I have some important news for you. If your listening skills aren’t so great, then there’s almost a 100 percent chance your pronunciation is off. That’s because these two skills are directly related. Part of this is because the way that you hear things is the same way that you’ll say them. So if you’re not fully hearing words or phrases, then you’re kind of making up your own pronunciation. Or you’re pronouncing words in the same way that you hear non- native speakers around you say them….which is probably wrong. This can be a pretty big problem if you’re walking around an English speaking country and you can’t understand what people are saying, and they can’t understand what you’re saying. Today I’m going to give you some tips on how to improve your listening and cadence, an ultimately your pronunciation.
Before I give you my tips, I just want to mention one other thing. I often hear people say that they are afraid to talk to native speakers,usually because people are afraid of making mistakes. The most important thing that you can do to improve your English is to talk and I’m always trying to encourage you guys to do that. Here’s one important thing that I want everyone to realize. Native speakers don’t really care if you make a few mistakes. They don’t even care if your pronunciation is a little off. The biggest and most important thing that you should be concerned about is your rhythm. The cadence at which you speak has a bigger determination on whether or not someone can understand what you’re trying to say. Native speakers really only want to be able to understand what you’re trying to say. They don’t care if your delivery is perfect, and cadence is the number one thing that makes a native speaker make a confused face, and go “huh? what?” I’ll show you how to improve that too.
Tip #1- Know Your Vowel Sounds
Anytime a student has pronunciation issues, they almost always mispronounce two or more of the vowel sounds. There’s a vowel in every word, so not pronouncing vowels correctly, means mispronouncing a lot of words. Pay close attention to how i, e, and a are pronounced, as these are the ones most commonly pronounced incorrectly. I’ve recorded all five vowel sounds, so that you can hear how to pronounce them correctly. I suggest you repeat them every day for a month. It’ll only take you a few seconds, you definitely have the time. Then I suggest that you repeat three letter words that contain the vowel sound you’re working on. This will help you incorporate the vowel sound in an actual word.
Tip #2- Breath
One of the things that people don’t realize, is that it takes a lot of air to speak English. Many languages are spoken through the throat or the nose. English is spoken through the diaphragm (that’s a muscle near your stomach, that everyone uses the breathe). This is the same muscle used when you sing. One of the reasons people struggle to say vowel sounds correctly is because they don’t have enough air to fully pronounce the sounds. How do you rectify this problem? Practice breathing. I know that sounds weird, you breathe literally all day. However you probably don’t usually use the air from your diaphragm when you speak. It’s imperative when speaking English. You should imagine yourself being an opera singer and the person in the back row needs to hear what you’re saying. Here’s a video to help you.
Tip #3 – Pronounce the Consonants at the End of Words
Another very common mistake is that people don’t pronounce the sounds at the end of words. The only letter that is consistently silent at the end of words is “e”, everything else is pronounced unless it’s under special circumstances. In particular make sure you pronounce the letters “d” and “t” when they appear at the end of words. Sometimes I will have students read out loud and focus on pronouncing the ends of words. This is an exercise that you can easily replicate on your own. You just won’t have me there to pester and correct you.
Tip #4- Speak in Syllables
Earlier I spoke about how important your cadence is to being understood by native speakers. How this affects your English depends on what your native language is. For most students that I encounter they tend to blend words together. By doing this they make it very difficult for native speakers to tell where one word ends and the next begins. Every word should have a clear beginning and a clear ending. Furthermore, English words are broken into syllables. The syllables also should have a clear beginning and a clear ending. Don’t blend words or syllables together. Keep them separate. This will make you better understood. English uses your lips and tongue more than most other languages, and doing this will force you to use them more. It will probably also result in you speaking slower. That may be a good thing. You can only speak as quickly as the muscles in your mouth will allow.
Tip #5- Listen and Repeat…..Out Loud
So far we’ve been talking about pronunciation. Now it’s time to move on to your listening skills. It’s very important that you listen to native speakers, understand what they say, and repeat words in the same way they are said. Easier said than done, I know. So here’s what I want you to do. Pick something short that you can pause and rewind. If you want to focus on your listening skills, then I’ve written plenty on that. You can find exercises to improve here. If you want to use it to improve your pronunciation as well, then I want you to listen to one or two words at a time and repeat them. Listen closely and repeat well. It may seem like a slow process, but it will work. Your listening skills will improve and so will your pronunciation. You only need to do it for about 10 minutes a day.
All of these things go hand in hand; listening, breathing, cadence, using your lips and tongue. These in addition to pronouncing the endings to words and pronouncing the vowel sounds correctly will allow you to improve your pronunciation in lightening speed.