HOW TO IMPROVE ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION
6 Essential Steps – How To Improve English Pronunciation
Many people want to improve English pronunciation but they don’t know where to start OR what they’re doing isn’t working.
I’m going to make sure you’re on the right track to successfully improve English pronunciation and sound more like a native English speaker.
Read the explanation of each step below and make sure you complete the two “Actions” written under each step. These ‘Actions’ are your homework. Complete them and see your English pronunciation improve.
Here are 6 steps on how to improve english pronunciation. I promise you’ll make serious improvements and it will help you avoid common traps.
1. Prioritise it!
2. Listen more – to yourself and others
3. Speak more – to yourself (yes to yourself – find out how and why below) and others – no excuses!
4. Focus on your mouth position.
5. Tune into the ‘Music’ of English
6. Beware of Spelling Traps.
You should spend 2 or 3 days on each step. This will give you time to develop your listening skills and awareness before moving on. Then you can focus on more specific aspects of English pronunciation and accent like stress and emphasis and vowel sounds and so on.
There’s no doubt that English pronunciation is challenging! There are 2 main reasons for this:
The first is that quite simply, English spelling is crazy. Many words aren’t pronounced how they look.
For example: buy, by, bye are all pronounced exactly the same way. Crazy hey!
The letters ‘ea’ in the words ‘eat’ ‘great, ‘idea’,’ learn’, ‘heart’ are all pronounced differently.
Whose idea was that? It’s crazy! The spelling of English words is horribly variable and inconsistent. But don’t worry – I’m going to give you some great ways to make sure this doesn’t hold you back.
The second reason that English pronunciation is challenging is that when someone is learning English, it’s likely that some of the English sounds are completely new for them. It’s likely that some of the vowel sounds and consonant sounds simply do not exist in their first language, so making those sounds correctly is challenging for them.
Now you understand why English pronunciation is so challenging, let’s move on to how to improve English pronunciation.
Here are my best tips for when people ask me: how to improve English pronunciation and how to sound more like a native English speaker?
STEP 1: Prioritise it! Spend 15 minutes a day to improve English pronunciation.
In the words of the wise and powerful Yoda – “Try not! Do or do not. There is no try”.
This is true for most things in life but and it’s especially true when you want to speak better English. Your pronunciation and English accent won’t improve without effort. You need to choose ‘DO”!
Learning and changing pronunciation is just like learning any other new skill like learning to play the piano or learning to play soccer. You MUST practise – you MUST “DO” – to build your awareness and master new skills.
The wise and powerful English Pronunciation Master Georgie says “Listen to Yoda and DO, DO, DO”.
You need to spend at least 15 minutes a day on building these skills.
Let’s find some hidden opportunities for practice in your everyday routine.
- Do you travel? Walking to the train station or sitting on a train or a bus is an excellent time to put in your headphones and improving your listening skills.
- At the gym. While you are working out is an excellent time for popping in your headphones and doing listening practice.
- During your lunch break. Put on your headphones and take a walk around the block or book a meeting room and practise for 15 minutes.
- Set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier than usual. I recently did this for piano practice and it was BRILLIANT. It felt great knowing that I had ticked off my practice for the day. Improving English pronunciation by practising in the morning gets your mouth moving well for clear English for the rest of the day!
- While you are cooking dinner. Yes, you can practise your English while chopping carrots. In fact, making dinner is a great opportunity to do speaking practice. Dinner preparation usually takes at least 15 minutes, so while you are preparing your meal tonight, talk out loud to yourself while you do it.
- Any other time!
To improve you need to ‘DO’. If you do not ‘DO’ you won’t improve and your skills will stay at a similar level.
Your Actions For Prioritising Improvement.
Think about your daily schedule. Work out the best time for 15 minutes practice and MAKE IT HAPPEN
Speak more English throughout your day. Think about times here and there throughout your daily routine when you could speak more English out loud – to yourself (find out why you need to do this below) and to other people.
STEP 2. Listen More – to yourself and others!
The first step to improve English pronunciation is to LISTEN more carefully. Over the next few days, listen more carefully to the sounds of English – when you are speaking and when other people speak. Usually our total focus is on the meaning. Instead of listening to ‘what’ people are saying, listen to ‘how’ they are saying it.
Pay attention to the sounds and the pitch – the up and down – or ‘music’ of English.
Listening to your own speech is essential! Start to think – how am i pronouncing that word? Am I pronouncing all the sounds correctly? What sounds or words have I noticed are challenging from me? The pitch and tone in English goes up and down – am I making this stress and emphasis correctly? Or is my stress and emphasis sometimes flat or incorrect?
