How to Improve Your English Pronunciation in 8 Steps (Part 1)

Learning how to speak English fluently with perfect pronunciation is not easy! But if you follow these 8 tips, you should improve quickly! Part 1 focuses on listening, paying attention to your mouth and tongue, and breaking down your words.

Is English your second language? Do you sometimes feel embarrassed or shy about your accent? Do you usually have people ask you “Can you repeat that please?” because they couldn’t understand what you said? Do you want to improve your English pronunciation quickly and easily?

Many international students have excellent vocabulary and English grammar, sometimes even better than native English speakers. However, people still might have misunderstood them because of their pronunciation. Sometimes, students practice for more than 5 years and still can’t master their English pronunciation.

Pronouncing English words correctly is one of the hardest parts of learning English.

Why is English Pronunciation so Difficult?

The English language contains sounds that many languages simply do not have. Learning how to make these completely new sounds is not easy!

Plus, English vowels are tricky and don’t have set rules. For example, these words are all pronounced the same:

  • Way
  • Weigh
  • Whey

Whereas these words are all pronounced differently:

  • Comb
  • Bomb
  • Tomb

How is this possible! Well, a lot of this comes with practice. But even after you’ve practised and know how to say them properly, pronunciation can still be difficult to master. That’s why we are sharing 8 tips to help you pronounce English words better.

1. Improve your listening abilities

Before you learn to speak better, you need to learn to listen better. Some sounds are very similar. Did the student “sleep” or “slip” in class? Did the Korean teacher hurt his “chin” or his “shin”? First you need to learn how to hear the difference, then you can learn to speak the difference.

One of the hardest things for foreign students to learn is hearing the difference between minimal pairs. These words sound very similar like sleep and slip, but are different by only one sound. Our teachers at Cloud Nine College (CNC) have worked with students from all around the world. China, Korea, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Africa. Etc. We know the common mistakes that students make and will help you correct your pronunciation very quickly.

Try going on an “English diet” for 4-6 weeks. During this period, don’t speak with anyone, listen to music, or watch any movies in your native language—only use English.

After 4-6 weeks, you’ll notice you are getting better at hearing words. Once you get good at hearing words, you will get good at pronouncing them much easier.

2. Pay attention to how your lips and mouth move

Whenever you speak, your mouth moves. In fact, all native English speakers move their mouths in order to produce sounds.

The first step is to notice and pay attention to what shape your mouth makes. You can simply go in front of the mirror or record yourself with a smartphone.

Next, you should watch other people speak and notice the shapes of their mouths and lips. For practice, try watching your favorite movie or TV show, and repeat some of the faces and sounds the actors are making. This technique is called English Shadowing and is an important technique to start improving your pronunciation.

Other good resources include:

  • Sounds of English– has lessons that explain how specific words are pronounced
  • Gary C Martin– with 3D animations to understand how your mouth should look when you speak
  • FluentU – library of videos with interactive captions to watch and understand native English

3. Pay attention to your tongue.

The English language has 16 different vowel sounds. That’s a lot! Remembering the correct tongue position for every vowel is important to improve your pronunciation.

Vowel sounds have a natural progression, from the highest position of the tongue to the flattest position.

  • With a long “E” vowel sound, the tongue is high up in the mouth, like the word “camel”.
  • With shorter vowel sounds, the tongue is in the middle of the mouth, like the word “she”.
  • For the shortest vowels, the tongue is flat, like the word “bet”

The most challenging sounds for non-native speakers are the letters “L” and “R”, and the sound “TH”. Pronouncing the se sounds correctly is all about the tongue!

  • When making the “L” sound, your tongue should touch the top of your mouth and the back of your 4 front teeth. Try saying the word “light” a few times. Can you feel where your tongue is in your mouth? If yes, congratulations! If not, practice a few more words with the sound “L” until you master it.
  • When making the “R” sound, your tongue should be in the middle of your mouth and should not touch any edge of your mouth. Your tongue should naturally rest in the middle as if you aren’t speaking at all. To produce the sound, your lips should be slightly rounded. Try saying the word “right” several times. Notice how your lips push out and become rounded—like you’re about to kiss someone—when you make the “R” sound.
  • When making the “TH” sound, put your tongue in between the top teeth and bottom teeth. You should see your tongue stick out in between your teeth. Once you see your tongue stick out, push air out through your mouth. If air is escaping your mouth, you should be making the sound properly. Try saying the word “think” a few times. If you can push air out of your mouth with your tongue between your top and bottom teeth, you should be pronouncing it correctly.

If you can’t control your tongue to create the right sounds, ask a native speaker for help. Ask them to repeat words that you have difficulties pronouncing, and ask them to explain where their tongue is. Practice this with all the vowel sounds and your pronunciation will definitely improve!

4. Try breaking words into smaller parts/sounds

Words are made by combining smaller parts or syllables. For example, the word “syllable,” has three syllables: “SYL”, “LA”, and “BLE”. When you start breaking down words into smaller parts, the word becomes easier to pronounce.

Want to check how many syllables are contained in a certain word? Start by placing your hand 2 centimeters under your chin. Now say the word slowly. Every time your hand touches your chin, that’s one syllable.

Try writing your words down in parts. Leaving a space or line between each syllable. Tips: every syllable must contain at least one of these vowel: a, e, i, o, u, y. Now say the word slowly, pausing after each syllable. Is the word easier to pronounce now?

How Many Syllables is a great website for practicing your syllables.  This website tells you the number of syllables in any word you search, and even pronounces the word slowly for you.

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