The Dos and Don’ts of Pronunciation
Following my blog on why you should bother studying pronunciation, I am here with more tips and advice on what to do and not to do to work on your pronunciation. My list is not meant to overwhelm, your practice won’t change overnight, why don’t you choose the tip you found most useful and work that into your study?
Do some listening to help your pronunciation
As I mentioned in my free guide to pronunciation, you need to work on your listening in order to improve your pronunciation. You can get that guide here.
When you listen, you are making yourself aware of sounds, stress and intonation subconsciously. So choose something you enjoy, maybe even set a SMART goal, you can read how to set a good SMART goal in our September newsletter here.
Could you commit to listening to an episode of The Office on Netflix three times a week? That’s how simple it is. Make a promise to yourself and stick to it – this will help your pronunciation. Maybe if you are really geeky, you could compare the British and US versions of The Office 🙂
It’s also worth mentioning that singing along to favourite songs will help you with connected speech and sentence stress, so if you enjoy that, do it as much as you can!
Do focus on a range of English
English is a global language with 1000s of accents! So it might be useful to you if you expose yourself to a variety of these! For example, if you work with a team of British, German and French people and the common language is English, it would be useful to focus some practice on these accents.
If you work with a team from the US, maybe you could listen to people from the US a little more.
BUT, don’t focus all of your effort on this type of English, because you will likely encounter many different accents through work, travel or culture. Variety is the spice of life as we say in English. In other words, life is more interesting with a variety and if you manage to make studying more interesting, you will be more likely to continue!
Do practise regularly
The mouth is a muscle, just like anything else. If there is a sound in English that isn’t in your first language, It can be really hard to work on this sound. For example /b/ and /v/ for Spanish speakers, /r/ and /l/ for Japanese speakers. /θ/ and /ð/ for many different mother tongues. Just like being able to do a particular exercise in the gym, it takes practice to be able to produce a sound in English. Your mouth needs that regular workout just the same as your legs do. 😉
I remember one 1-1 lesson working on /θ/ and /ð/ with a Japanese student. We practised holding our tongue between our teeth for a little while. She asked to stop because it started to hurt. Her tongue just wasn’t used to being in this position so that she could make the sound. There are no sounds with the tongue in the teeth in Japanese, or an interdental fricative if you would like the technical term. The good news is that if you practise, it will become easier.
So what could you do?
Hold the position for a difficult sound for 15 seconds without making the sound, see if you can work your way up to longer. Maybe you could do this while you’re on a zoom meeting or making dinner?
Don’t do endless repetition
Contradicting the point above, don’t put all your focus on pronunciation on repeating sounds endlessly. It can be useful to help with particularly difficult sounds for you, but pronunciation ranges from individual sounds, words and sentence stress – the ultimate aim is ‘joined up speaking’ or connected speech. My pronunciation for fluency course will focus on this, helping you better understand and be better understood, check out the course page for more information.
Don’t work on accent reduction
I can remember watching a programme about learning Italian with my mum on the BBC when I was a kid. I remember thinking WOW, that British person can speak Italian really well! Until the end when we saw she had a typical Italian name and I was blown away by how British she sounded. I’m showing my age here, but this was the 1980s and thankfully, like a lot of other things from the 1980s, accent reduction has been forgotten. .
So why is this?
We don’t focus on trying to make you sound like a native speaker, but a focus on clarity still matters. For example, if a Chinese person has an issue with /r/ and /l/ it can cause confusion, so working on this can help the student be understood, but you don’t need to work on reducing your accent. Intelligibility, or being understood, is your goal, not trying to sound like Adele. As I said at the start of this post, there is a huge variety of English in the world and we at Red Brick and many other schools would like to keep it this way now.
Don’t use AI apps
I was a bit curious as to this a couple of months ago, so I tried out a couple. I couldn’t get even get 50% on some words, I am a native English speaker with 10 years’ experience teaching pronunciation, so I am highly aware of the quirks in my accent and knew I pronounced these clearly. It might be better for you to go to a website like howjsay, listen and repeat or even listen repeat, record yourself and compare. If you do use these and enjoy them, note you will also need to work on your ‘joined up speaking’ as they only focus on word stress and individual sounds, not sentence stress, intonation or connected speech.
Find this useful? Let us know in the comments. We love to hear your feedback. Want to work on your pronunciation more? Check out the information on Lucy’s pronunciation course here.