Some English learners struggle with grammar; some struggle with reading; others have a hard time with listening. But the skill that may be the most difficult to master is pronunciation.
Not only are the sounds in English different than those in your native language, but oftentimes the word is pronounced differently than it looks. Plus, there are many exceptions to pronunciation rules. It’s enough to drive you crazy!
To learn correct English pronunciation, you have to practice, but what are the best ways to do this?
How to Practice English Pronunciation
1. Listen to Spoken English
You won’t improve your English pronunciation unless you listen to spoken English. Listen to English as often as you can – watch YouTube videos, listen to music and podcasts, play TED talks, watch TV shows and movies; you can even eavesdrop on a conversation between native speakers.
When you listen, ask yourself questions like “Did she say sheep or ship?” and “Was that can or can’t?” Repeat after the speaker and compare your pronunciation to theirs (especially if you’re playing something you can pause and stop).
2. Practice Minimal Pairs
Minimal pairs are similar words that are different by only one sound (i.e., bad and bed). There are lists of minimal pairs online and websites with minimal pairs exercises. ManyThings.org has a lot of great minimal pairs exercises; users can listen to the words used in a sentence, and then quiz themselves.
3. Practice Regularly
As with other language skills (and life skills), it’s very important that you practice regularly – not just once in a while.
Regular practice is often better than practicing for long periods of time; even 15 minutes a day of listening and practicing sounds is beneficial, and maybe even more so than one three-hour session a week. Make it a regular part of your routine, such as right after dinner or before you go to bed.
4. Speak Slow and Over-pronounce Sounds
When you’re first starting to practice English pronunciation, speak slowly and over-pronounce the sounds. Or in other words, exaggerate the sounds you make. Open your mouth wide when you say an open vowel like æ, and when you say a long vowel like ī, make it longer than you usually would.
Take extra care with sounds you know are a challenge for you; for example, if your language doesn’t have a strong h sound, say the h sound in English especially strong when you’re practicing.
5. Use an App
There are several apps that can help you practice English pronunciation. They’re a great way to practice because you can listen on your phone and record your voice through your phone’s microphone.
Try Sounds by Macmillan Education, which has interactive phonemic charts for both British and American English, and a premium version in which you can record your own voice.
There is also English Pronunciation by KEPHAM, that enables you to listen to different sounds, make the sounds yourself, and check your progress.
6. Watch Yourself in a Mirror
Look at yourself in a mirror as you say English words. Notice the placement of your tongue, lips, and the shape of your mouth.
It may be helpful to watch a video of a native speaker pronouncing the same English sounds first, and then ask yourself, “Do I look like a native speaker when I talk?” This exercise can be very informative.
7. Act out Scenarios
If you don’t have many opportunities to practice your speaking or pronunciation, get creative and create scenarios for yourself to act out.
Pretend you’re ordering something at a restaurant or giving a presentation at work. You can also record yourself and listen to it afterwards.