Your Actions for Improving Your Awareness:
- Set up podcasts right now. Start listening to English podcasts from your phone for free. See how to do this and which podcasts to choose here.
- Listen more carefully to your English pronunciation and other people’s pronunciation. Pay attention to the sounds in words but also tune in to the up and down of their voice. As you’ll find out in step 5, this is very important for how clearly others understand you.
STEP 3: Speak More – to yourself & others. NO EXCUSES.
Speaking more English sounds like it’s TOO obvious but SO many non-native speakers just aren’t speaking enough English to improve their skills. When I ask people what they are doing to speak better English they often say things like “watching English Movies”. Does watching English movies and listening to English radio help you speak better English? No!!!!
Watching English movies and listening to English radio won’t improve your pronunciation and speaking skills. This is like watching a pianist and hoping that you will develop the ability to play the piano through watching….. Trust me I’ve tried this and it doesn’t work. The ONLY way to improve your speaking skills is to speak!
So we are talking here about fluency! Fluency is our ability to use vocabulary in a meaningful way while we are talking. To develop your brain’s ability to access different words and use them in sentences while talking you need lots of practise – out loud!
Remember the words of that wise little guy Yoda – “Do or do not. There is no try”. You need to SPEAK more to speak better English.
The most common excuse I hear is “But I don’t have anyone to speak English with”.
Guess what? You don’t need someone else to speak to. Yes, it’s true, speaking out loud to yourself is a proven and powerful way to build your pronunciation and speaking skills by yourself. So, start speaking out loud to yourself as often as you can.
If you sit around waiting for someone to practise your English with you are taking the long, long road to improvement. So, watch the recommended video in the link below for more great information on how to do this. It absolutely works and for most people, it’s the best way forward for speaking better, more fluent English.
Now, we need to check your rate or speed of speaking. Make sure you aren’t speaking English too fast. When non-native speakers speak English very fast, their pronunciation skills often become worse! Often their vowels become shorter, their stress and emphasis becomes flatter and more even and they tend to drop sounds from the ends of their words. Do you ever feel like you speak English too fast? If you sometimes speak English too fast, watch this video on talking too fast in English.
Do you feel like your English is too slow? This is because you need to improve your fluency. Complete these actions below to develop your English fluency.
Your Actions for Speaking More Fluent English:
- Watch this video – 1 Daily Habit for Fantastic Fluency
- As described in the video – 1 Daily Habit for Fantastic Fluency, speak out loud by yourself to get the practise you need for 15 minutes a day. Yes – everyday – to yourself – NO EXCUSES! Start from today.
STEP 4: Focus on Your Mouth!
It’s time to shift your focus to your mouth. After all, pronunciation is a physical skill. How good you are at making the sounds of English depends on how well you can control your mouth movements.
When you’re learning new sounds, you’re teaching your mouth and brain new ways to move and this takes practice!
The more you practise, the more control you will have.
While this is step 4 of my essential steps list – it is a very important one. After all, our mouth is our talking-tool. It’s where the action happens!
Your Actions for Improving Your Control & Pronunciation of Sounds:
- Listen to and record every vowel sound and consonant sound in English here. This page will help you get familiar with the 3 different types of vowels in English and all the English consonant sounds too. You could put a mirror next to you to see your mouth positions as you make different sounds. As you go through these words, feel each sound you make, compare it with the native speaker. You might notice if some sounds are challenging for you to make. These are the ones you might like to work on further. As you go through each word, make sure you pronounce the consonant sounds at the ends of words clearly (especially speakers of Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai, Burmese and Vietnamese).
- Check you are opening and moving your mouth well for clear English and not speaking English with a closed mouth position. In English we open our mouth and jaw quite a lot. Many other languages don’t have as many open sounds as English does. So it can sound like some speakers are mumbling (speaking unclearly). See this video to check you are moving your mouth enough for clear English.
STEP 5: Tune into the Stress & Rhythm – the ‘MUSIC’ of English.
Many non-native English speakers don’t realise just how important the stress and emphasis in is in English. If you have incorrect stress and emphasis it will make your English unclear to listeners. Yes – it is VERY important! In English, every multi-syllable word has one stressed syllable.
For example, the stress in the word ‘product’ is always on the first syllable. Many non-native speakers mispronounce it and say ‘proDUCT’. They do this because they get mixed up with the stress In the words ‘proDUCE’ and ‘proDUCtion’ where the stress is on the 2nd syllable.
