Two Simple Steps to Better Pronunciation!
by Andy Gaskins, Assistant Director of Studies, St Giles London Central
(with thanks to Jim Scrivener for ideas on how to spice up your practice)
Why are you learning English? To communicate with people of course, and it’s so frustrating when you say something but people don’t understand. Very often it’s not the grammar or vocabulary that’s the problem, it’s the pronunciation. Get the stress right, get the rhythm, the music of the language, and before you know it you’ll be having conversations that really work. But how?
Well, here are two simple steps to better pronunciation:
You don’t need your teacher to help you with this – if you are in the UK or the US there is English all around you. And wherever you are there is always the internet. Choose a bit of dialogue from a movie, or a speech – your favourite actor accepting an award, a politician making promises, Harvard Commencements can be really interesting… Start with just one sentence and really listen!
What is the rhythm of the sentence? Which words are stressed? What about intonation? (Does the tone go up or down?) Where are the pauses?
Listen and then hear it in your mind a few times. Which bit can’t you quite remember? Ok, so listen again…
Now that you are ready –
- Repeat. Not just once but lots of times. Don’t go too fast and really listen to how you are saying it, (why not record yourself?) then try again, and make it a little bit better each time (better rhythm, stress, pace… more music to it!). Here are some things that you could try to spice it up a bit… to make it more interesting and fun!
- Hum the tune of the sentence but don’t say any words.
- Say only the stressed words. Say it with feeling. Get meaning across with just stresses.
- Put the little words back between the stresses… but take the same length of time to say it all.
- Is it possible to change the stresses? What does that do to the meaning?
- How are the little grammar words (articles, prepositions, auxiliary verbs) pronounced?
- Start with one word and then build it all together slowly – put it together with the next word / the word before / the phrase / the clause.
- Compare yourself with someone else – try to hear the differences and then see what works best.
- Try it with different emotions – happy, angry, excited, bored…
- Say it the very best you can (and remember often students try to speak too fast) – say it slowly and clearly… say it loudly / quietly / whispering / shouting / slowly / fast / exaggerated intonation.
- Listen to your friend… help her to say it better! She says it – you listen – you give feedback – she tries again – you give more feedback etc.
And that’s it! Play with it –don’t worry about getting it wrong at first, just try to get a little bit better each time. And most of all… have fun!