When learning English, what you see isn’t always what you hear.
There’s just one thing: English isn’t as easy as one would think, and you have its odd pronunciation rules to thank for that.
Unlike Spanish, for example, in which words are read and pronounced exactly as they’re written, many words in English are spoken differently than their written forms. Some words sound completely different from one another even though they’re spelled similarly. For example, the words tough (“tuff”) and though (“thoh”) differ by only one letter, but sound completely different.
Like every other language, English is filled of exceptions and oddities, even in pronunciation, and getting the hang of these tricky parts seems like a nightmare—but it’s both a necessary and an interesting aspect of learning.
Why Should You Practice English Pronunciation?
The reasons for practicing pronunciation are numerous and significant:
- Improving your pronunciation helps with reading, writing and communication
- A better understanding of pronunciation leads to less confusion, especially during conversations
- Most importantly, it’s a sign of progress and it makes you feel more comfortable and confident with communicating in English
10 Simple and Useful Strategies to Master Your English Pronunciation
Mastering English pronunciation may be the goal, but that doesn’t mean that there’s only one way to reach it. As with everything else in life, everybody has their own way to accomplish their goals. No matter your needs and wants, these strategies will get you there.
1. Know What You Want to Sound Like
English uses many diverse sounds. The pronunciation of English can vary dramatically from one region to the next. For example, the United Kingdom may be relatively small in size, but it’s rich with different accents that carry their own personalities, as seen in this video.
Depending on where you go and how long you’re going to be there, the first step to take is to understand how the locals sound. Practice sounding like they do. This will help you fit in and fully understand what they’re saying.
If you don’t know anybody who speaks in the accent you want to speak, then keep watching videos like the one above. You can also visit websites such as this guide to American pronunciations.
2. Focus on Words That Are Giving You Trouble and Break Them Down
Have you bumped into a long, confusing mass of letters? Are you forgetting when to say some words differently?
Whenever you hit a wall and don’t know how to pronounce a weird word, just stop, take a break and pay close attention to that word’s features. Features include its spelling, syllables and meaning.
What you’ll want to do is take that long and complicated word and break it apart into pieces. Then slowly put it back together.
For example: one of the most commonly mispronounced words in the English language is February. People keep pronouncing it as Feb-yu-airy. If you look closely, you’ll notice the r in the middle, and breaking it down reveals that it’s actually pronounced Feb-ru-airy.
You should look back to #1 for these words, too. Americans don’t ever pronounce that r in February. Regional pronunciations may not necessarily be proper English pronunciations.
Even so, using this method will help you understand how words are actually supposed to be pronounced.
Keep in mind, however, that words in English aren’t always spoken as they are spelled, so practice these words slowly and keep a dictionary nearby just in case. If you still have difficulty breaking words up, then this guide will help.
3. Read Out Loud and Record Yourself
The best way to make progress in any challenge is to keep track of your improvements. For practicing English pronunciation, the best way to do this is to record yourself reading and speaking loudly and clearly, giving yourself a great reference for progress.
Once you get over the sound of your own voice (we all hate the way we sound when recorded), you’ll find yourself making greater strides than you would otherwise. When you record yourself speaking English months or years in the future, then you’ll really hear how much you’ve improved.
4. Listen Closely to the Music of Words
Everything in life follows some form of organization. Life has a strong rhythm. Otherwise, everything would random and unorganized.
Just as we memorize and understand songs and other pieces of music by listening closely to the lyrics and other features, we can also master difficult words by listening carefully to their rhythm and the way certain syllables sound.
Words change with emotions, and listening to how words are spoken will also tell you more than just their meaning.
The intonation, or tone of words, affects their meaning. Depending on which part of a word is stressed, and where it’s placed in a sentence, it can either be a noun or a verb.
Understanding this could even make a word’s pronunciation clearer. For example, the words refuse and refuse. If it’s heard as REH-fyuz, then we’re talking about garbage (noun), but if it’s heard as reh-FYUZ, then it means saying “no” or declining something (verb).
The key here is to listen carefully to how words are used. Break them down when practicing them until you’re comfortable enough to use them in conversation.
5. Subscribe to English Websites, Podcasts and Youtube Channels
When it comes to learning languages, the internet is your best friend. It contains an extremely wide variety of resources to help you master the English language.
FluentU is a great place to start. It offers an excellent selection of real-world videos, audio recordings and podcasts to help you on your English learning journey. And it isn’t just about watching videos passively—it’s about actively learning and practicing the English language.
The active learning tools are probably the best part. Click any subtitled word for an on-screen definition and an audio clip demonstrating native pronunciation. Then you can study and reinforce new language lessons with the multimedia flashcards and vocabulary lists that are custom-made from the vocabulary and grammar you encounter while watching your chosen videos.
If you like the sound of that, then I’ve got even better news for you—you can take your FluentU practice anywhere thanks to the mobile apps for iOS or Android.
6. Communication is Key: Always Practice with Someone
The best way to speak English like a native is to actually speak with one. Whenever you’re in class or taking a walk in the park, make sure that you’re only speaking English.
If you don’t know any native speakers living near you, don’t let that get in the way of your progress. As I mentioned earlier, there are lots of great forums and other websites that allow language learners to connect and teach each other.
Google+ is a great example of this: people from all over the world come together in a global classroom as both students and teachers. This makes it a comfortable and fun environment to improve your pronunciation, and also to make new friends from across the world.
7. Watch the News
While you may not love to watch the news all the time, you can use it as a great tool for mastering your pronunciation. Newscasters tend to speak slowly and clearly to deliver their messages. If subtitles are available, this makes things even better. Watching the news helps to put English words in their usual contexts and allows you to hear what they sound like in real life. Plus, news shows use lots of pictures and videos to help make their messages stronger, which will make things easy to understand for you.
8. Forget What You Know About Reading and Pronunciation
As I mentioned earlier, English is known for having words that look way different than the way they’re spoken. If your native language is like Spanish, where what you read is what you hear, then learning how to say some words in English may become a challenging puzzle (remember though and tough?).
That’s why you shouldn’t bring what you know about one language over to another. Reading English as you would Spanish will only confuse you.
9. Dictionaries Are Your Friends
When things get tough, dictionaries are always there to help. It’s always good to keep one handy, especially if you have a smartphone. The Merriam-Webster dictionary app is a great example that includes a simple but very effective pronunciation guide for every word.
While these are helpful and will tell you what you need to know, studying the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) will tell you exactly how to pronounce words. This is going to be challenging but once you master IPA no English word will be too difficult.
10. Slow Is Smooth, Smooth Is Fast
It’s easy to get excited and start speaking quickly once you learn how a word is pronounced, but the best thing to do is to be patient and keep practicing that word slowly until you can say it perfectly. Your friends and teachers understand this, so don’t worry about sounding funny or speaking too slowly. Learning a language is all about the journey and not just the end, so take your time and enjoy the ride!
Other Great Resources
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.