October 23

How To Improve Pronunciation

Discovering how to improve pronunciation is an essential task for any serious language learner. It is easy to get discouraged when you try and the results aren’t as good as you hoped. Sometimes all it takes is to come across a new idea to get you moving again, but of course the idea has to be something that will get results!

I had the opportunity recently to provide someone with some help with their pronunciation.  This person, Alex, already had a very high standard of pronunciation but wished to make it as close to native like as he could. I made a suggestion to him, which he tried and from which he got some really great results.  I thought I would include this interaction here on these pages so you can all benefit from it.  I have included the entirety of the interaction so you have some context and a better sense of what is involved.

Alex O:  Frankly speaking, I was never ambitious about my English pronunciation. But, I really care about my German pronunciation. I thought that somebody would help me to correct it or give some tips. For instance, I took part in a course about correct pronunciation here at the university. However, they didn’t do anything that significantly improved my pronunciation. They even didn’t try to do it.

That’s why I try to correct my pronunciation myself. I am not confident about my accent, but I don’t think it is strong. Everybody understands me and hopefully also my jokes :). My mother tongue is Russian and sounds are palatalized. Since I have perfect pitch I record how I am reading aloud to see the progress and to correct my pronunciation. Hence, I found out that my speech is understandable but duration of vocals is incorrect (it is also clear – there is no duration of sounds in Russian pronunciation). The sounds should be shorter and more accented. My idea of correct duration was incorrect. But I realized it.

I think I will continue to read aloud although it hurts – you only here your own speech from inside your head and not from outside and your voice sounds very strange. Can you comment on my learning method or recommend something else? Challenging task without hearing, isn’t it? 🙂

 Andrew Weiler:  Well, the “problem” starts with your first sentence. Nothing will happen until the attiude changes…to be quite frank Alex.

The reality is that outside assistance is possible but there are very few language teachers who know what they are doing in this.

One idea you could try is tape some natural speech from a video.

  • write it out
  • and then record yourself saying the same.
  • Then, compare the two…then you will have evidence that is objective…

Then there are 2 factors to deal with:

  • your listening ability. If you miss things, then the second factor below will be affected. But you can improve your listening this way ….
  • your ability to alter your speech…record your speech multiple times and see what improvement you can make

My suggestion is you try something short…if you can get a word or phrase right then…it depends upon how committed you are to go right through your pronunciation. Mind you improvement can come exponentially IF the approach is “right” One way to answer the question of – how to improve pronunciation – is right here!

Alex O: You know what you say! 🙂 Actually, I should have known it from my scientific work (“iterative improvement through short steps”).   And what is in your opinion short? One word, one sentence, one paragraph?

Andrew Weiler:  Well, it’s hard to say from a distance….maybe start with a sentence. And see what happens. If it seems too difficult, cut it down….A word might appear too easy…but then you might struggle. …dunno. Experiment a bit and see what happens.
Let me know how you go.

Alex O : But nothing horrible will happen if I experiment a bit?

Seriously, do you think there are some demographic issues such as age, race, gender that would be better for comparison? (Sounds silly but can be important). For example, I wouldn’t compare my pronunciation with that of a 8-year girl. How do you think?

Andrew Weiler:  Spot on, If you want to sound like Brad Pitt, get one of his movies. Alternatively you could try Angelia Jolie! 🙂
Seriously, get something you resonate with. The reality is that you will never end up sounding exactly like that…but you will go towards it.

Alex O Andrew, it works 🙂 Just astonishing! Of course, you knew it, but it works. I found a person I want to imitate and recorded 4 or 5 times how he speaks (30 sec). German is not my mother tongue but I think I’ve got it very authentic. I couldn’t even identify my problems.

Should I begin to train other texts because the first sound good? If I repeat the old ones it would be very boring. Should I choose texts so that I have some specific problem focus? For example, some specific area in the IPA chart?

I think a great advantage I get when I have such repetitions that I know what will be next. I have only to repeat the things I already know. There is no uncertainty. In many cases, however I don’t know what comes next and it is a huge problem for my pronunciation.

Andrew Weiler:  Great stuff! Hard to know from a distance about individual results, as not sure about your skills, etc etc. However the technique itself is rock solid.

You will find that as you use this pronunciation technique, your listening skills will actually adjust themselves and eventually you will learn to improve your pronunciation while having coffee with a friend, talking to neighbour, at the office, etc.

So for now, my suggestion is to have a play with this technique and see what you can do with it.  If you have any questions or suggested enhancements as to how to improve pronunciation using this technique, pop them below.



how to improve pronunciation

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  • Great strategy Andrew! I’m constantly telling my students who want to improve their pronunciation to LISTEN to native speakers and try to sound like them. It’s as simple as listen and repeat, sometimes. Nice article.

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