HOW TO SOUND LIKE A NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKER

How to Sound Like a Native English Speaker


When I ask students “What do you want to achieve when working on your English pronunciation?”, 90% say “Georgie, I want to sound more like a native English speaker.”

The good news is this is entirely possible.

In this post I explain 8 things you can do to sound more like a local and also give some suggestions to make you sound authentic and not over the top.

Here are things to do to sound more like a native English speaker:

  1. Listen to locals – pay careful attention to their pronunciation – to how they make sounds, the rate of their speaking and the up and down of their voice. 
  2. Watch and listen to local media – podcasts are a great tool. 
  3. Practice your English pronunciation out loud
    • Record yourself speaking and play it back 
    • Listen and repeat
    • Think about the sounds you use and the stress and emphasis you use in English.  
  4. Use local expressions 
  5. Speak at a good volume with confidence
  6. Sing Songs aloud
  7. Don’t be put off when it feels strange

In this post I’ll explain what I mean for each of these steps and how you can apply them, I’ll also answer some other questions you’re probably already considering. 

But why should you listen to me? 

Good question – I’ve been teaching English pronunciation and fluency for nearly 16 years, my background training is as a Speech Pathologist and I specialise in accents. Plus I love this stuff, helping people achieve their pronunciation goals really gets me excited! 

So here are some of the thing I’ve learned that can help you get started on your pronunciation journey.

1. Listen to the locals speak English . 

Ok, so for a start I’m assuming you’re in an English speaking country or dealing regularly with English speakers on the phone. By locals I mean anyone who grew up speaking English. 

Usually when we listen to another person we focus on what people are saying. For the next 7 days you’re going to focus more on HOW people are saying things. Watch their mouths when they speak, most English requires big open sounds which can be very different to other languages – for instance Vietnamese or Japanese. Are they speaking slowly or fast? Are they stressing particular words or syllables?  

Syllable and word stress are two of the areas that make a huge difference to how people are understood. I’m not going to cover it here except to say you need to be aware of the different stress techniques as they do impact how your English sounds.  People will be using a rhythm in their English, try to get a feeling for that rhythm and then match it in your speech.

 2. Watch and Listen to spoken English media 

Try to watch and listen to as much English as you can. At the end of a long day, the last thing we all feel like is sitting down and concentrating to listen to your second language. But we need to stay strong as it does make a big difference. There are millions of podcasts you can listen to on the phone, there is always English speaking TV. Watch and listen to these carefully. Play a Youtube video and repeat out loud after that person. The more you absorb English media the easier it will become.  Obviously if you want to sound like a North American use American resources, same approach for the UK or Australia.  

For really early starters children’s shows are a great place to start, the presenters usually speak slowly and it can be easy to absorb. More advanced speakers try the local news, reporters have to speak in a nice even rhythm and avoid speaking too fast, 

3. Work on your English pronunciation and practice out loud

Actively focusing on your English pronunciation will definitely help you sound more like a native English speaker.  Here are some of the suggestions I give to my students. 

Record yourself speaking and play it back 

This makes a big difference, it’s such a simple idea, but many people don’t pick up on the difference between their pronunciation and native English speakers until they hear a recording. It can be eye opening. To make things easier I‘ve created this listening and record yourself tool which provides examples of me speaking English, you can record yourself and compare it to my speech. It’s a really helpful exercise and I’ve provided a script.  I call this process “listen and repeat,” it’s extremely helpful. 

Exaggerate and slow down your speech 

So many ESL (English second language) learners speak really fast. I spend a lot of time showing  people how to slow down. It feels strange at first, but it actually gives you more time to absorb what is being said. Many politicians purposely slow down; it adds more gravitas or weight to what  is being said and people listen harder. 

Practice in front of a mirror 

When you’re listening to a podcast or watching a  video, stand in front of a mirror and watch your speech – is your mouth position the same as the native English speakers? Watching your speech in front of a mirror is an excellent way of getting a better understanding. 

4. Here are 10 local expressions to make you sound more like a Native English speaker.

Using expressions often used in English is a large contributor. It tells the listener you know more than English, you also know their local expressions. Here are fifteen local expressions and their meanings that will have you sounding like you grew up speaking English.

Expression 

Meaning 

No worries 

There’s nothing to worry about 

Speak soon 

Goodbye 

Piece of cake 

That’s easy 

Back to square one 

Time to start again 

Hands are tied 

I can’t do anything about that, (my hands are tied, or they can’t do anything – their hands are tied. 

