Pronunciation is really important for communication and making sure people understand your message.
Pronunciation is also helpful for your listening skills. When you know what words sound like in a sentence, you'll understand much more of what you hear.
So, how can you improve your pronunciation? Here are some ideas.
1. Listen and write
Take a short clip from a song, film, show or audio file. Write down the words that you hear and replay it until you have got them all. Play it at 0.75x or 0.5x speed if you need to.
Then compare your version with the lyrics, transcript or subtitles. Did you get it exactly? Note any differences. This really helps you to focus on particular pronunciation features.
Finally, say the words yourself, copying the same sounds that you heard. Repeat the practice until you can pronounce the sounds smoothly and comfortably.
2. Speak and check
This is the reverse of the previous tip. Now, you say the words and let a dictation app or website write down what you say.
If it writes down what you said correctly, you must have pronounced it well! But if it doesn't, check those misunderstood words because you might not have pronounced them clearly. (Note, however, that dictation programs do sometimes make mistakes.)
For this tip, you'll need a dictation app or website. Many phones have voice dictation functions. You can also use websites such as https://dictation.io/ (make sure you set the language to English).
3. Record yourself
Prepare a few sentences and record yourself saying them, using your phone. Then listen to the recording. Are you satisfied with your pronunciation? Were any sounds unclear? Was it too fast or slow?
You can also try saying the sentences that you listened to for tip 1 and compare your recording with the original.
Many people dislike listening to their own voice! But if you can get past this reaction, it's a good way to identify things to improve in your pronunciation.
4. Learn pronunciation symbols
Did you know that English has 26 letters but over 40 different sounds?
We use special symbols to show pronunciation. For example, the word enough is /ɪ'nʌf/. This helps us see that the first sound of enough is actually an /ɪ/ sound, not an /e/ sound, even it's spelled with 'e'.
It's worth learning these symbols because then you can identify individual sounds more precisely. Learning the symbols takes a little work, but it's not too hard – in fact, many are obvious. You can probably guess what sounds /n/ and /f/ represent!
Most dictionaries use these symbols. You can also see and hear all of the symbols in the Sounds Right app.
5. Focus on confusing sounds
We suggest focusing on sounds that can cause confusion for listeners if they are pronounced incorrectly. Here are some examples.
- Long and short vowels, e.g. I want to leave here (long /i:/ sound) vs I want to live here (short /ɪ/ sound)
- /r/ and /l/, e.g. Can you correct the file? vs Can you collect the file?
- Consonant clusters, e.g. clothes – some people say it like close or closes.
When you practise English, make a note of any confusions like these and practise pronouncing them clearly.
Now you've read our advice on improving your pronunciation, go and try out some of the ideas. Good luck!