Have you ever spent hours studying English vocabulary only to realise you’re not completely sure how to pronounce any of the words you’ve learnt? Do you struggle with word stress, silent letters or difficult sounds? If so, this is the blog for you. Read on to discover our Brighter English guide to perfecting your pronunciation in 6 easy steps.
1. Get Familiar with the Sounds of English
English isn’t a phonetic language, which means that what you read isn’t necessarily what you say. This is why English pronunciation can be pretty tricky, even for the most advanced students. So it’s important to familiarise yourself with English sounds, and you can do this by getting your hands on a phonemic chart. Every language has one, and every variation of the same language has a different chart. This means if you’re learning British English, you’ll need a British English phonemic chart but if you’re studying American English or Australian English, you’ll need to use a different version.
The chart is made up of different symbols which represent all of the sounds of English. It’s divided into single vowel sounds, double vowels sounds and consonant sounds. Under each symbol is a word which contains that sound, so you can practise it.
You can download a British phonemic chart poster to put on your wall here.
2. Get the App
If you prefer to learn pronunciation on your laptop, phone or tablet, we can recommend Sounds, by Macmillan Education. It lets you learn the phonemic chart in an interactive way - simply click on a sound to listen and repeat. This will help you to discover which sounds you find easy or difficult to pronounce so you can practise them. This fantastic app also features word lists, practice exercises and quizzes, so you can study and have fun at the same time.
You’ll find that most good dictionaries show the words in phonemic script, so by studying the symbols you’ll have the ability to correctly pronounce any new word you learn.
3. Make Pronunciation Part of your Vocabulary
Most people think vocabulary lists are just about learning the meaning and spelling of a word. You’re probably used to writing down an English word and translating it into your language, so you can revise it later. But what if you could write down how to pronounce the word too? That way you’d never forget it!
Here are 3 useful tips to put into practice for your next study session:
Write the phonemic script next to the word. Use the chart to work it out yourself, then use a dictionary to check.
Cross out any silent letters, e.g. ghost, castle, restaurant.
If the word has two or more syllables, mark the stressed syllable by underlining it, e.g. beautiful. The stressed syllable is the one which is stronger, longer and louder than the others.
4. Use a Mirror
You need to use different combinations of your lips, teeth and tongue to make a sound. For some sounds, you need to open your mouth wider, and use your breath and your voice box in different ways. Try making any sounds you find tricky in front of a mirror. When you get it right, pay attention to what your mouth is doing. How far back is your tongue? How close together are your teeth, lips and jaw? Is your voice box vibrating?
Practising the sound over and over, with the correct mouth position will help you to build muscle memory, so when you have a real life conversation, your body will know exactly what to do.
5. Try Tongue Twisters
Don’t worry, we aren’t recommending some kind of medieval torture! Tongue twisters are sentences that include lots of the same sounds. We call them tongue twisters because they are difficult to say – even for English speakers. You probably have lots of these in your language too. Try to practise the ones which include sounds you find the most difficult. Start slowly and see how fast you can say them after ten minutes of practice. They’re great fun to teach your friends and you’ll impress them with your pronunciation skills too.
Try out this tongue twister on our Instagram page, or see if you can work out what the key sounds are in the tongue twister below:
How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
6. Learn with an Online Tutor
Did you know that it’s actually better to study pronunciation with an online teacher than face-to-face in a classroom? Can you guess why? It’s all about the camera. An online teacher can bring their mouth really close to the webcam so you can see exactly how to position your lips, teeth and tongue. You can also show your teacher how you pronounce sounds up close, so they can tell you what to do differently. With students and teachers having to wear masks and practise social distancing in many schools, online English lessons are the perfect way to get your pronunciation on point and still stay safe.
Your online tutor is trained to know which sounds are typically tricky in your language and can teach you specific techniques to overcome your problems. You’ll also be communicating in real life and in full sentences, so your tutor can show you how to link your words together in a more natural way.
If you’re looking for extra help and support with your pronunciation, why not get in touch with Brighter English to see how we can help. Our friendly tutors are experts in speaking skills and can help you achieve your pronunciation goals, whether you want to improve your accent, talk more fluently or practise your real-life conversation skills.
Which tip will you take away and use today? Let us know in the comments.