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Improving Your English Pronunciation

The first thing that your English will reveal to listeners is your pronunciation; knowing how words are pronounced can save you from an uncomfortable feeling as you enter an English-speaking discussion even if your vocabulary is far from perfect. But dropping exercises aimed to improve your speech can lead to tremendous generation of errors but getting rid of them as time passes can become an intense, if impossible, challenge.

To see closer into the practices that will help you improve your English pronunciation let us discover the specific phonetic characteristic of English and the nuances of its sounds vocalization.

Challenges of English Phonetics

Each language is characterized with its own set of sounds unique to this language and this is what defines how we perceive foreign speech. English alphabet, particularly, contains 26 letters with 44 sounds but the major challenge here is not their amount but rather the need to pronounce them correctly.

To do this, you must learn and maintain the correct position of all the parts of the mouth, including your lips, tongue, palate, and vocal cords. The learner, however, unconsciously simplifies the task for themselves, pronouncing the sounds of the foreign language by the rules of their mother language — that leads to a distinct accent (in particular, there are typical "Russian problems", which are pictured in the American entertainment industry with relish).

We'll notice that the human speech system is not tuned for the specific language system. That is why learning foreign language (simultaneously with the native language) earlier in life will ensure excellence and clear advantages in all aspects, including guaranteed no accent.

This opportunity can offer, for example, CIS International School that invites young Russians to get education form kindergarten and to obtaining the certificate of secondary education (for more details on how the children can apply in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Tashkent).

Development of bilingual children at the School takes place under the constant communications in English with the tutors who are native English speakers, so the School leavers are guaranteed to obtain the prestigious Cambridge certificate in addition to actually excellent English.

If you are not as fortunate as the students of this reputable school, however, there are tips that help you self-improve your English pronunciation.

Getting Correct Pronunciation

Absorbing the basics of phonetics of a new language system is easier in children, although, one can learn them later in life. The first thing which a responsible student needs is noticing the distinctions between sounds in the studied language and the sounds in their mother tongue; generally, your native language simply may have no equivalents of some sounds of the language you study and the sounds that seem so familiar can surprise you with hidden pronunciation challenges.

The way the sounds shall be pronounced is specified in transcription which can be tricky because there are various systems of transcription. In Russia, for example, we mostly use International Phonetic Alphabet but there are several distinctive American systems, used particularly in the famous New Oxford American Dictionary.

As a rule of thumb, the learner shall take the following steps:

  • Develop articulation

As you pronounce sounds, ensure your lips and tongue get in correct position.

  • Focus on accentuation

Accentuation fault can confuse a native speaker and is the most common cause of misunderstanding.

  • Improve your intonation

Logical accent in speech, or intonation, is key to fluent conversation in English where expressive communication style — to a larger extent than we are used to — is a norm.

  • Ensure speech coherence

Speech sounds more natural if the previous word end seamlessly flows into the beginning of the next word and making a pause between words easily identifies you as a non-native speaker.

More about English pronunciation

 

Much has been said and written about the complexity of the topic, including a poem called "Chaos" by the Dutch linguist Gerard Nolst Trenité, who lived in the early 20th century and, by the way, whose name reads in various ways. It was chaos that he picked up as an analogy to the nuances of reading and pronouncing words and even native speakers can find it difficult to understand each other if they use different pronunciation codes.

There are basically two types of pronunciation — British RP (Received Pronunciation) and American (GenAm, or General American); however not all English speakers would follow exactly one of them. It is believed that you can explain yourself in most countries in the world by using RP, but it is not uncommon for TV shows and films to use GenAm.

After you have completed studying the phonetic basics, aim at the model of pronunciation that you prefer.

Practical techniques

To tackle the task, you shall reach correct articulation, learn accents and intonation, and achieve coherence in speech. What are the techniques that will help you improve your English pronunciation not in theory, but in practice?

We recommend following:

  • using well-designed teaching aids that explain and illustrate the position of the speech organs to help you produce sounds correctly;
  • studying transcription (teachers can radically vary in views if this step is mandatory so the choice is up to the student);
  • repeating phrases after speakers while listening to audio/video on various topics;
  • getting right input when learning words, for example, checking up pronunciation with an online dictionary;
  • working with excellent learning videos produced by experts;
  • reading aloud and pronouncing individual words separately.

Invaluable would be to have regular conversations with a friendly native speaker who will guide you by example, correct you, and provide you reasonable feedback on your efforts of getting rid of any mistakes.


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