Recently, a lot of people have asked me about how to improve their English pronunciation.
It's a difficult thing for almost everyone. So I contacted 27 English-teaching experts from around the world and asked them this one question:
Can you suggest one tip that can make a big difference to my English pronunciation?
Here's the advice they have for you: 27 tips on how you can improve your English pronunciation today.
Cara is the online listening teacher, helping upper-intermediate to advanced learners finally understand spoken English, particularly the informal conversational kind, no matter the accents involved. Find her at Leo Listening.
What makes the difference for me, with my French, is I feel integrated into French society. I like living here and I want to blend in. I believe my accent has naturally become more native-like because I want to sound like a local. A communication theory called accommodation theory suggests that when we want to reduce differences with our conversation partner, we adapt our speech, including accent, to sound more like the person we’re talking to.
If you do want to reduce your accent, get connected to English-speaking culture and people. Are you obsessed by films and TV series from the English-speaking world? Do you have friends in the UK or US? Would you like to sound like them? Or do you want your native accent to stand out? Neither decision is right or wrong. But it’s worth remembering that your accent is a way to show you belong to a particular group of people who you identify with.
If you feel like a part of the culture, you’ll improve your pronunciation.
Cecilia has been an EFL teacher since 1993 and is very passionate about it. She’s a teacher trainer and materials writer and is currently the academic coordinator at Cultura Inglesa Madalena, in her hometown of Recife.
The key when talking about pronunciation is intelligibility. There are many different accents and we bring characteristics of our own first language (and its pronunciation) when we speak, and that's part of the beauty in it. You have to "own" your English and not be too concerned about sounding like this or that person.
To work on intelligibility, I usually repeat new words a few times after checking their pronunciation in a dictionary -- preferably one that has the audio of the word being spoken. And I always ask my English-speaking friends (native or not) to correct me if they notice me making a mistake while speaking.
Be proud of your accent! Focus on being understood, not on sounding “native.”
Find a YouTube video in English that has lots of dialogue, or better yet, a short speech. If the clip you've chosen has captions, great. If not, listen until you can write down a few of the sentences you hear and get someone to check them for you.
Later, practice saying the lines into a recording app on your mobile phone. Then check what you've recorded against the YouTube clip. Repeat the process until you are satisfied with your results. I often use this method when I'm trying to improve my pronunciation in a language I'm learning.
Record yourself and compare it to a YouTube video.
Daniel is a bestselling author, blogger, language trainer and social entrepreneur. He writes books in Spanish that have helped thousands of English learners from Spain and Latin America improve their English. He also runs a Spanish-language site, ¡Aprende más inglés!, with English grammar tips, learning strategies and the occasional article about his beard.
I think the biggest thing you can do to improve your pronunciation is learn the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). It’s really hard to pronounce all of the different sounds of English if you’re not even aware how many sounds there are, and if you don’t know how to represent them in writing. Learning the IPA can be a bit difficult at first, but having a handle on it will help you immensely later on.
Learn the International Phonetic Alphabet.
Eva has been working in education for almost 15 years. In 2008 she founded a private language school, Oros Learning Centre, in Slovakia. She now works as an online English teacher, teacher trainer, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She has just recently founded an online language school called ELA- English Language Academy.
Sing your way to natural English pronunciation.
Music is a powerful tool that can not only help to reduce stress in your life but also help with your English pronunciation. Therefore, I think that singing and pronunciation are just a perfect fit. Songs are a good way to practise vowel and consonant sounds and they also help with rhythm and intonation.
Surprisingly enough, we listen to music daily and many times find ourselves singing the same songs over and over. Sounds familiar? There you go, this is your chance! Why not perfect your pronunciation with your favourite tune? Pay closer attention to the rhythm, concentrate on the sounds and repeat what you hear. There is nothing better than learning English with the song you love. Go ahead, give it a try and remember that practice makes perfect.
Sing, sing, sing!
Fiona has worked in ELT for over 25 years and is a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer based in Cáceres, Spain.
I thoroughly recommend using the voice recorder on your smartphone. Record yourself in class, at home, in the car. Then play it back. Most people are exposed to enough English nowadays to know what it should sound like, but we often have a weakness when it comes to what WE sound like. Listen to yourself then work on the weak areas -- you can find plenty of help in books and online with getting your mouth in the right place.
