10 Best Ways to Improve Pronunciation in a Foreign Language

Richard Nolan is a blogger from Kansas City, Kansas, USA and a private tutor of English and Russian, sharing his experience in the spheres of education, self-growth, and psychology. He learned Russian for 4 years when he lived in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Nowadays he writes for numerous blogs and gives useful tips for bloggers, students and teachers. You can learn more about Richard on Facebook, Twitter, & Google+.


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Do you remember the movie with Audrey Hepburn ‘My Fair Lady’? ‘The rain is Spain falls mainly on the plain…’ – this simple phrase was a real problem for the main character. Even a native speaker may have some problems with pronunciation. Audrey’s heroine demonstrates that perfectly. But what to do if you are not a native speaker? How to correct your accent? How to sound like an Englishman, not a Finnish who tries to speak English? Well, that takes time. A lot of time. And a lot of efforts as well. Your jaw will go crazy when you learn how to sound like a native speaker. We can guarantee you that. But the results deserve the efforts.

1. Listen to how they speak

If you want to speak without an accent, you need to listen to the native speakers. There is a small trick: American English and British English sound different. Moreover, American English and British English have their own dialects and differences in accents and pronunciation. So first you need to choose how exactly you want to sound. Perhaps, you want to sound like a British man or you choose to sound like an American. Take into account your goals. If you plan to go to the US, you need to know how Americans sound and to do everything possible to sound like them. If you need to go to the Great Britain, go for a British accent.

Listening helps understand how you should pronounce sounds. The best way to catch the idea of pronouncing sounds correctly is to watch TV series. When you hear the sound and see how it is pronounced, you can easily understand what you should do to make the same sound.

2. Pay special attention to phonetics

When you start to learn a new language, you learn grammar and spelling. But frequently you forget about one essential thing – phonetics. If you want to sound like a native speaker, you need to understand how each sound is produced. For example, in the English language, there is such quality of vowel sounds like longitude. That is why ‘sheep’ and ‘ship’ sound differently, though for a beginner they may sound absolutely the identically.

3. Repeat sounds

Do you feel uncomfortable producing different sounds in front of a class? Do that when you are alone. But you should pronounce sounds before you start to speak another language. When you understand how a sound is pronounced on a physical level, it is easier for you to master the quality of your speech. Train your speech like you train your muscles.

4. Repeat words and phrases

Sounds are important, but the words are important as well. When you are good with all sounds, it does not mean that you speak perfectly. Your intonation may be absolutely different from the intonation native speaker use. So when you listen how native speakers talk, repeat now only some sounds, but the whole sentences. The most effective exercise is to take a speech of some president and repeat it sentence after sentence.

5. Record yourself

In order to understand your mistakes, you need to hear how you speak. If you have no one to correct your mistakes, just make a record of your speech. You will hear all the drawbacks and you will understand the points you need to pay more attention to.

Of course, if you have someone who can listen to you and tell you what you are doing wrong, you need to ask for a help. But if you are all alone, you need to rely on yourself and your abilities to criticize yourself.

6. Sing songs

When children start to learn foreign languages they sing songs. It may sound a little bit funny for an adult, but this method can be even better than watching TV-series and recording yourself. It combines several methods: listening, speaking itself and repeating sounds after a native speaker. Do not choose some modern dub-step songs or hip-hop songs listening to which you understand nothing. It is always better to start with old good classics. For example, The Beatles are perfect for those who just start to learn English.

7. Learn theory

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For many students, a theory is really the most boring part. But when we talk about phonetics, we need to understand that theory is highly important. However, it is rather complicated especially with the part of physiology. It explains what organs and muscles are used to produce certain sounds, where to place your tongue and how you should use your lips. Also, theory explains all tones and intonations. You will understand how you should sound when you ask a question and why high rise tone is so important in your speech.

8. Use transcriptions

What do you do when you read a word and you do not know how to pronounce it? You try to read it by yourself creating some new rules of pronunciation or check a dictionary? In fact, a dictionary is the best friend of a person who studies English, in dictionary you can find not only a translation of a text, but also a transcription.

Transcription is how a word should be pronounced. Transcriptions have their own rules and symbols, and you need to understand what those symbols stand for. For example, there is a sound schwa in the English language. Do you know it? Do you know how to pronounce it in different situations?

Accents are also indicated in dictionaries. If you do not know where to place an accent, you may have some problems. For example, there are words where accent indicates to what part of speech they belong. Use dictionaries if you want to sound like a native speaker.

9. Speak regularly

This is a rule which you need to obey strictly. If you try to speak English from time to time, your speech becomes too heavy. You need more time to get used to sounds again, and you can actually just forget how to pronounce different sounds. Pronunciation can be compared to some physical exercises. When your muscles forget how to do something, you need some time to restore your skill. The same is with pronunciation. Use any free moment to speak, even if you are speaking to yourself. It is far better than not to speak at all.

10. Do not be shy to speak

This is a common problem for all students who learn foreign languages. They are afraid of sounding funny and speak with mistakes. But you will never learn to speak English if you do not do those mistakes. First, it will be uncomfortable to speak loud, especially when you study language with a group of people. But in a couple of months, you will notice that you are better with each day. Eventually, you will find out that speaking is not so difficult and you can really cope with that.

There is one more tip which we did not include into our list of 10 best ways to improve your English. That is moving to another country. When you live in an environment where everyone speaks English, you learn faster. Moreover, you start to sound like a native speaker. Use this possibility to boost your speech and no one ever will think that you are just a student!

  • Peter Rettig ,

    Agree with all your points. In regard to #2, it often requires someone to tell you about the “mouth mechanics” for certain sounds. Until my language coach (my wife!) showed me how to pronounce the English “W”, I sounded like a typical German!