Errors like this actually make your English unclear to listeners. Research shows that native speakers rely on this stress and emphasis to recognise words. If you use flat or incorrect stress it means that others will not understand them easily and instantly. Correct word stress is also marked under the pronunciation parts of English speaking exams such as IELTS, PTE, TEOFL & TOEIC and so on, because it is so important.
Stress and emphasis is often difficult for non-native speakers to pick up because you can’t tell by looking at the word where the stress will be.
This is why listening is so important. It is through listening to the stress and rhythm of the people around you that you will pick this up and improve it.
Your Actions for Improving Your English Stress & Rhythm:
- Start to listen specifically for stress and emphasis in native speaker’s speech. Remember that for most non-native speakers, this is the area they need to improve the most for clearer, better English pronunciation and English accent.
- Pay attention to stress and emphasis in your own speech. Learn more about stress here.
STEP 6: Beware of Spelling Traps!
Sooo many words in English look very different to how they are pronounced.
Many people are visual learners so they want to see what they need to do and they want rules. But this doesn’t work for English pronunciation. A wise person once said
“The only consistent rule you need to remember for English pronunciation is that there are no rules.”
If you rely on the spelling of a word in English for pronunciation you will mispronounce MANY words. This is because English is not a phonetic language. Meaning that the way a word is written, does not tell us exactly how it is pronounced.
Do not rely on spelling. You need to rely more on the way the words are pronounced by English native speakers. So – again this comes back to listening more carefully.
Let’s talk about vowels for a minute. There are 5 vowel letters in English but these 5 letters can make 20 different sounds! 20! That’s a lot. If you haven’t already – listen to them and record them here. There are long vowels, short vowels and double vowels in English.
Look at these few lines from a poem on English Spelling and Pronunciation. It highlights how inconsistent the spelling patterns of English are:
Watch out for meat and great and threat.
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.
Click to listen to this poem of English pronunciation and spelling and for great examples of spelling traps!
In the example above. the letters ‘ea’ in English make 3 different vowel sounds.
/i:/ in ‘meat’ – it’s pronounced exactly the same as ‘meet’
/eɪ/ in great – it’s pronounced exactly the same as ‘grate’
/e/ in ‘threat’ – it’s the same vowel as in ‘met’
And I’ll add another one – in ‘heart’ – it’s pronounced the same as ‘part’
So – what’s the moral of this story? The moral is that it’s time to stop relying on the way words look and start to use your ears!
Taking this step will hugely improve your listening skills and English pronunciation and English accent.
When people ask me ‘what’s the best way to improve my English pronunciation’ – this is the most important thing – use your ears! Start listening – shift your focus to your ears! Listen more carefully to the sounds made and the up and down of the voice used for stress and emphasis.
Your Actions for avoiding English Spelling Traps are:
- Listen more carefully to English vowel sounds. Start to listen out for if the vowels are single vowels, double vowels or long vowels. Actively listen and compare. Think to yourself – how am I pronouncing that word? Say it out loud and LISTEN to the sounds and stress / emphasis.
- Be aware there are many silent letters in English. For example the /l/ in ‘salmon’ is silent, the /b/ in ‘debt’ is silent. Are you pronouncing these words correctly?
To Wrap It Up : )
Ok! Now that you’ve read these 6 Essential Steps on How to Improve English pronunciation and English accent you have a clear road map of how to start improving.
Remember that improving English Pronunciation involves effort, patience, awareness and physical skill. So. don’t be a perfectionist – be patient and focused and you’ll see your skills improve over time.
Every minute you spend on this will contribute to improve English Pronunciation skills and help you sound more like a native English speaker.
So actively speak, speak, speak, listen, listen, listen!
Once you have completed the 6 essential steps below, which are my best tips when you want to improve English pronunciation and speak more like a native English speaker:
- Prioritise Improving – Spend 15 minutes a day practicing.
- Listen More – to yourself and others!
- Speak More – to yourself & others. NO EXCUSES.
- Focus on Your Mouth!
- Tune into the Stress & Rhythm – the ‘MUSIC’ of English.
- Beware of Spelling Traps.
After that – you can start to drill down to more specific areas, like using weak vowels, improving sentence stress, checking your past tense, correcting specific sounds and other key areas affecting how to speak clearer English.
If you’re wanting to get serious about improving English Pronunciation and English accent, we’re here to help you do it. With the help of one of our tailored Speech Active Courses, we will guide you through systematically improving all key areas of your pronunciation and spoken English, so you can speak English with more confidence.
Introduce one daily habit for more fluent English.
Improve word stress in multi-syllable words.
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