It's one thing to know how to write English words and another to correctly pronounce them. In fact, it's safe to say that you can't truly speak a language unless you get the pronunciation right! Correct pronunciation determines whether you have clearly communicated a message, and whether your listener understands that intended message.
American English pronunciation requires more skill, especially for non-native speakers. Its wide range of vocabulary, tones, and stress patterns may be significantly different from your native dialect. For example, the Italian language has only 7 vowel sounds, as opposed to 20 vowel sounds found in the English language! Limitations like these may make certain word pronunciations strange and difficult to understand, but this article will show you how to bypass these kinds of challenges and improve your English pronunciation skills with ease.
Just remember: progress will not happen by chance. You must be deliberate and intentional about your English pronunciation practice. Study these 19 techniques to achieve correct English pronunciation in professional and everyday communication.
To tackle a problem, you must first identify its root cause. What are the obstacles you're facing with your English pronunciation? These could be related to your native language or regional background. For example, French, Spanish, and Russian English speakers may find it more difficult to achieve the “th” sound in words. This is because the “th” sound, as pronounced in words like “think” and “this,” does not exist in their native accent.
A pronunciation test or assessment is a great place to get started to help you identify what areas of English you struggle with. For example, on the BoldVoice app, you can do a comprehensive accent assessment where you record your voice, and the Artificial Intelligence will tell you your specific pronunciation strengths and weaknesses, so you know what to focus on in your learning journey.
After identifying your challenge sounds, make a habit of closely listening to native English speakers whenever they pronounce them.
On that note, knowing how to improve English pronunciation depends on how good you are at active listening. You must pay attention to fluent speakers when they talk. A great place to start listening is the news—on the internet, TV, or on social media platforms. Pick out differences between sounds in their speech, no matter how minute they may be. You’ll never know if they said thin or tin unless you pay close attention. Embrace listening to English movie discussions, TED Talks, audiobooks, and podcasts.
To distinguish between sounds like those in thin or tin, practice minimal-pair activities. This simply means identifying, comparing, and mastering similar words that have nearly identical sounds and spellings, but entirely different meanings. For instance, “bark” and “back" only have one sound that's different between them, but that one sound changes the meaning of these words. The better you get at hearing the difference between minimal pairs, the more you'll recognize that you need to make different pronunciations whenever you have to say those words yourself.
As you listen to English news, audio books, or podcasts, try jotting down the information you think the speaker is trying to convey. This not only helps you listen better, but will also refine your English spellings. Also, pick some words and try to break them down by their syllables or sounds. You can do this with words that are difficult for you to pronounce. Soon enough, you’ll find complex words becoming simpler.
Do you have a favorite video, where you admire the speaker's use of the English language? Do you think you can speak like them? Well, you’ll never know until you try and see for yourself. Record a video clip of yourself on your selfie camera where you try to mimic a native. Your source of inspiration may be clips from a movie or an interview featuring an American speaker.
Note how you move your mouth and tongue to achieve certain sounds, and compare yourself with the speaker in the original video. This practice can help you align your speech with natural pronunciation patterns. It will also help you evaluate your progress and identify your weaknesses and strengths.
Imagine yourself speaking English words with steady confidence. And as you imagine this, see yourself with the proper mouth, tongue, and lip positioning. Visualization techniques help you store new words in your memory as well as improve pronunciation in English. This is a mental practice that helps reduce anxiety when speaking because you've already "seen" yourself successfully using the language. You may visualize as many conversations in any scene of your choice.
Improving your English pronunciation skills also involves controlling your speech pace. The faster you talk, the more mistakes you make, especially when you're not fluent in speaking English yet. So learn to think about your words and visualize how you want to sound before talking. When you speak too fast, you are unable to communicate, as listeners may not understand you clearly. Keep in mind that speaking too fast doesn't make you seem confident; you'll only come off as nervous.
Phonetic spellings are one of the easiest ways to learn how to pronounce words. They provide an accurate guide to pronunciation, aiding in the correct use of sounds and reducing mispronunciations.
The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), for example, offers a comprehensive representation of every language with symbols for each sound. For instance, the IPA represents the English sound “th” as /θ/, and it is achieved by putting the tip of the tongue between the teeth. Becoming familiar with this sounds means you can identify this symbol when you come across it. It also means that you understand the sound it represents and will correctly recognize which sound you need to pronounce in words like "Think" /θɪŋk/, "Thank" /θæŋk/, and "Three" /θriː/.
Resources like BoldVoice provide access to a full library of sounds, as shown in the image below, that leverage both IPA and transliteration transcriptions to best suit your learning preferences.
You are your greatest support system, and this is why you should practice more by yourself. Many times, we make avoidable speech mistakes or don't learn quickly enough because we’re afraid to try new things. Even when we learn new words, we’re afraid to use them while communicating with other people. To master how to improve English pronunciation, you must work towards overcoming this fear.
Make it a habit to practice seemingly difficult words on your own by talking to yourself. Do it standing in front of your mirror, in the shower, while taking a stroll, or even during chores. The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll get with these words.
Understanding how your tongue, lips, and mouth ought to move for different sounds is vital for correct English pronunciation.
