Here in Britain, English Pronunciation represents the standard accent of English as spoken in the south of England (sometimes called Received Pronunciation or RP).
Perfecting your pronunciation is probably one of the hardest elements of learning English as a foreign language, but can make a huge difference to your ability to communicate natively, and therefore your confidence when speaking English.
Why your pronunciation of English is so important
Your pronunciation is the first thing that people will notice when you are speaking English. It is also one of the most difficult tasks all levels of non-native English speakers face when learning English.
When you talk to a person in English, they may not notice your limited vocabulary or grammar mistakes, but they will notice immediately if your pronunciation is bad.
Poor pronunciation can create frustration for both parties in a conversation. It is embarrassing to have to keep repeating yourself to be understood and awkward to have to keep asking someone what they are trying to say.
Ultimately poor pronunciation leads to poor communication.
Pronunciation vs. Vocabulary
Knowing what to say in a scenario and having a vast vocabulary is generally what most students want to achieve when they are learning English.
Whilst this is a great goal to be aiming for, knowing lots of words is meaningless if you are unable to pronounce these words in the correct way. Poor pronunciation means that native speakers will not be able to understand you, or may misunderstand you, and your ultimate goal of communicating in English will never be achieved.
You can get by without advanced vocabulary.
You can use simple words to convey your meaning and chat to native English speakers successfully.
Pronunciation does not have a simple work-around. If you can’t say a word properly, you will not be understood and you will not be able to communicate effectively.
How you can tell if your pronunciation needs work
Being able to communicate effectively with your teacher and fellow students in English is not always a good measure of how well you are pronouncing words.
Your teacher has been listening to foreign English language speakers for many years. Their ear is trained to understand non-native English speakers and they will be able to understand you much more easily than the average person.
Similarly, your fellow students are probably making similar pronunciation mistakes as you and are used to words being said certain incorrect ways.
A true test of your English pronunciation is to speak with a native speaker outside of your course environment, a ‘normal’ English person in a supermarket or a bus driver for example. If they can understand you, then you probably have reasonable English pronunciation.
Taking your pronunciation to the next level.
Communicating successfully with native English speakers is a wonderful achievement and for many students, being understood, even with a strong accent is enough.
However if you are communicating successfully in English, but have a strong foreign accent, your english may not be easy to understand or pleasant to listen to.
Every foreign aspect of your pronunciation will make it harder for you to be understood and the more likely you will be to have to repeat yourself.
Making the effort to continue to improve your pronunciation and remove a foreign accent from English words will make it much easier for you communicate with all other speakers of English.
When you can communicate more easily you will start to really enjoy speaking practice and make the most of the opportunities to develop other areas of your English, for example using a wider range of vocabulary and more sophisticated and accurate grammatical structures.
The BLC guide to improving your pronunciation
There is no quick fix for perfect pronunciation. There are however simple things you can do to greatly improve it with time and practice.
- Listen to yourself
Record yourself speaking or reading aloud, perhaps on your phone or computer. When you listen to the recording try to identify and learn the sounds you can hear you are not pronouncing correctly. If you do this for 10 minutes every day you’ll soon see the results!
- Slow yourself down
There is often a desire to talk fast but the slower you say the words, the more likely you are to think about your pronunciation.
- Watch yourself
Practice saying the words you find hardest slowly in front of the mirror and make sure you move your mouth in the right way.
- Copy the experts
Listen to native speakers as often as you can to get used to their accent. Listen to English songs, watch films and listen to your native English speaking friends and relatives. Every new scenario in which you listen to native English will teach you something new about how the locals say it!
- Break words down!
Break words down into sounds and pay attention to intonation and stress in words. Placing the stress on the wrong syllable is a common cause of pronunciation error and confusion when being understood.
- Look new words up
Don’t just learn the meaning of words, with every new word, you should look it up in the dictionary to find the correct pronunciation.
- Use pronunciation podcasts and videos
There are lots of online resources out there to help improve your pronunciation. We’ve included some links at the bottom of this post and your teacher will be able to suggest others. Visit online dictionaries, such as The Cambridge Dictionary, when looking up new vocabulary and listen to the pronunciation of new words when learning outside of the classroom.
- Learn the symbols in the phonemic chart
Try to learn symbols in the phonemic chart and the sounds they represent. Don’t be put off by the number of symbols but instead prioritise learning symbols which represent the specific sounds you personally have difficulties with.
- Practice, practice, practice
Remember, as with everything practice makes perfect. The more time you spend on your pronunciation, the better it will become.
How we help our students with pronunciation at BLC
At BLC (Bristol Language Centre) are passionate about helping you reach your goals in English.
Every time we teach students a new word, they need to learn how to pronounce it as well as how to spell it and what it means. Learning the correct pronunciation, helps our students to feel confident to use new words when speaking both in the classroom and with native English speakers.
All of our students at BLC are encouraged to join in our social programme to meet new friends and learn more about Bristol and the UK and meet native English speakers while they are staying here with us. Our social programme is packed with a range of activities for you to enjoy and meet new people….as well as practicing your English pronunciation of course!
This is our current social programme
We are a British Council-accredited school which is a member of English UK and Quality English, a UK Border Agency (UKBA) Highly Trusted Sponsor and inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI).
- ESL Accent Reduction Training and Conversational English Practice
- The Cambridge Dictionary
- Phonemic Chart
- English Pronunciation - Android Apps on Google Play
Do you have any tips or know of any useful resoursouces? Let us know in the comments below.