Three simple tricks to boost your pronunciation
BY OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS ELT
Practising and improving your pronunciation is like an English learning ‘hack’. It helps you to get more value from the English vocabulary and grammar you’ve already learned, by giving you more confidence to speak English fluently and clearly.
Of course, improving your pronunciation helps your speaking and listening – but did you know that research shows it also boosts your reading and writing fluency? Here are some tips to get started if you want to improve your English speaking, listening, and overall communication by working on pronunciation…
Identify words you use in English a lot, and words that include sounds you find difficult.
Target 5-15 words per week to practise, focusing on words you use in your normal English interactions. Your ‘pronunciation practice list’ might come from:
your English course
a book you’re reading,
situations where you’re speaking English and notice that certain words aren’t easy for you to say.
Can you spot a pattern? For example, do you find it difficult to pronounce multi-syllable words? Or words with tricky consonant clusters like ‘strengthens’? Or are the words you want to practise linked to a particular theme (e.g. holidays, food, something to do with your job)?
Focus on those words! It’s like learning vocabulary – you wouldn’t sit down and learn the whole dictionary, so for pronunciation, focus on practising the sounds or words which are most useful. The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary has a great feature that allows you to build your own word lists. You can see some examples here.
Listen for strong and weak sounds – and then try to copy them.
Can you hear the difference between strong and weak syllables, in words and sentences? For example, in ‘strengthens’ and ‘vehicle’, the first syllable is stressed or strong – it’s slightly longer and louder. But in ‘exam’, the stress is on the second syllable.
Try to copy these stress patterns, and practise them when you speak. Use a mirror or video recording, and exaggerate your voice as you make the stressed syllables louder and longer, and the unstressed syllables shorter and softer.
Then find situations where you can use the words you’ve practised when you speak English. This might be in an English class, or with work colleagues. If you don’t have many opportunities to speak English with other people, record or video yourself using the new words you’ve learned, and watch it back.
Look at breakdowns of the sounds and stress.
Using an app like Say It: English Pronunciation (free to download on the App Store or Google Play), you can understand the individual sounds and stress patterns in English words.
The app shows you the syllable breakdowns for 36,000 Oxford Dictionaries words – green coloured blocks are stressed syllables, grey are weak. In each syllable block, you can tap to hear the individual phonemes, shown as
On the model waveform, you can hear the Oxford recording of the word, in a Modern RP British accent. The vertical yellow stress markers show where the strong syllables are.
You can drag your finger over the soundwave to slow the audio down and pinpoint tricky sections. Then you can record yourself, and compare your own soundwave to the model. Re-record yourself as many times as you like until you’re happy with the result!
Another easy way to improve your English pronunciation is to look at the phonetic guide on the Oxford Learners Dictionary site. You can also hear model audio recordings for both British English and American English pronunciation. Copy and repeat the words until you feel more comfortable saying them. You’ll be amazed how much progress you can make in a short space of time, after 5-10 repetitions.
Using these self-study English pronunciation tips will increase your fluency and confidence – and help you get more from the English you’ve already learned. Why not give them a go today? Tell us in the comments how you get on, and which ones work best for you!
We’ll be following up with more guidance to help you improve your pronunciation in July, connect with us to get notified when that’s live.
Jenny Dance is an English teacher and exam trainer with more than 20 years’ experience. She has a passion for pronunciation learning, and is also the Founder of Phona, publishers of the Say It: English Pronunciation app. Jenny regularly presents Pronunciation Live sessions on Facebook with the Learning English with Oxford team. Follow Learning English with Oxford on Facebook to hear about the next live event, or check out our bank of pronunciation resources for more English pronunciation tips.