Teaching English: Will I ever improve my pronunciation?
An English teacher in France asked me how to improve her pronunciation, wondering if she would ever sound like a native. Here’s my reply:
Good pronunciation is important for clear spoken communication but you don’t need to speak English like a native. After all what is native prounciation? There are many accents in the UK alone, not to mention the US, Australia, New Zealand…and more. It is however, important to speak clearly and make it easy for others to hear what you say.
When teaching pronunciation in the classroom it’s often difficult to get a result because people find it hard to make brand new sounds. A certain amount of foreign accent is inevitable for most speakers, aside from those who decide to take elocution seriously. My singing teacher is the only person I have ever met who had no foreign accent whatsoever and that was because she had to get the pronunciation perfect for performances.
It’s important to accept imperfect pronuncation and be careful not to make a big issue over it, because students can rapidly become discouraged and paranoid about saying anything at all!
French students find it difficult to make the “th” sound, as in “the”. This is an easy one to demonstrate because you can see the tongue sticking out between the teeth. I get students to put their tongue between their teeth and keep it there, in silence, and only then to make the sound. It works but only during the demo. Afterwards, as soon as we go back to speaking students revert to “z” as if we had never done the exercise! Well at least I gave them a tool to use if they so desire. You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink…
Use a mirror
The shape the mouth changes from the beginning of the sound to the end. Use a mirror to practice common words and over exaggerate the movements. Take the word ‘ear’ for example, practice this sound looking in the mirror and introduce other words with the same sound. You will then see how the words ‘ear’, ‘hear’ and ‘weary’ have the same sound and make your mouth move in the same way.
Not everyone has the luxury of speaking or hearing normally so it is helpful to learn how your mouth moves to certain sounds so you can communicate with everyone. The majority of people who either find it difficult to hear will look at your mouth and lip read what you are saying.
Repetition and Pronunciation Games
Other blogs on pronunciation