Do you have a hard time pronouncing certain sounds in English? Do you believe that it’s nearly impossible to improve your accent? I´m here to tell you that you can drastically improve your pronunciation in a short amount of time.
It´s going to take an open mind, consistent effort, and experimentation with new strategies, but it’s not as hard as you may believe. With pronunciation, a little effort goes a long way.
You just have to want it bad enough and be consistent on the fundamentals.
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1. Open Your Ears to Youtube & Podcast Pronunciation
There are a lot of very helpful, well-done youtube channels that focus on pronunciation. Beyond our very own Youtube Channel, RealLife TV, which teaches pronunciation in dynamic ways, Rachel’s English is a series of free pronunciation videos that teach phonetics and English pronunciation. Other recommended youtube pronunciation channels are listed below.
Here’s a site that enables you to download and convert youtube videos into MP3 audio format so you can listen in your car or on the bus. It’s recommended to listen to the same sounds every day until you feel like
3 Youtube Channels That Teach Pronunciation
2.Lifestyle English: Listen to Podcasts Every Day
Podcasts Teaching Pronunciation: There are some phenomenal podcasts dealing with pronunciation. Podcasts are free, downloadable audio programs that you can put on your mp3 player. If you’re new to podcasts, you can learn more about podcasts here, or check out our very own podcast, RealLife Radio. They are an excellent option because you can listen in your car or on the bus while you’re stuck in traffic, or whenever is most convenient for you. Here are few recommended podcasts for pronunciation and in general:
- RealLife Radio
- American English Pronunciation (Seattle Learning Academy) has over 150 free downloadable podcast episodes teaching American English pronunciation.
Native Speaking Podcasts: Whether its ESL podcasts (English as a Second Language) or podcasts that are made for Native English speakers, exposing yourself regularly to native speaking speakers will naturally condition your brain to understand and produce the sounds of the language in a more clear and smooth way. Here are 3 very extensive podcast directories that can help you find good native speaking podcasts in English. To learn more about podcasts, read “What is a Podcast, and Why You Should Care”
- NPR Podcast Directory (National Public Radio: American)
- BBC Podcast Directory (British Broadcasting Channel: British)
Improve Your Pronunciation with this scene from Friends TV Series
3. Intonation: Focus on the Music Behind the Words
Whether you pay attention to it or not, the musical element of a language is essential to good pronunciation. You don’t need to become a musician or listen to more music in English (although both of these could help), but you should pay attention to the intonation of native speakers. It is the melodic pattern of the language that is so fundamental to communication and human connection.
If you had to hum the language, what would it sound like? Making this awareness a part of your learning process is important. Check out this youtube video of an Italian group singing in words that don’t exist. The funny part is that it totally sounds like English but they are speaking unintelligible gibberish. If you weren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t notice the difference.
The application is more of an attitude rather than a strategy, as it involves constant awareness rather than routine, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.
4. Practice: Read Out Loud Every Day
I would reserve this one more specifically for people who have already learned some degree of correct pronunciation, because reading without correct pronunciation, or a teacher helping you, you’re just reinforcing poor pronunciation. Before you start, you should at least have some idea of what it feels like to pronounce things correctly.
If your pronunciation level has not been stabilized, I don’t recommend reading for more than 10 or 15 minutes, because people tend to lose their concentration, and go back to their vices (which is to reinforce them). Remember, pronunciation can be improved quite quickly with small, concentrated doses even only a few times per week. Here’s a helpful article on reading out loud.
One way around this, however, is to listen to the audio book while you read the text and imitate the speaker. For greater effectiveness, record yourself speaking and compare it to the audio book.
5. Self-Awareness: Record Yourself Speaking
Record yourself reading out loud on a tape recorder or a computer. At first, it will be really difficult to listen to your own voice. Relax, as you will get used it to pretty quickly.
Most people hate their voice, even in their own native language, so the combination of your voice and hearing yourself speak a foreign language for the first time will be painful, but it’s a necessary step in developing the self-awareness to improve. You could even record yourself reading the same reading passage every day or every week as you implement these techniques.
As mentioned above, recording of a native speaker reading the same passage (such as an audiobook, podcast, or a native speaker friend) could facilitate your process.
Here are a few recommended web sites that focus on pronunciation. Ship or Sheep is a good place to experiment with recording yourself.
6. Imitation, Shadowing, and Role Models
I’m going to break this one up into two categories: (a) language learning role models, and (b) role models to imitate. Both of them can help you become a better speaker, but in different ways.
LANGUAGE LEARNING ROLE MODELS are people in your life who speak well and have worked hard to get there. Maybe it’s a teacher or a friend, but they are someone who has learned through hard work and can explain the process to you.
Even if they don’t have perfect pronunciation, they can help you understand the process and what it takes to improve your pronunciation. Naturally gifted people rarely fall into this category unless they are very aware of the processes that help them speak well, so they would usually be “accent role models to imitate.”
ROLE MODELS TO IMITATE are people with accents that you want to imitate. Native speakers and people who are naturally talented usually don’t understand the processes that guide their pronunciation (although a few do), but they are good role models to imitate.
As you watch TV and movies, choose somebody who has your type of voice, communication style, and who you would like to emulate. If you don’t know, ask your friends to recommend somebody. You could even memorize parts of movies you like, imitating the actors.
The act of imitating somebody speak is called SHADOWING. Check out this helpful video below on the topic.
7. Experimentation: Reverse Accent Mimicry
This is another idea that deserves its own post, but I’m going to post the article and summarize it here. I’ve met several seemingly gifted language learners who swear this is how they learn languages. Here’s a basic summary from the study/ article by Laurence M. Hilton.
Humans possess an innate biological capacity to hear, differentiate and mimic fundamental prosodic and phonological characteristics of any language. My purpose is to describe a mimicry based foreign accent reduction method developed from my own personal experience. I first will present myself as a case study, detailing how using a reverse accent mimicry method rapidly and substantially minimized my own L2 accent. I then will share suggestions for implementing the technique in the classroom or clinic. I have employed it with good success with people from diverse language backgrounds over several decades of clinical experience. Read the whole article
The idea, in a nutshell, is to imitate a native speaker of the language that you are learning, speaking your language, and apply it back to the target language. Let me give you two valid examples.
- If you are Brazilian learning English, you would imitate a native English speaker who is speaking Portuguese, and apply the sounds structure back to English. It sounds like a joke, but if you can effectively imitate a native English speaker speaking Portuguese in the most exaggerated way, it will activate these sounds in your mouth and enable you to use them in English. Here’s a video with native English speakers speaking in Portuguese
- In my case, I am American, so I need to find an example of a Brazilian speaking English with a really exaggerated accent, learn to imitate it, and apply it back to Portuguese.
Does this work? My intuition tells me that it does. It really fits into what I’ve learned from the “master” language learners.
IN CONCLUSION, while the title includes “English Pronunciation,” most of these tips and strategies can be applied to any language. Interestingly, as a native English speaker, I would like to point out that my own best insights and teaching do not come from a superior understanding of the English language, but from my own personal learning processes of Spanish and Portuguese.
Finally, I would like to clarify that my own pronunciation in Portuguese is far from perfect, but in all the years of teaching and learning languages, and observing the best language learners, the answers have been put in front of me.
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This is a continuation of our pronunciation series, and “How to Reduce Your Accent in English,” which addresses some of the attitudes that impede people from improving their pronunciation. Another extremely helpful article that we wrote is “Top 5 Mispronunciations Made By Brazilians”(which covers the sounds: ED, TH, EE at the end of words, CH/SH/T and H vs R).