Back to the drawing board 

Let’s make a new plan, we need to start again

Beating around the bush 

Let’s get to the point or Let’s not waste time

Let’s just park that 

Let’s stop what we’re saying there

Close but no cigar 

Just about right but not perfect 

Up in the air 

It’s undecided, we need to wait and see what happens. 

No point crying over spilt milk 

It’s done, there’s no point in worrying about it 

Steep learning curve 

There is a lot to learn quickly 

To cut corners 

Taking a short cut 

To get someone up to speed

To bring someone up to date with a situation 

Think outside the box 

To approach something from a different or original perspective 

Most of these are used regularly in a business context, using these expressions that native speakers use regularly will help you to sound more like a native English speaker..

* It’s worth noting that as English speaking nations listen and watch to teach others TV and audio expressions are becoming more international. 

5. Speak English at a good volume with confidence?

This doesn’t apply to everyone of course, your spoken English might be at a good volume. I find many learners feel anxious about their speech and don’t speak at a a volume that makes it easy for the listener to hear. You will be amazed how much a little confidence and volume can impact on how you sound. Have the confidence that your audience can understand you and they most likely will. They certainly won’t be afraid to ask you to repeat yourself if they did misunderstand you. 

While we’re speaking about confidence, if you feel hesitant when speaking to native English speakers, please don’t worry. Most people are supportive and helpful, if they don’t understand something that;s ok. You’re not going to change your pronunciation if you don’t speak to and practice your English.

Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

Other Ideas. 

Sing Songs Aloud. Who doesn’t like singing aloud? It’s lots of fun and can be good for you to get the correct English mouth shapes. Start by choosing an English song that you like – I love a bit of Taylor Swift – then just sing the songs loud and proud. I like to choose the shower or the car. Mouthing the words can make it easier to get used to the sounds. Also you can watch the video clip and if they have close ups of the face it can show you the correct mouth position.  

Ask for feedback from other native English speakers, Suggesting to native English speakers around you that you’re comfortable to be corrected if you use the incorrect pronunciation. This can be very helpful where it is on the spot. You need to be aware that your native English friends probably can’t help you correct your words to correct pronunciation. 

Don’t be put off when your speech feels strange.  Many of my clients tell me it feels very strange when they first get used to these new mouth positions. That’s fine, it’s likely they’re very different to your first language so don’t be put off if it feels unusual and different. That’s OK. 

Related Questions I’m Often Asked. 

Is it really important to sound like a native English speaker? 

The answer to this in most cases is no. I suggest most learners should aim to be well understood and speak clear and easy to understand English. According to Wikipedia there are over 1 billion English speakers and 300 million native English speakers – so native English speakers are becoming much more familiar with English accents. 

For those people working with older people or those in the country sounding more like a local can be important. Many of the doctors I work with explain that older people can find heavily accented pronunciation more difficult to comprehend and it makes doing their job harder. 

Will it take long until I sound like a Native English Speaker? 

The first thing to consider is how you decide to approach this task. If you decide to use free materials on Youtube and take some of the tips in this article you should be able to achieve some progress. However, in my experience it can take years. Choosing instead to go and find an English pronunciation course and use this to structure your training will make the likelihood of sounding more like a Native English speaker a lot higher. For people enrolled in our courses and complete one lesson per week – about an hour of video – and do at least 15 minutes of audio practice a day. We suggest that people should expect to be much clearer within 3 months of starting. Meaning they repeat themselves a lot less and they have a lot more confidence speaking. If you’re already at the level of having good clear English then you should expect to put in around 6 months of practice to sound like a native English speaker. It will help if you get your speech assessed as well. 

There is lots of information available to help you choose the right course for you. I wrote this blog post  to help someone looking into an English pronunciation course.  

How to Sound like a Native English Speaker. Key Points to Take Away. 

There are a range of things you can do right now to start changing your English pronunciation. Watching locals, surrounding yourself with English speaking media, practice lots and use recording tools will make a big difference. The way you speak will also have an impact as well – try to speak with confidence at a nice steady rate – and not too fast. Finally there are courses available for people to learn how to sound like a Native English speaker and this is definitely the fastest way to get the best results.

Thanks for reading. As a next step can I suggest you sign up to our free 7 day English pronunciation course. It’s a great place to get started. 

Good luck. 

Georgie Harding – Head Speech Pathologist.

 

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