Understand English Phonetics and Speak Fluently

Chad Fishwick

Understand English Phonetics and Speak Fluently

When studying English, most people focus all their attention on grammar, vocabulary, and writing, but totally forget about pronunciation.

Pronunciation is just as important as other aspects of the language, if not more so. It is also the first thing that someone will perceive when talking to you, and first impressions are important.

Sure, the most important thing about speaking another language is the ability to understand the other person and be able to express yourself, but in certain situations that is not going to be sufficient.

If you want to start FLOWING in the language you are going to have to improve your pronunciation, and start developing your ability to recognize the distinct sounds in the language that you are having problems with.

In this article I am going to give you some great tips to improve you pronunciation drastically and help you understand some common reasons why people have so many problems with English pronunciation.

Common Problems People Have With English Pronunciation

The first problem I notice most of my students have when it comes to pronunciation is the complexity of vowel sounds. Vowel sounds in English can vary a lot and just when you think you have got it down [understood everything], you get tricked by an unexpected change in the pronunciation.

For example, how would you pronounce these following three words:

Food / Blood / Moon

All three of these words have “oo” in the middle, but none of them have the same pronunciation. And, unlike many other Latin languages, we don’t use any kind of accents to stress different sounds. If you thought that was hard, then take a look at this video from Rachel’s English, where she will show us another great example of how English pronunciation can be a bitch [very difficult].

So, how do you feel after watching this video and reading about all the difficulties that people have with pronunciation? Probably a little unmotivated and wanting to give up [quit].

Don’t be such a quitter, let’s start looking at some solutions to this problem that so many English learners have.

Tips To Help Your Pronunciation

If you ask most teachers how to improve your pronunciation, many of them will tell you to start memorizing the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). I don’t like to rule this out [disregard], but I don’t think it’s the best way because it gets very confusing, it takes a long time to memorize, and not many people know it, not even teachers.

Let me give you some alternative ways to help not only the vowel sounds in English, but your pronunciation in general. (All of these following exercises I have done in my own language learning, and with all my students and it has proven to be successful every time)

1. Reverse Accent Mimicry

This is a great start for you to familiarize yourself with some of the biggest differences between your native language and English.

This method is based on analyzing an English speaker (with a strong accent) speaking your native language. You’ll notice that this person has some noticeable problems when speaking. The problems that this person has when speaking your language, can reversibly reflect the problems that you will have when speaking English.

The idea here is to speak your native language like this person is speaking it, imitate everything that that person says and how they say it. These mistakes will reflect not only pronunciation difficulties, but also a lot of structural and grammar differences between the two languages.

Try it out, find a foreigner who is learning your language and get inside their head. Understand and replicate all of their mistakes and this will be a great first step to perfecting English pronunciation.

For more information on Reverse mimicry, click here.

2. Listen and Repeat Exercises

What you have to do is find a cool presentation or speech, preferably about something that you are interested in. It doesn’t matter if you can understand every word or not, the purpose of this exercise is to develop the ability to mimic English speakers.

After you have found a speech that you think would be appropriate, listen to it for about 5 to 10 seconds and then repeat everything the speaker said, exactly how they said it. Like I said earlier, it doesn’t matter if you can’t understand every word the speaker is saying, the purpose of this exercise is to familiarize yourself with all the different sounds of the language, and develop your ability to mimic.

Choosing speeches and presentations in my opinion is better than TV shows and movies because the speaker generally speaks clearly and you don’t get so confused with different voices when it’s dialogue.

I use this exercise a lot to help my pronunciation and it is really interesting at the same time.

3. Recording Your Own Voice

Have you ever recorded your own voice and listened to it being played back? Most people get very self-conscious and don’t believe it’s actually them. If you have experienced this then I’m sorry, that is you and you really do sound like that.

Part of the surprise is hearing yourself speak, because a lot of people don’t like to hear their own voice in English, while part of it is the difficulty you have hearing your own accent.

The beauty of this exercise is that most people are very critical of their own voice and can easily notice their mistakes.

When listening to themselves speaking another language they are going to be just as critical, will instantly become more conscious of how they speak English, and be able to identify their pronunciation errors.