Record yourself and listen back.
Hugh is a teacher and trainer with 25 years' experience, the co-author of the five-level General English series, Outcomes, and the methodology book, Teaching Lexically. He also runs Lexical Lab, a language school in London offering, among other things, summer schools for teachers and students, and online language development classes.
One amazing app that can help you hear better is a thing for iPads called Cool Speech, which I can't recommend enough. It features a wide range of accents and allows you to slow speech down so you can hear what actually happens to words when we join them together in normal-speed speech.
My tip would be to stop worrying about the idea of having a native-speaker accent. Everyone has an accent that reflects where they're from -- me included. There is no perfect accent; natives have countless different accents themselves and if you sound like where you're from that's because that's where you're from!
Use the Cool Speech app to analyse your pronunciation.
Don't guess how a word should sound; look it up! English pronunciation is tricky because you can't just see a word and know how to say it if you haven't heard it before!
I suggest using forvo.com to check pronunciation. Forvo is an online database with recordings of thousands of words spoken by native speakers. Just look up the word you want to hear and voila! -- you can hear how natives in different countries pronounce it!
Check the word on forvo.com
Jennifer runs English Laboratory, an online method to achieve English fluency.
It’s all about the tonic (the strong sound). Every word has a tonic. The tonic is the most important syllable in the word. It is longer and louder than the other syllables. It contains 80% of the message. Here's a quick system to find the tonic:
|First syllable||Third-last syllable|
|Words ending in -cy, -ty, -phy and -gy|
Words ending in -al
|Second-last syllable||Last syllable|
|Words ending in -ic|
Words ending in -sion and -tion
Note: English is the language of exceptions; these ‘rules’ work 60-80% of the time.
An important tip for pronunciation is to record yourself speaking! Recording yourself will give so many self-study benefits. You can 1) check your accuracy when comparing your text with a native speaker or teacher, 2) use it for progression checks over the months you're studying (i.e. do you notice improvement?) and 3) get confidence speaking aloud and hearing your own voice.
Think about it -- if you're uncomfortable speaking into a recording device and listening back, how can you speak confidently with others in the real world?
Record yourself and gain confidence.
You’ve probably learned that you need to hold English vowels a little longer than you’re used to, but what you might not have learned is that you also need to shape the vowel sound with your lips to make it sound natural in English.
When pronouncing the long vowels a, e, and i (/ey/ /iy/ and /ay/), you need to finish the sound by gliding your mouth into a “y” shape. Your mouth and lips will shape into a “v” and you’ll look like you’re smiling.
When pronouncing the long vowels o and u (/ow/ and /uw/), be sure to finish the sound by gliding your mouth into a “w” shape. Think of a fish breathing and opening and closing its mouth!
Once you start adding this shaping to the end of your long vowel sounds, you’ll notice an immediate difference in your pronunciation and accent. Want more help? You can watch a video where I demonstrate the difference here.
Learn how to use these vowel sounds.
1. Choose an accent you want to copy and base all efforts on mimicking that one. Accent will fool people you have better English than you have, even if you make mistakes in grammar, etc.
2. Use dictation apps (like Apple Dictation) that write what you say to practice the same phrases again and again until the dictation app writes exactly what you're saying. (You will have to speak slower than regular speed as the software is not so good that it can cope with words spoken quickly.)
3. Take short sections from TV shows or films and record yourself repeating phrases until you can hear that they sound the same. Copy stress, pauses, sounds.
4. Consider hiring a voice coach like actors do when they're learning an accent for a film. Typically, language teachers do not have enough expertise to teach you how to copy an accent and most have very limited training in pronunciation.
Copy the people who you want to sound like.
Lisa from English Tower
The internet has a wide range of resources available to the student. As a teacher (as well as a language learner who has problems with Spanish pronunciation!!) I have found YouTube extremely useful.
I recommend finding a site or video channel or podcast that you like. Listen to the audio and repeat the speakers' words. If you can, record yourself. Try to repeat the same words a few times. This will help you 'feel' the sounds of the words and the intonation (musical ups and downs) of the English language.
Try to “feel” the sounds of the English language.
