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July 2018

Tips for Improving Your Pronunciation

Learn to speak a foreign language like a native

If you’re looking to really impress natives in the country of your target language, learning proper pronunciation is key. Not only will it distinguish you from other learners of their language, but it will also help you be better understood.

Before we begin, we should all understand that it’s extremely difficult to lose your foreign accent entirely. Unless you’re an actor, this should not be your immediate goal. While it may initially embarrass us to speak a language with a foreign accent, we should remember that learning a new language is difficult to begin with, so there’s no need to feel ashamed. Think about the foreigners who speak your language with an accent. Chances are you appreciate their effort and find interest in their accent. This is also the case for you.

Focus on the simple stuff first

When it comes to good pronunciation, focus on the basics first. It all comes down to the alphabet. Whether the language be Russian, Japanese, or Italian, learning to properly pronounce the alphabet can really help you in the long run. When we start learning whole words and complete phrases, it becomes far easier to forget the proper accentuation of each individual syllable. Regularly studying and practicing the pronunciation of the alphabet can help perfect your accent further down the road.

As you go about your daily life, speak the alphabet to yourself, focusing on producing the sounds accurately. Concentrate on how your mouth moves, getting to know the feeling of each syllable as it leaves your mouth. Do you need to use the front or the back of your mouth for a particular word? Where is the placement of your tongue when you speak? Understanding these nuances is important in producing accurate native sounds.

Listen to native speakers

Listening to native speakers is, of course, a major tip in learning to speak with a native accent. But beyond pronunciation, note the mannerisms of the native speakers. Listen for the melody of how they speak, how the words string together. Pay attention to the emotion, the volume, and the timbre of the sounds. Mimicking these qualities is fundamental in speaking like a native.

Movies and podcasts are great resources for listening to native speakers. Actors often dramatise their speech, however this accentuation may help you note the differences between their speaking patterns and yours. Podcasts are helpful because they rely solely on audio, allowing you to listen to conversations between native speakers as they talk over various subjects.

Record yourself and note your weak points

If you’re brave enough, record yourself speaking in your target language. This is a simple exercise as most, if not all, smartphones come with voice recorders. Write down where you think you sound too much like a foreigner and practice these weak points. One thing to note, for languages that have such qualities, is the rolling of r’s. Neglecting this sound can immediately make you sound like a foreigner in languages that use it. Think of Americans in Fellini films and how strange they sound. “Marcello!”

Practice primarily with native speakers

While not to belittle non-native speakers, speaking with native speakers can help your pronunciation and listening comprehension. Even some non-native instructors of languages can often retain a slight accent or foreign manner of speaking. As much as possible, opt to practice with native speakers and allow them to speak as they normally would. Ask them where you could improve your speech, particularly in cases when you might not be as easily understood.

Additionally, you’ll want to learn some colloquialisms and manners of speech to implement into your vocabulary. This can not only help you sound like a local, but also help you communicate as many colloquialisms simplify speech.

Speaking like a native speaker is definitely an advanced goal for language students, and it’s a goal many of us have. However, don’t be discouraged if you feel your accent is terribly foreign. Everyone in the world has an accent, even native speakers in their native languages. The most important thing is that you’re understood and that you have fun during the learning process.

What are your tips for sounding like a local? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more language learning articles!