For example, to create the 'AA' sound, you have to drop your jaw significantly and keep the tip of your tongue touching the back of the bottom front teeth. However, for the 'AH' sound, you need to relax your tongue and lower your jaw slightly. Your mouth will be open, and the sound will resonate from the back of your throat.
Can you see the differences between these mouth shapes? They are key to successfully making the different sounds. If you'd like to learn more information about the mouth movements for English pronunciation, check out this guide on learning the American accent.
Try exaggerating tricky sounds like J and R when communicating because these kinds of sounds are prone to being easily misunderstood. When you exaggerate sounds, your mouth assumes the right shape and form needed to achieve these sounds. In addition, this technique enhances auditory clarity for native speakers and reinforces muscle memory for accurate tongue and mouth positions. When you become articulate, you won't need to make so much effort while speaking.
Check out BoldVoice Coach Eliza Simpson use this technique to review the AA vowel sound.
Understanding when and how to use flapped T's and D's in English is crucial for natural-sounding pronunciation. In American English, flapped T's and D's occur when 'T' and 'D' are pronounced as quick, light taps of the tongue between vowels or near unstressed syllables.
To illustrate, consider the word "water." When pronounced in American English, the 't' in "water" becomes a soft 'd' sound, sounding like "wa-der," with the 'd' being the flapped 't'. Similarly, in the word "better," the 't' becomes a soft 'd' when flapped, and the word sounds like "bedder."
The correct use of flapped T's and D's will significantly improve your pronunciation in American English. It also reduces pauses in speech, allowing your words to flow more naturally and rhythmically.
English spelling can give you clues for the accurate pronunciation of words. Here are a couple spelling guidelines that you may find helpful:
The silent ‘e’ at the end of words can change the way you say the preceding vowel. In the word "cap," for instance, the short AA sound is pronounced. However, when you add a silent 'e' to create "cape," the AA sound lengthens to the EY sound, like in the word "date" and demonstrated in the video below.
The letter 'c' usually makes a soft S sound (as demonstrated in the video below) before 'e,' 'i,' or 'y." Think of the word "city."
The letter 'g' often makes a soft 'J' sound (as demonstrated in the video below) before 'e,' 'i,' or 'y." Think of the word "giant."
If there's an "i" then a consonant and then an "e," that will generally always produce an "ai" sound.
Online dictionaries do more than just translate the meaning of words; they also help you learn how to pronounce words and provide spelling guidance. You can now read the phonetic representation of words, listen to them, and copy the proper way to say them. Here’s the phonetic representation of the word ‘indicate’ as provided by the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Did you know you can alter the contextual meaning of a word if you stress the wrong syllable? In English, stress refers to the emphasis placed on a particular syllable within a word or on specific words within a sentence. Stress patterns are important if you want to properly understand how to improve English pronunciation.
For example, "CONtent," with stress on the first syllable, refers to the subject or material within a book, speech, or webpage. You would use that syllable stress if you wanted to say: "The content of the article was informative." However, "ConTENT" with stress on the second syllable refers to a state of peacefulness and satisfaction. You would use that syllable stress if you wanted to say: "He felt content with his life."
Listen to native speakers and you'll begin to memorize which syllable stress produces which meaning.
You will get the most out of your learning process when you enjoy doing it. Singing along to your favorite American songs is actually a combination of shadowing and listening exercises. Shadowing simply means mimicking native speakers' pronunciation, rhythm, and intonation. To improve your pronunciation in English, curate a playlist and listen to these songs until you can say the words in the exact way that you hear them.
Singing along not only improves your pronunciation but also helps you become more familiar with the stress, rhythm, and flow of English speech.
Practice partners are like your accountability partners. They can correct your pronunciation as you speak by giving you instant reviews and constructive feedback. Seek out a practice partner, whether it's a native speaker or a professional coach, who can offer constructive input and correct your pronunciation as you talk. The only way that you can know for sure that you’re getting better at your pronunciation is through feedback.
Pronunciation apps are valuable tools that facilitate improvement through interactive exercises, audio guidance, and extensive word databases. They enable users to practice and compare their pronunciation with native speakers, contributing to enhanced speech clarity and fluency.
Learning how to improve English pronunciation means being committed to the course. This also means dedicating time and effort to deliberately practice speaking English. Non-native speakers may speak more native dialects at home, making it hard to practice English often. Establish a goal to speak English for a fixed amount of time daily.
Keep in mind that the journey to mastering a new skill, including pronunciation, inevitably involves making mistakes. Do not be too hard on yourself, embrace errors, and never be hesitant to find humor in them. Laughter and a positive attitude are essential components of the learning process!
Perfecting your English pronunciation isn’t a day’s job. It will require a chunk of your time and effort. If you’re inconsistent with learning, it’s easy to waver, progress really slowly, or become stagnant. However, with these 19 techniques in your toolkit, the journey becomes more manageable, efficient, and enjoyable.
Knowing how to improve English pronunciation will boost your speech confidence and help you communicate clearly with both native and non-native English speakers. BoldVoice aims to personalize your learning process so that you can speak everyday English like a native speaker. Start practicing today, and watch your skills soar.