But we all know that sometimes the spelling of a word has nothing to do with how it's pronounced and that’s where the imitation technique comes in.
Instead of learning pronunciation with your eyes, in the imitation technique, you aim to train your mouth with your ears. Listen to a native speaker say a word or a sentence (reading along helps too) and then repeat after them, trying to copy the pronunciation as best as you can.
Inside Hey Lady! every single conversation pack includes a special video where one of our teachers helps you practise the vocabulary words using the imitation technique. You can watch it as many times as you’d like until you’re feeling confident about your pronunciation of those words.
Expert tip: If you’re struggling to keep up with the speaking tempo, try slowing down the playback speed to .5 or .75!
Want to give it a go? Watch the below video and try the imitation technique with mmmEnglish and Hey Lady! Founder, Emma!
4. Print out the IPA & have it with you at all times!
dʊ jʊ nəʊ haʊ tə riːd aɪ-piː-eɪ?
In case you didn’t get that question, it says “Do you know how to read IPA?”
It can be hard to practise pronunciation on your own - after all, how do you know how to pronounce a word if you don’t hear a native speaker say it?
That’s where the IPA comes in! The English language has 26 letters that form about 46 sounds (also known as phonemes) and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) has a symbol for each and every one of those sounds.
Some of the symbols look like “normal” letters, while others are different and will take some getting used to... But, once you get the hang of it, the IPA can be a powerful tool for improving your pronunciation!
That way, when you come across a tricky word, you can look it up in a dictionary (most include an IPA transcription) and be confident that you are pronouncing it correctly. Here at Hey Lady! we also include IPA transcription in all of our vocabulary lists.
Try printing an IPA chart out and keeping it at hand wherever you study English. When you come across a tricky word or sound - you can write it down under its IPA symbol. After some time, you’ll have a group of words that all have the same tricky sound and saying those words together will help your brain remember that they all have the same sound.
Some other helpful tools to support your pronunciation practice!
Google dictionary - Type a word into the search bar and you’ll see its definition, audible pronunciation, IPA transcription, word family and more.
toPhonetics - Enter words, sentences or paragraphs into the box and press “show transcription”. It will show the original text alongside the IPA transcription. It also has the option to hear the text audibly and you can choose between British or American English.
mmmEnglish - Watch Hey Lady! Founder Emma’s YouTube videos focusing on pronouncing vowels and consonants:
- IPA Consonants
- English Pronunciation | Vowel Sounds | Improve Your Accent & Speak Clearly
- The SCHWA Sound! English Pronunciation Lesson
Sounds American - A YouTube channel which has videos for all phonemes in American English.
BBC Learning English - A video containing “The complete guide to British English Pronunciation”
5. Immerse yourself in the language
We all know the fastest and most effective way to become fluent in English is to move to an English-speaking country, but let’s face it, for many of us, that’s simply not an option!
However, thanks to the internet, it’s possible to “live” in English without even being in an English-speaking country.
Instead of watching movies dubbed in your language, why not try watching in English? (subtitles are okay!)
Are you interested in cooking? How about trying to listen to a cooking podcast in English? There are so many incredible resources available right from the comfort of your own home.
Of course, one of the best ways to improve your pronunciation is to practise speaking with other people! Practising with a speaking partner (or several speaking partners!) inside Hey Lady! Is a fantastic way of putting the language into practice, and to connect with like-minded women from around the world. I would love to see you inside the community soon!
Learning to pronounce English words correctly is one of the hardest parts of learning English. But with the right tools and lots of practice, you’ll be surprised how quickly you can improve your pronunciation and speak English clearly and confidently!