Luis is the owner of KSE Academy, a small English language school based in Granada, Spain. KSE Academy is the result of Keep Smiling English blog, which started in March 2015 offering free English learning articles, videos and resources. In June 2016, Keep Smiling English made Bab.la's Top 25 Language Learning Blogs list.
Luis Porras Wadley
If you really want to boost your pronunciation skills, you must do at least these two things:
1. Get as much speaking practice as you can. You should go on language exchange sessions and make the most of them.
2. Learn about speech shadowing and get into the habit of doing 3 or 4 short speech shadowing sessions a week.
If you do these two things regularly, you will notice the difference in pronunciation and fluency in no time!
Practise speaking as much as possible.
Marek is a teacher, teacher trainer and founder of TEFL Equity Advocates, where he also delivers online courses for English teachers. He has delivered workshops, seminars and talks at many international conferences and events for English teachers. He also co-authors a regular podcast about teaching and learning English at The TEFL Show.
Having a foreign accent OK. Seriously. Foreign accents are lovely. After all, you sound Spanish, Polish or Chinese, because this is where you're from. No reason to be ashamed of it.
Most researchers agree that intelligibility and accent are two different things. In other words, you can have a foreign accent when speaking English, but this does NOT mean that people are less likely to understand you. In fact, it's actually 'native speakers' who are notorious for being the least understood in international settings.
So don't stress about sounding foreign. Focus on intelligibility. And learn to appreciate your accent as an important part of who you are as a second language user.
Focus on intelligibility.
Mau is an instructional designer, content creator, teacher trainer, educator and edupreneur. He has been teaching since he was 17, and working with e-learning since 2004. For the past 5 years, he’s been the CEO and creator of www.tripppin.com
Everyone hears sounds differently, so write down words and phrases that you have trouble saying, and next to each word/phrase write down how you would spell the pronunciation.
e.g. I like you (ai-lai-kee-u).
Then compare with friends.
Write down the “sound.”
Listen to English as much as you can and start imitating your favorite native speakers, like actors or actresses. My English teacher friends call this "shadowing."
What you do is watch a short scene from a TV program a few times. Then, play it again and hit the pause button just after the actor speaks. Then repeat what he/she said and try to match the sound, speed and intonation as best as you can. Then repeat this process with the next line or scene.
Imitate your favourite English speakers.
I have several tips for good pronunciation, but the most important one is simply to listen, and listen and listen again... Nothing is as helpful as intensive listening, no matter what one's level is.
After an intensive listening session, it's good to record yourself, and to compare your pronunciation to native speaker models. For the "L," "R," and "TH" sounds, it's good to look at pictures or videos showing what a native speaker's mouth looks like when pronouncing these sounds.
There are other tips to be learned but the importance of intensive listening in very regular practice sessions cannot be overemphasized.
Listen as much as you can and as intensively as you can.
Having a good accent in English isn't just about pronouncing the sounds correctly by yourself. When you're talking with native speakers, you're under a lot of pressure, and you don't always have time to think about perfect pronunciation.
Therefore, it is vital to spend as much time as possible in conversation with people, having fun, relaxing and enjoying yourself.
If you do that regularly, you will quickly learn to get your pronunciation right under pressure, and develop a natural accent at the same time.
Try to talk with native speakers as much as you can.
Rob is the owner of Online Language Center and the founder of EFLtalks. He is a teacher and writer for EFL and a consultant and speaker regarding online retention, using technology in and out of the classroom and the importance of the proper usage of images and film for learning.
My favorite tool for improving pronunciation is your cellphone. Use your voice recorder to practice speaking and listen critically to yourself and use speech to text apps to see if the app can understand the words. Repeat until perfect.
Use speech to text apps to test your pronunciation.
Focus on the high tones to sound much more natural when speaking English. The important information words in English sentences have MUCH higher tone on them than the rest of the words.
For example, try saying this sentence like a robot:
I. LOVE. COOKING. BUT. I. DON'T. LIKE. TO. COOK. EVERY. DAY.
Now, try it again and say the capitalized words with higher tone:
I love COOKING, but I DON'T like to COOK EVERY day.
Great! Which sounds more natural to you?
Pay attention to the strong sounds.
