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ESL: Pronunciation Practices, Tips & Tricks to Help You Sound Great!

Updated on December 31, 2015

Pronunciation Makes an Impression!

Pronunciation is always a big challenge when speaking a language that is not your own. No matter how hard you try, there are always some sounds in a foreign language that your tongue and lips simply will not want to make! What can you do to sound as native and natural as possible? Here are some practices, tips and tricks that will help you to sound your best!

Practice!

There is no way around it! Practice is the key to good overall pronunciation. The more you listen and talk, the better your pronunciation will be.

Listen!

The best way to learn pronunciation is to listen to native speakers. Listen to music in English while you are doing something else. Listen to books on tape. Watch movies in English. Listen to language tapes. You don’t have to talk. Just listen. You don’t have to struggle. Listen just before you go to sleep at night. Just let the information soak into your thoughts and dreams. You will be surprised to find good pronunciation becoming a part of you.

Talk!

After you have been listening for a while, you will start to feel more comfortable. You may find yourself singing along with your music in English without even thinking about it! Good for you! That is a very natural way to learn pronunciation and to exercise your lips, tongue and throat to make natural sounds in English!

When you choose audio books, check to see if the reader is a man or a woman before you purchase. If you are a man, look for books read by a man. If you are a woman, look for books read by a woman. Get the print books to go along with your audio books. Read along so that you can get a clear picture of the words in your mind as you hear them spoken.

Reading aloud is a great way to practice pronunciation!

Title:Traci Reading Aloud: Attribution License: everystockphoto.com:Photographer - artfulblogger
Title:Traci Reading Aloud: Attribution License: everystockphoto.com:Photographer - artfulblogger

Listen to and read along with a paragraph or two, then turn off the recording and make a recording of your own. Read the same paragraphs and listen to yourself. Do you sound like the audio book reader? If not, what do you need to improve? Focus on sounding as much like the reader as you can.

Tips!
Give Priority Practice to Priority Words!

Nobody has perfect pronunciation. Even native speakers have some words that they do not say perfectly. That’s alright for the occasional unimportant word. However, along with trying to have good general pronunciation, you can increase the overall impressiveness of your pronunciation by taking great care to always pronounce important words correctly each and every time you say them.

The reason for this is that people are sure to notice and remember if you mispronounce important words. For example, if you are unable to tell people your job title or your major course of study without struggling with the pronunciation, they will remember. The fact that you can’t say the name of something that important correctly will stand out. If you can’t say the name of a famous person you claim to admire or the name of your favorite actor, actress, movie, author, or book, that will leave an impression on people.

Say Proper Nouns Perfectly Every Time!

It is very important that you learn to say the names of important people, places and things perfectly, and say them perfectly every time. If you can do this, it will deflect interest from the rest of your speech. Saying those important words perfectly will go far toward making your overall speech seem fluent.

If AVATAR is your favorite movie, be sure you know how to pronounce it!

Make a list of the people, places and things that are most important to you and the things that are your favorites. Learn the correct English pronunciation of each one. If you have a friend who is a native speaker, ask that person to record the word for you so that you can practice it over and over again. Give these important words a lot of attention. Your ability to say them without stumbling will serve you well.

Tricks!
Give Hints, Clues, and Heads-ups!

One thing I have learned from talking on the telephone for a living for quite a few years is that there are some words that people will never understand the first time you say them no matter how clearly you say them. For example, if I just ask, “When was the last time you rode a bicycle?” My listener will always say, “What?”, “Pardon me?”, “I didn’t hear you!” It doesn’t matter how clearly I say it, how good the connection is, or how fluent the other person’s English is. For that reason, I always give that person a “heads-up” (hint or clue) as to what I am about to ask. I say, “I am going to ask you a question about riding a bicycle.” The person says, “Oh, yes, a bicycle, I know!” Then I ask the question.

You can do this, too. If you know you are about to say a proper noun that you have trouble with, give a hint. For example, say you are asked to talk about a famous person whom you admire, and you want to talk about Marie Curie, but you have trouble saying Marie Curie. If you just start out your talk by saying, “I want to talk about Marie Curie.” I guarantee, the person you are talking to will miss the next couple of sentences trying to figure out who you are talking about. For this reason, you should say, “I admire the famous woman scientist from the latter half of the 19th century, Marie Curie.” This narrows it down for your listener. It helps them to focus on the period of time and the sort of person they should be thinking about.

If you are going to ask a question or make a statement about a common item, you will almost always be misunderstood if you simply ask the question or make the statement without giving your listener a hint or clue as to what you are about to say. For example, if you just ask, “Where did you get your socks?” Your listener will probably say, “What?” However, if you tap your listener on the shoulder, look him or her in the eye and say, “I love your socks! Where did you get your socks?”, you will almost certainly be understood.

