Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

February 18, 2010

Pronunciation – Some practical tips.

In my last post I suggested some easy practice for speaking and to continue the theme I thought it was time to say something about pronunciation.

Pronunciation is a bit of a cinderella when it comes to learning English. We all want to speak fluently and accurately, have good listening and writing skills and improve our reading and vocabulary but unless there are any real issues, pronunciation can wait.

I have to admit, also, that many of my English teacher colleagues give it a bit of a cold shoulder as there is always too much to cover in lessons and it can be a very individual issue.

It does tend to rear it’s head at advanced level when it is one of those things that still needs to be addressed.

So where does that leave us?  Good, clear pronunciation helps with communication and it makes sense to include it with all the other skills from the beginning. However, there are some ‘self-help’ things you can try to work on by yourself,  not least, checking how to pronounce new words as you learn them. Most dictionaries both online and off will give you the pronunciation.

Macmillan dictionary

Consider these examples of less than ideal pronunciation.

  • A university friend from Hong Kong once asked me (this is true) – ‘Do you keep your ruggage in the loof?’ Ok, this is funny and it was very easy to understand what he meant – but in a different context it might have led to misunderstanding or embarrassment.

 

  • A close Indonesian friend always said, when she picked me up by car, GET IN, with a flat intonation and two strong stresses. It irritated me every time as she sounded rude and almost gangster-like. I finally showed her how to make this more polite and friendly and my irritation dissolved. Again in another context she may have created a less than favourable opinion of herself.

 

  • A Brazilian student had problems with the pronunciation of we and you, these always sounded like ‘you’ and she had endless misunderstandings in meetings when it was not clear who had, or was going to do something.

 

  • Another student from Turkey frequently asked for soap in the college canteen (soup).

 

  • Finally, my own mis-pronunciation to a Chinese friend of the Hokkien word for ‘thank-you’ with the result that I accused her of being ‘stingy’!

I’m sure we all have our own pronunciation stories to tell!

English teachers are very tolerant of pronunciation errors but, in my experience English speakers at large are not. I have often had students present themselves for lessons because their speaking/conversation skills were not good. In most all cases they had been referred by line-managers who were native speakers and in most cases their speaking skills were, in fact, very good – the mangers were having problems with pronunciation. In a work scenario people will not make too many allowances, if they can’t understand then it’s a speaking/English language problem and it is your’s.

Practical tips

It makes sense to start with your own pronunciation. Have you listened to yourself speaking English? Part of good pronunciation is being able to hear it in the first place.

  • Record yourself  speaking – try to do this in an authentic setting if you can. Listen to your performance and analyse it.  How do you think you sound? Is there anything that is unclear? Is there anything you spot that you should try to work on?

Sometimes there are sounds that are just difficult to pronounce perhaps because they don’t exist in your mother tongue or because they are simply tricky. The ‘th’ sound and consonant clusters e.g. ‘ str’ come to mind.

  • Does this sound exist elsewhere in your language? At the end of a word or the middle? If so try to isolate it.
  • Do you need to train yourself to pronounce it? Use a mirror – is your tongue in the right place, your teeth? Sometimes a very small adjustment is all that is needed and you will be able to see in the mirror how this can be achieved.

Reading aloud is a very good way of practising pronunciation.

  • Take a short text and read it out. Try and find something with dialogue so you can get the intonation for speech in as well.
  • Exaggerate the intonation , slow it down to get the pattern. English intonation has quite a wide range.
  • Why not record yourself? Do it a few times and see if it improves.

The old language labs used to work on the principle of model – repeat – listen and compare – model again etc.. until your version was as close as you could make it to the model.

  • Using models for repetition is still a good way to practice
  • Drilling, though not very interesting, is also a useful exercise

At word level

Ship or Sheep online (you may have used the book)

This exercise gives practice at word/sound level English-online

At sentence level

Try this exercise on weak stresses from Gapfillers

Use this poem for some intonation practice

 General

BBC Learning English gives advice and information on all aspects of pronunciation.

As with other aspects of language learning little and often is the way to improve steadily and keep your interest.

Other posts which deal with practice

Language Immersion

An A to Z of effective language practice

Register – choosing the appropriate language for the context

Word Stress – words with more than 2 syllables

Word Stress – words with 2 syllables

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9 Comments »

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Parentella: RT @rliberni: New post – Pronunciation – Some practical tips.: http://wp.me/ptGdh-lC #efl #esl#ell…

    Trackback by uberVU - social comments — February 18, 2010 @ 6:38 pm | Reply

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    Pingback by Pronunciation – Some practical tips. « Rliberni's Blog – Radical … Blog — February 19, 2010 @ 4:24 am | Reply

  3. Hi Rliberni,
    I liked your posts. I think pronunciation is an important issue which shouldn’t be neglected or put aside.
    I choose best students of the month to motivate them about pronunciation. I wanted to suggest one at sentence level “www.englishcentral.com”. Students love it.

    Comment by Gulin Sahin — February 19, 2010 @ 5:33 pm | Reply

    • Hi Gulin. Thank you for commenting and for recommending this site. I did look at several and couldn’t find many at sentence level so this is great! I had a look at the site and it looks very good for practice and fun and interesting too! I like your motivation technique too, another idea to add.

      Comment by rliberni — February 19, 2010 @ 6:02 pm | Reply

  4. It’s actually a nice and useful piece of information. I am glad that you just shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by learn to speak spanish easily — December 3, 2011 @ 11:44 pm | Reply

    • Thanks 🙂

      Comment by rliberni — December 3, 2011 @ 11:57 pm | Reply

  5. This valuable blog, “Pronunciation – Some practical tips.
    Rliberni’s Blog – Radical language” reveals the fact that u really know what precisely u are writing about! I really definitely approve. Thank you -Hung

    Comment by http://tinyurl.com/placrace17109 — January 19, 2013 @ 11:51 am | Reply

    • Thank you for your kind comment

      Comment by rliberni — January 21, 2013 @ 5:41 pm | Reply

  6. Thanks a lot for spending free time to publish “Pronunciation – Some practical tips.

    | Rliberni’s Blog – Radical language” http://sevenyearsgone.com . Many thanks yet again -Cierra

    Comment by Leo — March 2, 2013 @ 9:47 am | Reply


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