Clients at Change Your Accent often ask us how accent reduction, and the English pronunciation of words in particular, can help them improve their English speaking skills. In our book “Change Your Accent: English Pronunciation for Success” we outline the following three steps which can help people learn how to improve English pronunciation.
- Learn How English Sounds are Made
English pronunciation requires an understanding of how speech sounds in English are made. For consonants, you must learn where the sound is made in your mouth, how the sound is made, and whether your vocal cords are vibrating or not. For vowels, you must learn how high your tongue is in your mouth, whether your tongue is in the front, middle or back of your mouth and whether your lips are rounded or not.
- Test Each Sound in Single Words
Next, to improve English pronunciation, you must test each sound when you say single words. It’s important to test consonants in the initial and final positions of words (for example, if you are testing the p-sound, try saying “pam” and “lap”). Pay particular attention to testing vowels since they contribute so much to clear speech. You might want to have a native English speaker help you to decide if you are saying the sound correctly. It can also be useful to learn which sounds are most problematic for speakers of your native language. For example, this blog outlines common sounds errors for Cantonese and Mandarin speakers. This blog lists common sounds errors for Indian speakers.
If your pronunciation of English words contain a lot of errors (over 30%), you might want to consider more formal programs with a speech therapist who specializes in accent modification, such as the ones offered at Change Your Accent.
- Correct Error Sounds
Once you know which English sounds you are pronouncing incorrectly, you have to change how you pronounce those sounds. Focus on only a few sounds at a time and choose sounds that are used often in English (e.g., the th-sound). Learn how to correctly say the sound on its own first. It can be helpful to use a mirror, record yourself and copy a native English speaker. Once you can easily say the sound correctly on its own, you can begin to work on pronunciation of English words. When you choose words to practice, make sure they are not too long. Never move on to more complicated pronunciations tasks until you’ve mastered simpler tasks.
When you can easily pronounce the English sound correctly on its own and in single words, then you should practice correcting the sound in sentences and paragraphs while reading aloud. When you can easily say the sound correctly when reading aloud, then it’s time to focus on how to improve English pronunciation in conversation. We have found it helpful to keep a list of common everyday words and phrases which contain your target sounds and also to focus on words you use frequently with your target sounds (for example, if you have trouble saying the n-sound and you live in New York, you will want to focus on saying New York correctly in conversations).