President Obama is a fine public speaker who chooses his words carefully and uses gestures to good effect!

Title: President Obama: Attribution License: everystockphoto.com:Photographer -jurvetson
Title: President Obama: Attribution License: everystockphoto.com:Photographer -jurvetson

A Traditional Thesaurus Gives You Lots of Alternate Words

Use body language, too! If you can focus the person’s attention by politely indicating what you are talking about by gesturing (be careful not to point as that is sometimes considered rude) or by looking at the item you are talking about, that may be helpful, too.

If you are on the telephone, you can focus your listener’s attention by giving a hint or by making specific statements. Begin your statement with the topic. For example, instead of saying, “What kind of weekend did you have?”, you can say, “Your weekend! I am dying to know how it went!” In a formal phone call (such as a business call) you can say something like, “Your bank balance on December first: I would like to draw your attention to…” This structure is not exactly grammatically correct, but it will focus your listener’s attention on the topic, save time, create clear communication, and help you to seem very fluent and easy to understand!

By giving hints, clues, and “heads-ups”, you are helping your listener to know what to expect in your question or statement. Then, even if you don’t say a word perfectly, your listener will have understood your entire question or statement, so it will seem that your pronunciation is better than it actually is!

Substitutions Are OK!

There may be some words that you absolutely cannot say, no matter how hard you try, and no amount of hints or clues will help your listener understand you. When this occurs, put that word “on the back burner” ! Keep practicing it on your own, but don’t use it until you have mastered it. Instead, find other words that have the same or similar meanings and are easier for you to say. Use these synonyms instead. This will broaden your vocabulary and make you much more fluent in every way.

Be Prepared!

As you practice your pronunciation, make note of the common words and proper nouns that give you trouble. Make practice lists to work on your pronunciation. Find out facts about the words to help you create good hints, tips and heads-ups. Look up synonyms so that you will have more than one way to say the same thing. All of these practices will work together to help you have perfect pronunciation - or at least to help you seem as if you have perfect pronunciation!

Expressions and Idioms

Heads-up! - Be alert! Be aware! Look out, something is coming your way! You can give your listener a heads-up so that s/he will expect the challenging word you are about to say!

On the back burner - When we put something on the back burner, it means we are letting it cook or improve slowly while we pay attention to other things. We might put a less important project “on the back burner” while we work on a priority project. You can put words that are difficult topronounce “on the back burner” and work on them a little bit at a time while you continue to make quick progress with easier vocabulary and concepts.

Narrow it down - When you “narrow something down” you eliminate some of the choices and make it easier to focus. For example, if you had a multiple choice question with 6 choices, and your teacher told you to eliminate the last 2 choices, your choices would be “narrowed down”. You would have fewer possible answers to choose from, so it would be easier to answer. When you give hints and clues about the word you are about to say, it “narrows down” the choices for your listener and makes it easier for him or her to understand what you say.

One of the Most Important Words to Pronounce Correctly!

Please do not mispronounce “pronunciation”!

pronounce/pronunciation - The OU in pronounce is said OW. The U in proNUNciation is a short U (say UH)


All Text: Copyright:SuzanneBennett;October 24, 2010

Comments

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  • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

    Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 

    14 months ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

    Great tips and helpful. Shared and voted up. Thank you for this wonderful post. Keep on writing. All the best.

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    5 years ago from Texas

    Many thanks! :)

  • rose-the planner profile image

    rose-the planner 

    5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

    This is a very informative article on pronunciation practices. Your useful tips and tricks will certainly help many. Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 

    5 years ago from Brazil

    I help Brazilians here with their English. The sound 'th' is a difficult one.

    For me learning Portuguese, the nasal sounds I find difficult. Plus where accents should be placed. For example, the word for coconut and poop are the same but if the accent in a different place.

    I find it also helpful to learn the opposites at the same time, ie full and empty.

    You have many good ideas here. I will give them a try.

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    5 years ago from Houston, Texas

    I know just a few words in Spanish but it was enough to get us back to our hotel in Barcelona in time to catch our flight to the Island of Mallorca. We were totally lost and I approached a nice looking elderly lady who was walking her dog. Between speaking and gesturing, we found our way. Ha! Sharing this hub with others.

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    5 years ago from Texas

    Yes! Excellent idea! Many thanks! :)

  • profile image

    Paula Rosa 

    5 years ago

    I had never though about that tip on proper nouns, great idea! Singing is also a great way to make learners sound more natural. Having to follow the lyrics in time to the song greatly helps with rhythm and intonation as well as pronunciation. It's a perfect way of making them aware of how some words are weak and others are stressed. And it's fun!