Following this, a great way to make it a more effective exercise is by transcribing [writing down] everything you said in the conversation. When writing everything down, it gives you the opportunity to reflect on your vocabulary and word choice, as well as correct some of your own grammar mistakes you might be having.

Cf. Resenha: Curso de Pronúncia – Inglês Americano

Are you ready to take your pronunciation to the next level?

If you really want to sound like a fluent speaker and minimize your accent, then you have to take pronunciation into consideration a little more.

With these three simple exercises and some dedication and commitment on your behalf, you will be surprised by just how quickly your pronunciation can improve.

Chad Fishwick is one of the co-founders of Real Life English.

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Ulisses Wehby de Carvalho

Chief Executive Blogger at Tecla SAP
Conference Interpreter and Chief Executive Blogger at Tecla SAP.
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Comments

comments

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  • Alex Antunes

    Queria aproveitar o tema do post, que é sobre pronúncia e fazer uma pergunta sobre uma questão que me chamou a atenção.
    Estava vendo um vídeo sobre a pronúncia da palavra OFTEN.
    Alguns meses atrás eu tinha encontrado entre as sugestões de vídeos do Youtube, o seguinte canal http://www.youtube.com/user/EnglishTeacherEmma
    Em um dos vídeos anteriores, não me lembro exatamente qual, a professora (do vídeo) tinha pronunciado “OFTEN” dizendo o “t”. Depois ela mesma, se corrigiu, talvez por sugestão de alguém que a filmava. Depois de alguns dias disso, ela publicou esse vídeo como forma de justificativa.

    Pronunciation – Silent T: often, listen, castle…
    http://youtu.be/z1ioA77rKaM

    Gostaria de ouvir mais sobre essa questão e também sobre a variação da pronúncia do inglês, pois vejo que se tenta impor uma só pronúncia, quando várias são aceitáveis.

  • julio

    Eu tenho uma dica que funcionou muito bem comigo: tenho um dicionário que tem a pronúncia ao lado, com esses símbolos fonéticos, mas tem que ser os “verdadeiros” (do IPA); daí, sempre que necessitava ver o significado de uma palavra ou até mesmo confirma a pronúncia de uma, recorria ao dicionário e lia a palavra e também os símbolos, o que com o passar do tempo (pouco por sinal) já conseguia ler apenas os símbolos e saber qual a palavra, hoje, consigo até ler uma frase, texto etc. só de símbolos e entender perfeitamente, apenas uma questão de estar sempre fazendo isso! bom foi só uma experiência minha que eu gostaria de compartilhar, sinceramente funcionou muito bem e rápido.
    vlw.

    thanks a bunch Ulisses!

  • Damaris

    Ulisses ja disse que te amo, hoje?

    • Ulisses

      Damaris,

      Ainda não… ;-) Só lembrando que o texto não é meu… Mesmo assim, agradeço o elogio em nome do Chad, autor do artigo. Volte sempre!

      Abraços a todos

  • Erico

    Ulisses,
    I think the uppercase word below is a typo in your text:
    “(All of these following exercises I have done in my own language learning, and with all my students and it has proven to BUT successful every time)”.

    And I would like to thank you for posting such a great and helpful post.

    • Ulisses

      Erico,

      Thanks for pointing that out. I’ve just corrected the typo.

      Take care!

  • CASSIA LOPES

    Thank you , I really loved it !
    I’ll try to do the exercises and hope to improve my speaken English.
    I want more articles like that !
    Hugs
    Cassia

  • Suzete

    As an English teacher, I just wanna say “Thank you”…You’ve helped me a lot. PLease, keep on posting interesting things for us.

  • Livia

    Excelente texto!

  • Letícia

    Hey, great tips there, never thought about it, definitely gonna try it. But my greatest problem still is getting nervous when speaking english, specially on interviews.

  • Sergio Rodrigues

    I don’t know if I understand correctly. When he says “listen and repeat” does that mean “shadowing” (listen and speak at the same pace of the narrator)?

  • Alex Antunes

    Wow! Really helful post! It is just what I was needing! I would say in Portuguese: serviu como uma luva. Thank you! :-)