Want to improve your pronunciation?

Pronunciation word jumble

Pronunciation is one area that many students find challenging. By choosing to study English at CEC, you have taken an important step toward improving your spoken English because you are in an English-speaking country. Everyday, in class and in town, you have the opportunity to hear people speaking a variety of ‘Englishes’. Take advantage of this by spending time talking with native English speakers and with non-native speakers who come from a different country than you.

So what’s the next step? How can you actively focus on pronouncing words well enough so that you can be easily understood? Here are some tips:

1. If you want to REALLY KNOW a word, learn how to say it.

When you learn new vocabulary, either in class or through self-study, it’s really important to learn how to pronounce it properly and which vowel sound(s) to stress. This is especially true in English because the way a word is spelt is often different from the way it is pronounced. Here is an example:

enough

Pronunciation: /ɪˈnʌf/

Say new words to yourself so that you will remember how they sound. Ask your teacher to repeat words for you if necessary, and when you study or review your vocabulary, say the words aloud.

The symbols above (/ɪˈnʌf/) are phonemic script and show how the word ‘enough’ is pronounced. Most good dictionaries will have this information before the definition. The /ˈ / symbol shows where the main syllable stress is located (for more on word stress, see tip number 3). If you learn a new word outside of class, or if you forget how to pronounce a word, this script can be very helpful – which brings us to tip number 2.

2. Don’t be afraid of phonemic script.

This may look like a secret code, but it’s just a way to ‘see’ sounds.

Phonemic chart
Image courtesy of nativeenglishteacher.blogspot.com

The consonant sounds in English are mostly represented by symbols that look a lot like the consonants you write. The vowel sounds include the diphthongs which are two vowel sounds together. These, along with a few of the strange looking consonant symbols, can be learned by interacting with the chart online. Pick 1-2 sounds to learn each week. Once you know the sound, look and listen for words that contain it. Check your guesses using a dictionary.

Visit this site to play with an interactive chart of all the phonemic symbols.

http://www.onestopenglish.com/upload/public/attachments/37/osephonemicchart.swf

Compare these symbols to the ones you see in your learner’s dictionary or at Oxford’s Online Dictionary.

3. There is no TABLE in COMfortable.

Remember that word stress (also called syllable stress) is part of what makes English sound like English!

‘Enough’ has two syllables because it has two vowel SOUNDS. English speakers put more ‘power’ and emphasis into one of the vowel sounds in words that have more than one syllable.

enough

Pronunciation: /ɪˈnʌf/
The vowel sounds are /ɪ/ and /ʌ/. We know that the syllable with the /ʌ/ sound is stressed because it has the /ˈ / symbol before it.
This is a very important part of communication because words can be recognised through their syllable stress even when the speaker is talking very fast or when some of the individual sounds in the word are mispronounced. On the other hand, saying a word with the correct sounds but with the wrong syllable stress can cause misunderstanding. Here is a common example of this problem:

comfortable

You can see from the phonemic script that there are several ways to pronounce this word. Some people pronounce the /ə/ sounds at the middle and end, and others don’t. This doesn’t cause any problems for understanding because the first syllable /ˈkʌm(f)/ is stressed and is what the listener will focus on. So when an English speaker hears that, they think:

COMfortable

comfortable puppies
Image courtesy of faith goble

Sometimes this word is mispronounced and the stress is put in the wrong place. When that happens, an English speaker will still focus on the stressed syllable and might misunderstand. They may even think:

(comfor)TABLE

table
Image courtesy of mnadi

To practise identifying the stress in words, try the brilliant Stress Monsters game at the Oxford University Press website. (I recommend this game for any level!)

4. Be aware of the sounds you have difficulty with and focus on improving these.

Your teachers can help you identify which areas of English pronunciation are difficult for you, but you can also learn which sounds are normally hard for speakers of your first language to say. Visit this page to find out more about common mistakes in English pronunciation organised by mother tongue:

http://www.tedpower.co.uk/phono.html

Test Yourself:

Can you hear the difference between these pairs of words when you say them aloud?

price/prize

beer/bear

sit/seat

Look them up in a dictionary to check the phonemic script. You will be able to see which sounds are different in each pair. http://oxforddictionaries.com/

Self-study resources:

To learn more about syllable stress:

http://www.englishclub.com/pronunciation/word-stress-rules.htm

To learn and practise the phonemic script, try the games at:

http://www.cambridgeenglishonline.com/Phonetics_Focus/

You can get an app that helps you to learn the phonemic symbols (Android, iPhone and iPad):

Macmillan Pronunciation App
Macmillan Pronunciation App

What methods do you use to study and practise your English pronunciation? Leave a reply below and share your tips!

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Karl says:

    Thanks for the pronunciation tips! It’s very useful to improve my English.

  2. sabbirsenglishworld.com says:

    very good Pronunciation tips…

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