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    5 years ago from Texas

    Thanks, Peggy! :)

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    5 years ago from Houston, Texas

    Hi Suzanne,

    It is very obvious that you know what you are talking about with regard to learning another language. The "heads up" tip is especially useful. Voted up and useful.

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    5 years ago from Texas

    Many thanks IC! :)

  • Indian Chef profile image

    Indian Chef 

    5 years ago from New Delhi India

    We in India have been taught English from kindergarten but still not many can speak English though they can write good English. Your article is definitely going to help a lots of people.

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    5 years ago from Texas

    Many thanks! :)

  • Shyron E Shenko profile image

    Shyron E Shenko 

    5 years ago from Texas

    Great hub Susanne, makes one want to practice more.

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    6 years ago from Texas

    Thank you for your kind words! :) Please just include a link and your own recommendation/review rather than reprinting it. I appreciate the traffic to my article. I also have a couple of other ESL Hubs you may want to check out!

  • profile image

    mmorissette 

    6 years ago

    Dear Suzanne,

    This is a terrific article with a lot of very specific and useful tips.

    I am an English As a Second Language teacher in Vancouver. I mainly teach advanced level immigrants, many of whom are trying to improve their pronunciation so that they can get jobs in their own fields. I have a blog called learningenglishwithmichelle.blogspot.com and I was wondering if I could reprint your article, of course crediting you for it. I do not have any ads on my blog, nor do I make any money with it. It is purely a labour of love, so I can't pay you for it. I know, however, that my students would greatly benefit from the tips you provide.

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    6 years ago from Texas

    Oh good! Many thanks! :)

  • Paul Kuehn profile image

    Paul Richard Kuehn 

    6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

    I'm sharing this excellent article with my followers.

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    6 years ago from Texas

    Thanks, Paul! I'm glad you found this article helpful! :)

  • Paul Kuehn profile image

    Paul Richard Kuehn 

    6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

    This is an excellent hub, and I agree with everything you say. I teach EFL in Thailand and find that interference from the Thai language greatly influences a student's English pronunciation. I try to devise drills that zero in on the big differences between English and Thai phonetics and their pronunciation.

  • Ruby H Rose profile image

    Maree Michael Martin 

    7 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

    I never thought about it in terms of learning another language, wonderful tips, thank you!

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    7 years ago from Texas

    Thank you! I'll get busy! :)

  • profile image

    Jussara Scotton 

    7 years ago

    Thanks...I read all your ESL articles and I'm looking forward for new ones.

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    7 years ago from Texas

    Thanks Jussara! I'm glad I could help you! Please feel free to contact me via HubPages if you would like to set up private lessons on Skype! :)

  • profile image

    Jussara Scotton 

    7 years ago

    Hi justmesuzanne,

    I'm Brazilian and one of the reasons I've joined HubPages is to improve my english writing. Reading your hub I discovered I'm able now to improve my pronunciation.

    I lived in the USA for 2 years, but here in Brazil I have few opportunities to practice my english with someone else.

    Thanks for sharing these great tips. So useful!

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    7 years ago from Texas

    I'm glad I could help you, Linda! Thank you for reading my article! Be sure to check out my other ESL articles and keep watching for more! :)

  • profile image

    Linda 

    7 years ago

    These tips are extremely useful and practical for me. I am involving in a big challenge about communicating with my classmates and my lecturers in English.I believe I can benefit a lot from your article and make some better performances for my presentation tasks. Thank you for your share.

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    7 years ago from Texas

    Thanks, Jyoti! :)

  • profile image

    Jyoti 

    7 years ago

    Hi,

    Great article. Thanks for sharing. Rated up!

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    7 years ago from Texas

    Thanks, Ken! I'm glad you found the article helpful! :)

  • KenWu profile image

    KenWu 

    7 years ago from Malaysia

    Thanks for the tips. I enjoy them very much. Yeap, I'm weak in English particular in pronunciation. What you have listed up there definitely can enhance one ability to converse even if he may be not so good in English. :)

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    7 years ago from Texas

    Thanks, Violet! Yes, I think that my tip about giving hints, clues, and heads-ups came from my experiences in the deaf community. The structure: Topic/comment - is American Sign Language structure. By saying the topic first, you let your listener know what you plan to talk about so they don't have to sift through every subject in the world to figure out what you are trying to say! :D

  • VioletSun profile image

    VioletSun 

    7 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

    You seem to be an expert with communication, very good tips! In my case since I am hearing impaired, there are certain words that I cannot, will not hear, so my mate substitutes the words or gives me a hint of what he is going to talk about; amazing how it works, it makes the brain and ears receptive.

    Rated up!

  • justmesuzanne profile imageAUTHOR

    justmesuzanne 

    7 years ago from Texas

    Many thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

  • cwarden profile image

    cwarden 

    7 years ago from USA

    These are wonderful tips for someone learning a new language. Great hub!

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