Sam is an English lecturer and tutor from the UK who specialises in two areas: making academic English easy to use, and making it easy to self study successfully. To learn more about him, check out his site English For Study.
My advice has two parts: first, find your mistakes, and then target them with focused practice.
The first thing you do is find your mistakes. Get a piece of audio with a transcript. Record yourself reading out the transcript, and then compare your recording to the original audio. When you’re comparing your recording and the original audio, make a note of any differences between them. You want to note down any sounds or words that you say differently from the recording.
The second part is focused practice. The focused practice changes depending on if you make a mistake with a word or with a sound. If it’s just a word or a phrase that you pronounce differently, use ‘listen and repeat’ on those parts of the recording. This’ll help to train your mouth and your ear.
If you notice that you mispronounce a specific sound (such as ‘v’ in ‘vase’ or ‘th’ in ‘thank you’), do some research into that sound. Look for things like tongue position, lip position and a description of how to actually make the sound. Then practice making the sound in different words. The Pronunciation Studio is a website that I recommend for their descriptions and audio.
Record yourself copying other speakers to find your mistakes, then practice correcting the mistakes.
Seonaid from Perfect English Grammar
I think we should all add audio to our flashcards. I use Anki all the time to learn vocabulary and I've found when I add audio (so I hear the phrase at the same time as reading it), it really helps with my pronunciation.
Use flashcards and add audio to them.
Shanthi is an independent Business English Trainer with a background in finance. She teaches professionals 1-1 offline through her home stay full immersion courses in the UK and online through her specialist online programs on business skills at English with a Twist.
Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat
Pick a native speaker of English you like listening to (on the radio, TV and so on). Try to find something on YouTube. Listen to how they speak. Then copy them. While copying them, record yourself. Then play it back and listen and compare your pronunciation to theirs. If it's not similar, repeat. Keep repeating the exercise until you feel satisfied.
Copy the native speakers on TV or the radio. Repeat!
Shayna is the founder of Espresso English, a popular website and YouTube channel with more than 100,000 students. She has a CELTA certification for teaching English as a Second Language, and her students love her clear, straightforward, and friendly lessons.
Shayna from Espresso English
Practice "shadowing." Here's how to do it: get an audio of a native English speaker, listen to just the first phrase, and pause it. Then repeat the phrase aloud, trying to imitate the native English speaker's pronunciation and intonation as closely as you can. Keep listening, pausing and repeating for the whole audio. Practice "shadowing" for 15 minutes every day and you'll see your pronunciation improve.
Find some audio of people speaking English and copy it as closely as you can.
A fun way to work on English pronunciation is to practice mindful imitation. Choose a short interval (5 seconds) from a real English source (movie, talk, podcast). Close your eyes. Listen to that interval a few times. Then listen and imitate. Listen and imitate. Repeat a few times. Record results. Forget about pronunciation rules, phonetics, or spelling. Just listen, imitate and have fun. Do it often.
Forget the rules - just listen and imitate!
Vanessa from Speak English with Vanessa
To improve your pronunciation, I recommend using the shadowing technique. This means that you imitate a native English speaker directly after they speak. You can listen to one word or a full sentence and repeat after the speaker. When you try to match the intonation and specific pronunciation of that native English speaker, you can quickly learn which sounds you need to work on more. I recommend shadowing for at least five minutes once a week. It's harder than it seems, but it'll be worth it when your pronunciation improves!
Copy a native speaker to learn which sounds you need to work on.
Gabriel is the Clark behind Clark and Miller, an online English school offering offering one-to-one English lessons and a free weekly blog with a different take on all things English learning. He has a CELTA and has just completed his Master's in English teaching, and has over 12 years' experience teaching English to students from all over the world.
Finally, my contribution!
How did English sound to you before you learned it? Did you make fun of the sound of English when you were a kid? Remember how that sounded to you.
When I was learning German, I had trouble with the pronunciation. Now, English people have a history of making fun of the German accent because it sounds so strong to us. To get a good German accent, I found that if I exaggerated the sound and spoke like I was making fun of it, I got the accent right.
Remember how English sounded to you when you were a kid. Make fun of it! You’ll be surprised that it makes your English pronunciation better (and it’s enjoyable)!
Make fun of the English accent.