One of the most difficult aspects of learning a new language is mastering the pronunciation. Sometimes the new language contains sounds (phonemes) that don’t exist in the learner’s native tongue. Sometimes patterns of intonation are unfamiliar and difficult to imitate. Sometimes the learner transposes features of pronunciation from their first language to the new language. Whatever the challenge, these five strategies can help your learners to dramatically improve pronunciation.
- Listen – You cannot master the pronunciation of a new language if you cannot hear the features that make it unique. Begin by training your ears. Listen carefully to native speech and notice how pronunciation differs with that of your mother tongue. If you discover a pattern in pronunciation, listen for it each time you encounter native speakers.
- Little by little – Don’t try to learn everything at once. Isolate a particular sound that gives you trouble and practice it over and over until your pronunciation improves. Practice speaking many different words that contain the sound until you begin to feel confident. Once you have reached this stage, it’s time to move on to a new challenge.
- Repeat after me – Search online for audio or video files of native speakers. Play a short segment of the file, and imitate the native speaker’s pronunciation. You may need to listen several times before you attempt the word or phrase yourself.
- Start slow – When learning to make unfamiliar sounds, don’t attempt to match the speed of native speakers right away. Doing so often results in muddled pronunciation, which may make it difficult for some people to understand you. Slow down and focus on making the proper movements with your lips and tongue. Once you are familiar with how the sounds are formed, then you can begin to increase the speed.
- Record and analyze – We do not always hear ourselves clearly, especially when we are concentrating all of our attention on making the correct movements with our lips and tongues. Whenever possible, record yourself speaking. Listen carefully and analyse your pronunciation. What areas are fine, and what areas require more work. Recording yourself and comparing your pronunciation against a model is one of the best ways to improve.
Remember that pronunciation varies a lot even among native speakers, and that there is no perfect example to follow. When it comes to pronunciation, focus on improving not perfecting. The goal is not to sound exactly like someone else but to make your speaking understandable to as many people as possible. Good pronunciation is a journey, not a destination. Make a habit of using the strategies mentioned above, and it won’t be long before you start to notice major improvements in your pronunciation.