So you’ve learned the vocabulary, the grammar, the expressions and the idioms. You’ve practiced and practiced and are feeling confident about your speaking ability, but then when you finally get a chance to practice with a native speaker, they keep asking you to repeat yourself. Why is this? Chances are that you are simply not pronouncing the words correctly.
(Wiktor’s note: this is a guest post from Jimmy Monaghan. Read more about him below. I’m thrilled to have his blog post here!)
Pronunciation is one of the most important aspects of speaking a language. Sometimes the differences between words can be so small that even the slightest change in how they are spoken can have disastrous results.
Imagine you are in a food market, and you really want a crepe, so you go up to the crepe stall and you say, “I will take a crap”. It wouldn’t be good. The difference between crepe and crap is quite substantial compared to the thousands of words that sound alike and have even subtler differences.
In order to save you from any confusing situations like this in the future, I’ve taken the liberty to highlight four of the best ways that you can practice your pronunciation.
1. Exaggerate your accent
Go overboard. Think of the most stereotypical ways in which the language is spoken and indulge in a little over acting. Chances are, you will think that you sound ridiculous, but in reality you will be hitting the nail on the head.
I once had a French friend with a very strong French accent. It was a little hard to understand him and a lot of people thought he had bad English just because his accent was so… French. This wasn’t true; in fact his English was really good! It was just his accent that let him down. Then one day as a joke he started speaking in a really strong American accent. He was imitating what he thought were stereotypical Americans, but in doing so his English sounded better than ever before! By him trying to imitate the accent, he was focusing more on the sound of his voice, how the words came out and how he pronounced each one of them. Try it!
2. Record yourself and listen back
It’s quite well known that most people don’t enjoy the sound of their own voice, and unless you are a major narcissist, listening back to recordings of yourself speaking is often enough to make you cringe in shame. If you fall into this category then this tip might be a little awkward for you, but it is definitely worth a try.
Get your hands on a microphone and some recording software (most laptops and computers come with built in microphones and programs) and record yourself reading from a piece of text. Then listen back. How do you think you sound? Where do you think you are making the most mistakes? Write them down and then go over them again and again, trying to improve each time.
You might find after this exercise that you are having the most difficulties with just one or two aspects of speaking. Maybe you are speaking too fast or slurring your words together, maybe you are not trying to emulate the accent enough. Whatever the problem, listening back to yourself will reveal whatever it is and you will then have somewhere to start working from.
Consider it like looking in the mirror. How will you know if you have something in your teeth or if your hair is all messed up if you don’t look at yourself?
3. Know what kind of accent you want, listen and repeat, over and over and over again.
Each language has a multitude of different accents under its umbrella. Say for example you are learning English, do you want to sound like someone from the U.K or the U.S.A? If you’re learning French do you want to sound like somebody from the North or the South? Identify what type accent it is you would like to have before spending time trying to perfect the right one.
Now that you know what style of accent you want to achieve, source some recordings of native speakers with the same accent, either from a video or a podcast or an audiobook. Try to find sound clips of people speaking in a way that you like, not some accent that you find annoying. Listen to it but pause after every line and repeat what you’ve just heard. Then do it again, and then again. Your brain, being the fantastic computing machine that it is, with repetition, will automatically start to repeat the words you are hearing exactly as they sound. Repetition is key.
4. Ask for feedback from a native.
Asking for honest feedback from a friend who speaks the language poses two possible threats.
- They will not want to hurt your feelings and tell you that you sound perfect and that you don’t need to spend time practicing.
- They will be brutally honest, tell you where you are going wrong, end up hurting your feelings and possibly destroying your friendship.
The best way to combat this is to lay everything out on the table, tell your friend that you don’t want any sugar-coated analysis and to not hold back any punches.
Be prepared to hear some possibly harsh criticism about your pronunciation and accent and whatever you do do not let it demotivate you, in fact, use it a motivator. Take everything being advised to you and write it down, go over it later by yourself and start working on your weakest points. The next time you talk to your friend, I guarantee you that they will be impressed!
All of these tips should help you on your way to sounding more like a native speaker, but doing them just once won’t override the golden rule: Practice makes perfect! Be sure to repeat these tips until you feel comfortable with your pronunciation and eventually those around you will notice a difference.
I hope this post has been helpful and if you have any comments, questions or suggestions of your own, we would love to hear from you!
About the author: Jimmy Monaghan is an English teacher from Ireland who is currently living in Malta, where he is working with the Elanguest English Language School (www.elanguest.com). He enjoys spinach, long walks on the beach, and writing short biographies about himself online.
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