Sometimes we are so busy paying attention to what we should be doing that we forget to also notice what not to do, hence 5 major pronunciation don’ts.
Pronunciation Don’t 1
Don’t expect to change your accent completely to sound like a native in only a few weeks.
It takes months and months of practise to begin to sound like a native speaker. Of course every new speech element you make automatic in your everyday speech, will make your English pronunciation clearer. As you make more and more elements automatic in your speech the effect is cumulative, so the difference is much greater than that one speech element. You need to be patient with yourself and break your progress into small goals. Choose one speech element and work on it till it’s automatic and then choose another etc, rather than trying to change everything at once. It helps speed the process up if you give yourself goals and know what to work on.
Think of each pronunciation element you master as bringing you a big step closer to being clearer or speaking English like a native.
Pronunciation Don’t 2
Move your mouth the same way you always have, and expect to sound different with your English pronunciation.
When you’re changing your English pronunciation you need to move your mouth differently for the sounds and words than you usually do, otherwise nothing is changing.
As you practise moving your mouth differently, you are building new muscle memory so your mouth ‘remembers’ how to move in the new way.
Yes it will feel different and odd at first. For example the pronunciation for the English /t/ and /d/ sounds is with the tip of your tongue tapping straight up on the middle of the bony ridge behind your front top teeth. This is a different placement for these sounds from many other languages where the tongue taps forward to the back of the front top teeth.
As you practise aloud over and over, your mouth is learning to move in a new way. As you practise your pronunciation over and over your mouth gets a chance to get used to moving that way.
Pronunciation Don’t 3
Practise and practise and then not use what you have practised in your everyday life situations.
This is like practising a new tennis backhand shot against the wall in your backyard so you are really good at it, and then not using it when you go to play in a tennis tournament. As the saying goes if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Some customers have said they feel embarrassed to use their new pronunciation with others. Some customers say that when they speak with others they speak more quickly, and so think they can’t use the new pronunciation.
To the first customers I say be brave and use it. Nothing will change otherwise. To the second lot of customers, I suggest they begin by using the new English pronunciation in situations where they don’t have to say much. For example when asking for something in a shop, ordering a coffee, having a short conversation on the phone etc, and then build up to longer speech situations.
Most of the time you are the only one who notices what you are doing. The other person will just understand you more easily, which is the point anyway.
Pronunciation Don’t 4
Practise without listening to, and copying a native English speaker.
Yes you need to learn to move your mouth differently for your new English pronunciation, and together with this, you also need to make a new English ‘recording ‘ in your head.
When we mimic an accent or someone else, we can do it because we are replaying how they sound in our head, and then mimicking that. If you don’t listen over and over again to an English trainer with the accent you want and mimic them, then you aren’t making a new ‘audio recording’ in your brain to refer to. It’s like when you replay/recall something your parent or a particular friend has said to you, or something a character on TV has said. You recall it including the accent they used and the tone they used, and if you wanted to, you could say it as they said it. You would mimic them. Think of a good friend now and ‘hear’ them say something. Hear what I mean?
Some people say, yes but I hear people speaking English all around me isn’t that enough? Well yes this makes acquiring a new accent or accent reduction easier. You also need to be listening through headphones to a trainer using sentences and words specifically targeting the English pronunciation element you are working on as well. This speeds up the process of making that new audio recording in your head to refer to, when you want to use your new clear pronunciation.
Pronunciation Don’t 5
Forget to purposely choose something specific to work on, and to listen for.
What do I mean by this?
Don’t try to change everything in your English accent pronunciation at once. Let’s say you have chosen a specific pronunciation element to work on for your English training, for instance stressing the right syllables and de-stressing the right syllables in words of more than one syllable. Make sure you work on this till it’s automatic, but even more importantly, don’t just pay attention to this when you are doing your practise, and then forget to notice it when others are speaking.
Pay attention to this English pronunciation element when others are speaking as well. Notice which syllables are stressed and which are de stressed when they talk. You might surprise yourself and find you were stressing a particular word in the wrong way, especially words you use a lot at work.
For example it’s not contain, but cəntain ( the 2nd syllable is stressed – the ‘ai’ vowel is said clearly, and said slightly longer, and with a slight raise in pitch, and the first syllable is the weak form said with a schwa vowel).
I hope these pronunciation ‘don’ts’ have helped.
Best wishes, Esther