Although the recipe for success is relatively easy, not everyone might be determined enough. The good news is that virtually everyone may reduce their non-native accent after a month. And that without leaving home.
To start with, it will be helpful if you realise 3 facts:
- English sounds are different than sounds in your language
- the English language has its own melody
- the pronunciation of the entire sentence differs from the pronunciation of words said separately
Bearing that in mind, I provide you with a few ideas which will enable you to improve your pronunciation up to the level where you will not sound “non-native” in English anymore.
1. Vowels & consonants
In English vowels are often strongly reduced, consonants, however, are pronounced quite clearly – try to speak exactly like that 🙂
Non-native speakers might encounter problems with the pronunciation of the English “r”, which is quite different than in other languages. In order to pronounce the English “r” correctly you need to slightly round and widen your lips, move it forward and move the tip of your tongue in the direction of your palate (remember not to touch your palate; put the tip of your tongue deeper than in the pronunciation of “l”) – now your “r” will sound much more “English”. More on “English ‘r’” here.
You should remember that in the British variety of English “r” is not pronounced when it appears before a vowel. Instead, the vowel following “r” is pronounced as a long sound (e.g. a long ɔ: in “board”).
Improve the pronunciation of “-ing” and “-ng” – very popular endings. It’s about the nasal /ŋ/. A useful tip is to start to pronounce “n” and just start to pronounce “g” stopping the articulation.
Although “th” letters next to each other are very popular in English, non-native speakers find it difficult to pronounce this sound correctly. “th” in English may be voiced (ð) or unvoiced (ɵ). When the sound in unvoiced (ɵ) the solution is quite simple – pronounce the sound in such a way that the tip of your tongue is stuck a little bit outside of your mouth (you may exaggerate at the beginning so that you get used to it). “th” is pronounced as ɵ in the following words: think, thing, thank, Thursday and birthday. In case of ð, the tip of your tongue should touch the back of your teeth (once you learn how to pronounce ɵ, ð should be produced automatically – just because you need to use your vocal cords to produce ð). “th” is pronounced as ð in the following words: this, that, they and without.
Final devoicing at the end of a word does not exist in English (in contrast with other languages) – thus the word “dog” end with a real “g”, and not the unvoiced “k” (which could be said by some non-native speakers). A voiced sound should stay voiced at the end of a word.
6. stress in a sentence
Stress in a sentence – generally the following words should be stressed: nouns, verbs (not modals), adjectives, adverbs and all the words you find important.
If you want to “feel” the rhythm and melody of English sentences, just try to pronounce syllables high and low alternately.
It’s an easy, universal and extremely effective technique, however it demands a little time. In short, it’s about following the pronunciation of a native speaker in a precise way, simultaneously with listening. The most useful video for this purpose would be the one where the face of the speaker is clearly visible. Thanks to the sight of the face you can imitate the mimics. It’s not only about empathising (although it might be really useful – non-native people who speak with a native-like accent often admit to “have stolen” the foreign personality); it’s also about seeing when a native-speaker opens or round their lips etc. – if you imitate it, you’ll speak like them.
It’s important that the short film you want to watch is interesting, so that you do not get bored. Interesting speeches or even films with a lot of dialogues can be good for these purposes. Also podcasts may be handy. In the last case, you won’t be able to see the face of the speaker, but it can be more practical for some people. I wrote about choosing the right short films here.
When it comes solely to the pronunciation – you can read with the lector or say the words simultaneously with them without any crib sheet (although the last one is more difficult, it does have its additional advantages – we learn how to think in a foreign language). You should record at least your first utterance (listen to the lector on the headphones) and the last one – you’ll see a great difference. When you record shorter utterances (you can practice not only with sentences or speeches but with single sounds or words), it seems reasonable to play the recordings and compare your version with the original one each time; listen what’s wrong and correct yourself, then again and again. Generally you should do this exercise until you feel content with the result. Just a few sessions like this can generally improve your pronunciation.
As everyone knows, the key to the correct pronunciation is listening:) Not just listening, but careful listening. This exercise is a little bit similar as the one described above. Here, however, I suggest a slightly different approach to this “carefulness”. What you should do is to note down what you hear. It will be difficult at the beginning, especially if you cannot write without looking at the keyboard, but with time it will get better and better. In order to write something down you need to hear it clearly first. It will allow you to differentiate various specific English sounds. If you know that a sound is not e.g. the same “a” as in your language (as you used to think), but it’s a completely different sound, you’ve already made the first step towards pronouncing the target sound (and not your native sound).
Learn the international phonetic alphabet (IPA)
Learn at least the part of IPA concerning English sounds. In fact that is only a few “strange signs”, but I assure you – learning them is really helpful. You will become aware that in English there are some sounds which are not present in your language and that transcribing the pronunciation in your native language is really harmful (in English there are completely different sounds!). You will always be able to check the correct pronunciation in a dictionary where you’ll find the phonetic transcription. Furthermore, once you’ve learned IPA it will be easier for you to comprehend and learn the rules concerning pronunciation in other languages. You can use this free application in order to learn IPA. You’ll find more on IPA here.
“Calibrate” your speech organ
English people do not have a different speech organ than the rest of the world. They simply use it in a different way. Your tongue, lips etc. are used to your native “configurations”. In order to speak native-like you should learn more on the “configurations” of the tongue and other organs necessary to pronounce an English sound. Luckily there are not too many “knobs” to regulate your speech. Thus, for instance, one English sound may be pronounced in a similar way to its pronunciation in your native language, however with just a small change to the position of your lips or tongue.
Learn the “phonetic crib” by heart
For every sound in IPA remember a short word – repeat it (as mentioned in “shadowing” above) a lot of times comparing your version with the original one – where the main sound is the currently learned sound. Thanks to this, firstly, you will practice it perfectly and secondly, you’ll be able to “replay” the pronunciation of a sound on every occasion.
Always learn a new word with its pronunciation
The pronunciation of some English words may be so crazy that you won’t be able to guess it. It’s not even about the accent but solely about the correct pronunciation. This is why the best option is when the words are already recorded (e.g. VocApp) or we know IPA and so you can check the pronunciation in any reasonable dictionary.
Buy or borrow a book on English phonetics
…equipped with an audio recording. And study the book, obviously. We can recommend e.g. “How Now Brown Cow” or “Ship or Sheep”.
Do you like this article? Like it or share it. If you know some other tricks which help you or you want to ask a question – just leave a comment.