10 Tips for Mastering Tricky English Pronunciation

Paying special attention to correct pronunciation in English really pays off

Focus on being clear, not on your accent.

1. Forget your accent-- at least for now.

Focusing on accent must not come ahead of the task of developing pronunciation skills for clear communication in English. A focus on accent can take many forms such as acquiring a new one, simply reducing yours, or even struggling to retain your original accent so as not to lose this aspect of your identity when you speak English.


Good English language pronunciation does not mean losing your first language accent. Of course, you may inevitably "lose" your accent when making certain sounds because doing so will help you pronounce them correctly and be better understood more often. Focus on being understandable, not on your accent.


2. Learn to use the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). Irregular spelling is one of the downsides of learning the English language. Although any learner of any secondary language should learn the International Phonetic Alphabet, learners of English benefit can from it more than most. The International Phonetic Alphabet is used to transcribe sounds. Learners who can read the IPA can "see" the correct pronunciation of words even when it is difficult for them to hear subtler sounds.


Relax and accept that understanding every word you hear is not the goal in learning pronunciation.

3. Just listen--really listen--to us.

Of course, it is more challenging to pronounce words you've rarely or never heard or don't remember hearing. Your brain may not have enough information to allow you to hear these words in your head. The link of listening to speech accuracy cannot be underestimated. Think about it: Babies and very young children listen a lot before they ever speak. As much as possible, allow yourself that luxury.


Sometimes learners quit listening become they become too frustrated. This is a huge mistake. Instead, relax and accept that understanding every word you hear is not the goal in learning pronunciation.


Exercise to improve your listening accuracy: 5 Steps

a) Locate any audio-only, non-visual programming (with a transcript) that really interests you. Try podcasts or an audio book. You can also use the audio track of audio-visual programming.

b) First listen for a little while without trying to understand every word. Gather what you can.

c) Then choose just 30 seconds or less of constant speaking. Listen and re-listen.

d) When you feel ready to try, write what you heard.

e) Use the transcript to check your transcription for accuracy. Use a dictionary to learn each word's definition and how it is written in the IPA.

Although any learner of any secondary language should learn the International Phonetic Alphabet, learners of English benefit can from it more than most.

4. Learn minimal pairs.

Minimal pairs are pairs of words which sound very much alike except for one subtle sound like "better" and "butter" or "sit" and "set." Learning to pronounce these words correctly means first being able to hear the differences.


5. Watch our mouths then watch yours.

Watch the mouths of native speakers when we speak. Take advantage of videos online featuring detailed explanations of the position of the tongue and lips for English pronunciation. Use a mirror to correct the positions of your tongue and lips.


6. Go ahead. Mimic us.

Try this during your listening exercises. Even if you don't understand a phrase you hear, stop listening just for a moment and try mimicking the sounds. Pay special attention to which syllables and words are stressed as well as to the cadence or rhythm. It may help to mimic everything about the speaker including their attitude or gestures.

Do whatever helps even if it makes you feel ridiculous: your goal and how you will feel when you achieve it is far more important.

An exercise in exaggerated pronunciation is necessary to teach your mouth to make new sounds.

7. Exaggerate. Make practicing pronunciation fun--or funny.

To more rapidly develop useful second language speaking skills, you must be willing to look silly. One trick to mastering new pronunciation is to first exaggerate it. Go further than the sound actually requires. If a sound is nasal, make it even more so by sounding like you have a cold in your nose. If a sound requires a slight pop of air, blow harder when you practice it. Don't focus on accuracy now. An exercise in exaggerated pronunciation is necessary to teach your mouth to make new sounds.


8. Ask others (who are more advanced than you are) to demonstrate.

You may know others who share your first language but have more advanced English pronunciation skills than yours. It is very likely that difficult sounds for you were equally difficult for them when they started. Ask them to show you how they began to say particular words more naturally.


9. Create and recreate audio-visual recordings of yourself and review them carefully.

Here is where you get to use all of our audio and visual tips. Remember the mirror? Remember the mimicking? Remember the exaggeration? Choose a phrase or two recorded by a native speaker. This can be from materials specifically created to teach pronunciation or listening, but it can also be from speech recorded for any other purpose from any place such from a YouTube video.


First try writing these phrases in the IPA. After checking your accuracy and correcting it, try using video to record your pronunciation. Say everything in two styles: while exaggerating then relaxing. Really watch and listen to that video to determine what you could do differently to get closer to the real pronunciation.


Remember: your eyes, ears, mouth and brain are always trying to catch up with one another.

10. Stick to it and always recognize when you've achieved a new level of accuracy: celebrate that.

You may not progress as quickly as you wish, but you will make the most progress if you continue to make varied efforts. Remember that your eyes, ears, mouth and brain are always trying to catch up with one another. It is inevitable one may be ahead of the others at any time in the journey. Your best weapon to overcome your challenges in pronunciation is confidence, the confidence that your destiny is to always increase your mastery of English pronunciation.


Thanks for reading, watching, and for listening. Thanks for learning our language and for making it yours too.

Got a weekend? Relax. Layer Up your English!

Parlay Vacay offers

  • In-person structured immersion experiences for small groups at great destinations. Vacation with tutors!

  • Online live tutoring & coaching

For more information, please CONTACT us or email us at info@parlayvacay.com

  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Quora-icon
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Tumblr
  • Pinterest