10 Strategies to Learn English Pronunciation
When learning English, what you see isn’t always what you hear.
For example, the words tough (“tuff”) and though (“thoh”) differ by only one letter, but sound completely different.
Confusing as it may be, using correct English pronunciation is essential for being understood by others.
In this post, you’ll find 10 great ways to improve your English pronunciation skills.
- Why Should You Practice English Pronunciation?
- 10 Simple and Useful Strategies to Master Your English Pronunciation
- 1. Know What You Want to Sound Like
- 2. Subscribe to English Websites, Podcasts and YouTube Channels
- 3. Focus on Words That Are Giving You Trouble and Break Them Down
- 4. Read Out Loud and Record Yourself
- 5. Listen Closely to the Rhythm and Intonation of Words
- 6. Communication Is Key: Practice with Native Speakers
- 7. Watch the News for Clear English Pronunciation
- 8. Don’t Make Assumptions Based on a Word’s Spelling
- 9. Check Dictionaries and English Pronunciation Guides
- 10. Slow Is Smooth, Smooth Is Fast
- Other Great Resources
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 English 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 English accents that carry their own personalities, as seen here:
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.
Whatever English accent you choose to study, you can also focus on which sounds make it unique. For example, to learn the American accent, put more time into mastering specific sounds such as the schwa sound and the two L sounds.
2. 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 conversational English resources that you can follow at your own pace, even if you’re still a beginner with English.
There’s a lot of content for learners out there, which can help you find what works best for you. Some YouTube channels have super-short videos on how to correctly pronounce difficult words.
Reading a book along with its audiobook can also work quite well because it lets you see how an experienced reader would say the words in the text. This is a great way to pick up new vocabulary, get a glimpse into the culture and improve your pronunciation—all in one spot.
Similarly, there are lots of podcasts out there on just about every subject imaginable, and many of them offer transcripts of each episode, so you can read along as you listen. Many podcasts cover hot (popular right now) and sometimes controversial topics in the English-speaking world!
Another resource you could try is FluentU, which bases its English lessons on native video content. As you watch a clip from the authentic, hand-picked media library, the subtitles allow you to check the definition of any word. With a tap, you can also see sentence and video examples for that word.
The program’s multimedia flashcards also help you remember the correct pronunciation of the words you’ve learned. Plus, you can do quizzes to improve your speaking, listening and other skills based on what you’ve just watched.
FluentU has a web platform, as well as iOS and Android apps.
3. 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.
Another common mistake is saying a letter out loud when it should be silent. For a lot of words ending in e like done, horse, and fire, you won’t have to pronounce the e at all. Still, a lot of English speakers might end up still saying the e, especially when they’re beginners.
Here are more words that are mispronounced a lot, including comfortable and Wednesday:
Keep in mind, that words in English aren’t always spoken as they are spelled, so practice these words slowly. If you still have difficulty breaking words up, then this guide will help.
4. Read Out Loud and Record Yourself
There are actually a lot of ways to practice your English pronunciation even when you’re on your own! One of the best ways to do this is to record yourself reading and speaking loudly and clearly, which helps you track your improvement.
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.
You can also test out minimal pairs, which have similar sounds. These are words in English that are almost pronounced the same except for one sound, such as low – law and cut – cat, and they’re especially useful for practicing vowels. Try going through this list of minimal pairs while recording yourself:
Practicing solo doesn’t mean you can’t get feedback, either. There are interactive English pronunciation apps that you can study with. For example, ELSA Speak uses voice recognition technology to point out where you can improve your speaking.
5. Listen Closely to the Rhythm and Intonation 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 rhythm of words affects their meaning, and using the right intonation and rhythm is a key part of speaking English fluently. 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).
These two words are called heteronyms—they have the same spelling but different pronunciations. In this case, they differ only in syllable stress, but it’s enough to change the meaning completely.
A lot of English learners actually get confused with rhythm and intonation, as well as heteronyms:
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.
6. Communication Is Key: Practice with Native Speakers
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, websites and apps that allow language learners to connect and teach each other.
To find language exchange partners online, you can try HelloTalk and Tandem. For working on your spoken English specifically, there’s Lingbe, which connects you with native speakers from all over the world over voice call. italki is also great for practicing your English in a more organized tutorial setting since you can book video sessions with thousands of native English speakers.
7. Watch the News for Clear English Pronunciation
While you may not love to watch the news all the time, you can use it as a great tool for mastering your English pronunciation. Newscasters tend to speak slowly and clearly to deliver their messages.
This video from Rachel’s English studies English pronunciation based on how newscasters speak:
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. If subtitles are available, this makes things even better.
A good website to use would be the BBC for British English or CNN for American English.
8. Don’t Make Assumptions Based on a Word’s Spelling
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 in Spanish will only confuse you.
You can see this with homophones, where two words have the same pronunciation but different meanings, such as see and sea as well as bye and buy. Vowel sounds in English can have different pronunciations based on where they are in the word, and they may even be silent.
English also has voiced and unvoiced consonants, where you have your mouth and tongue in the same position but the sound manages to be different. An example of this would be the “th” in teeth vs. the “th” in mother. With mother, you’re making a sound with your vocal cords for the th, while with teeth, you’re just puffing air out.
Because of these subtleties in pronunciation, there’s a lot about English that can be mind-bending! So keep an open mind and remember that there are a lot of English pronunciation rules that might feel strange at first.
9. Check Dictionaries and English Pronunciation Guides
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. You can also check out this vowel pronunciation guide for detailed explanations about each vowel sound.
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.
With plenty of English pronunciation resources out there, you have all of the information you need to work on your speaking skills. Learning to speak English fluently is all about the journey and not just the end, so take your time and enjoy the ride!
Other Great Resources
British Accent and Dialect Guide
Macmillan Online Dictionary (With British And American pronunciations)
Simple Pronunciation Guide (Wikipedia)