Speak better: 5 easy ways to improve your pronunciation

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Do you often get asked to repeat yourself? Do people find it hard to understand what you’re saying?

Don’t worry. That’s normal. Many of us will have this experience since we are still getting used to speaking in English. Some might still be conscious about their accents, while others may be struggling with using the right English words and pronouncing them.

First of all, don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t worry if you don’t sound very Canadian or that you have a heavy foreign accent. You will notice that Canadians are used to hearing many accents, so it’s not really a problem. Your primary aim should be – to be understood. Secondly, this is just a phase. Your pronunciation will improve with time as you continue to use the language and immerse yourself in the culture. Lastly, you can do many things to hasten your improvement. Here are five simple tips to start with:

  1. Don’t speak too fast

    It’s harder to understand words when they are delivered quickly. We also have a tendency to speak too fast when we are stressed or excited. So before you speak, relax. This avoids tensing up your mouth and vocal cords. Speak at a normal pace. Stress the important words in your sentences by saying them louder and longer. This will help others get your general message without having to listen to each word you say.

  2. Listen and observe

    Observe how others speak and listen to their pace and intonation. When you answer in a conversation, try to mimic the pace and tone of the other person. If you have problems pronouncing certain words, observe how native speakers say them. Notice how they form the words with their mouths and then practice at home.

  3. Record yourself (audio or video)

    If you want to know how you sound like and check weaknesses in your pronunciation, record yourself speaking. Read a page from a book or a newspaper, or have a normal conversation with a friend or family member in English. Listen carefully. Do you understand yourself clearly? Are there certain words or set of words you mispronounce more often? You can also choose pre-recorded speeches (delivered by a native speaker) and then record yourself delivering them. Compare your recording to the pre-recorded speech. Note how fast you speak, your intonation, and how you generally sound. Work on the aspects where you need improvement. You can record yourself as many times moving forward and notice how you improve.

  4. Do exercises

    A lot of us are set in our ways of speaking. If your native language doesn’t have certain sounds that are prevalent in English, your mouth and tongue will not be used to forming most English words. This is why we have to re-train ourselves when it comes to pronunciation. One of the best ways of doing this is to do exercises that help our mouth, lips, tongue, vocal cords and throat relax. These help us become more flexible and capable of pronouncing different sounds. A good example is singing English songs, which is not only relaxing and fun, it also helps you notice the rhythm and stress patterns of words. Try using tongue twisters to improve your diction. You can also try these vocal exercises from Rachel’s English (series 1-6):

    You can find the rest of the exercises here: Rachel’s English relaxation exercises.

  5. Look words up

    Develop the habit of looking up a word when you’re unsure of how to pronounce it. Most online dictionaries don’t only define words, they also have a feature that lets you hear how the word sounds when spoken. Beside or below a word, you may see an icon that looks like a speaker. Click on the icon and hear the word pronounced. If you don’t want to use this feature, just check its phonetic spelling (written the way it should be said. For example: Bouquet – /bōˈkā, bo͞oˈkā/).

Pronunciation is something that improves the more you use the language. Continue immersing yourself by listening to English music, podcasts, news and others. Join conversations, make small talk, or make a presentation. Some even join their local Toastmasters Club to take their language skills to the next level. Keep at it and you’ll see (and hear) great improvement in no time!

Sources: English pronunciation (How to improve), Lingoda; 15 ways to improve your English pronunciation, Learn English with Emma (EngVid); and 10 tips for perfect English pronunciation, Wil, English Live. Accessed April 16, 2019.

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Community Resources

Want more pronunciation tips? Join our Lunch & Learns every Monday and Wednesday at 12 – 12:30 pm. Aside from pronunciation advice, you’ll also learn quick grammar tips you can use in your everyday life.

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