7 Tips to Drastically Improve Your Pronunciation in English

by Justin on June 25, 2012

Do you have a hard time pronouncing certain sounds in English? Do you believe that it’s nearly impossible to improve your accent? Well, I´m here to tell you that you can drastically improve your pronunciation in a short amount of time.

It´s going to take an open mind, consistent effort, and experimentation with new strategies, but it´s not as hard as you’ve been led to believe. With pronunciation, a little effort goes a long way. You just have to want it bad enough.

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This is a follow to “How to Reduce Your Accent in English,” which addresses some of the attitudes that impede people from improving their pronunciation. Another extremely helpful article that we wrote is “Top 5 Mispronunciations Made By Brazilians”(which covers the sounds: ED, TH, EE at the end of words, CH/SH/T and H vs R).

This has been a very hot topic in the Real Life English International Community, and our goal is to provide you with constant pronunciation guidance.

1. Open Your Ears to Youtube Pronunciation Channels

There are a lot of very helpful, well-done youtube channels that focus on pronunciation. “How to Reduce Your Accent in English” focused on “Rachel’s English,” which is a series of free pronunciation videos that teach phonetics and correct English pronunciation. Other recommended youtube pronunciation channels are listed below..

Here’s a program that enables you to download and convert youtube videos into MP3 audio format so you can listen in your car or on the bus. It’s recommended to listen to the same sounds every day until you feel like

Three Useful Pronunciation Videos For English Learners

Five Youtube Channels That Teach Pronunciation

2.English For Life: Listen to Podcasts Every Day

Podcasts Teaching Pronunciation: Similar to Youtube pronunciation channels, there are some really good podcasts dealing with pronunciation. Podcasts are free, downloadable audio programs that you can put on your mp3 player. Learn more about podcasts here. They are an excellent option because you can listen in your car or on the bus while you’re stuck in traffic, or whenever is most convenient for you. Here are two recommended websites for pronunciation podcasts:

Two Free Pronunciation Podcasts Specifically Made FOR BRAZILIANS

Native Speaking Podcasts: Whether its ESL podcasts (English as a Second Language) or podcasts that are made for Native English speakers, exposing yourself regularly to native speaking speakers will naturally condition your brain to understand and produce the sounds of the language in a more clear and smooth way. Here are 3 very extensive podcast directories that can help you find good native speaking podcasts in English. To learn more about podcasts, read “What is a Podcast, and Why You Should Care” 

Listen to the World Famous Real Life English Podcast

3. Intonation: Focus on the Music Behind the Words

Whether you pay attention to it or not, the musical element of a language is essential to good pronunciation. You don’t need to become a musician or listen to more music in English (although both of these could help), but you should pay attention to the intonation of native speakers. Intonation is the melodic pattern of the language.

If you had to hum the language, what would it sound like? Making this awareness a part of your learning process is important. Check out this youtube video of people singing in American English (the funny part is that it totally sounds like English but they aren’t using words). If you weren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t notice the difference.

The application is more of an attitude rather than a strategy, as it involves constant awareness rather than routine, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind. We also Recommend  How Music Can Make You Fluent and Intonation: The Secret Ingredient to Great Pronunciation (with Audio)

4. Practice: Read Out Loud Every Day

I would reserve this one more specifically for people who have already learned some degree of correct pronunciation, because reading without correct pronunciation, or a teacher helping you, you’re just reinforcing poor pronunciation. The reader should have some clear sense of what it feels and sounds like to pronounce things correctly.

If your pronunciation level has not been stabilized, I don’t recommend reading for more than 10 or 15 minutes, because people tend to lose their concentration, and go back to their vices (which is to reinforce them). Remember, pronunciation can be improved quite quickly with small, concentrated doses even only a few times per week. Here’s a helpful article on reading out loud.

One way around this, however, is to listen to the audio book while you read the text and imitate the speaker. For greater effectiveness, record yourself speaking and compare it to the audio book.

5. Self-Awareness: Record Yourself Speaking

Record yourself reading out loud on a tape recorder or a computer. At first, it will be really difficult to listen to your own voice. Relax, as you will get used it to pretty quickly. I think most people hate their voice even in their own native language, so the combination of your voice and hearing yourself speak a foreign language for the first time will be painful, but it’s a necessary step in developing the self-awareness to improve.  Here’s an awesome article on how to record yourself to improve your pronunciation.

You could record yourself reading the same reading passage every day or every week as you implement these techniques. As mentioned above, recording of a native speaker reading the same passage (such as an audiobook, podcast, or a native speaker friend) could facilitate your process. Here are a few recommended web sites that focus on pronunciation. Ship or Sheep  is a good place to experiment with recording yourself.

6. Imitation: Find Role Models

I’m going to break this one up into two categories: (a) language learning role models, and (b) role models to imitate. Both of them can help you become a better speaker, but in different ways.

LANGUAGE LEARNING ROLE MODELS are people in your life who speak well and have worked hard to get there. Maybe it’s a teacher or a friend, but they are someone who has learned through hard work and can explain the process to you. Even if they don’t have perfect pronunciation, they can help you understand the process and what it takes to improve your pronunciation. Naturally gifted people rarely fall into this category unless they are very aware of the processes that help them speak well, so they would usually be “accent role models to imitate.”

ROLE MODELS TO IMMITATE are people with accents that you want to imitate. Native speakers and people who are naturally talented usually don’t understand the processes that guide their pronunciation (although a few do), but they are good role models to imitate. As you watch TV and movies, choose somebody who has your type of voice, communication style, and who you would like to emulate. If you don’t know, ask your friends to recommend somebody. You could even memorize parts of movies you like, imitating the actors.

7. Experimentation: Reverse Accent Mimicry

This is another idea that deserves its own post, but I’m going to post the article and summarize it here. I’ve met several seemingly gifted language learners who swear this is how they learn languages.  Here’s a basic summary from the study/ article by Laurence M. Hilton.

Humans possess an innate biological capacity to hear, differentiate and mimic fundamental prosodic and phonological characteristics of any language (Rizzolatti, Fadiga, Gallese, & Fogassi, 1996; Skoyles, 1998). My purpose is to describe a mimicry based foreign accent reduction method developed from my own personal experience. I first will present myself as a case study, detailing how using a reverse accent mimicry method rapidly and substantially minimized my own L2 accent. I then will share suggestions for implementing the technique in the classroom or clinic.  I have employed it with good success with people from diverse language backgrounds over several decades of clinical experience. Read the whole article 

The idea, in a nutshell, is to imitate a native speaker of the language that you are learning, speaking your language, and apply it back to the target language. That’s a very complicated sentence, so let me give you two valid examples.

  1. If you are Brazilian learning English, you would imitate a native English speaker who is speaking Portuguese, and apply the sounds structure back to English. It sounds like a joke, but if you can effectively imitate a native English speaker speaking Portuguese in the most exaggerated way, it will activate these sounds in your mouth and enable you to use them in English. Here’s a video with English speakers speaking in Portuguese
  1. In my case, I am American, so I need to find an example of a Brazilian speaking English with a really exaggerated accent, learn to imitate it, and apply it back to Portuguese.

Does this work? My intuition tells me that it does. It really fits into what I’ve learned from the “master” language learners.

IN CONCLUSION, while the title includes “English Pronunciation,” most of these tips and strategies can be applied to any language. Interestingly, as a native English speaker, I would like to point out that my own best insights and teaching do not come from a superior understanding of the English language, but from my own personal learning processes of Spanish and Portuguese. Finally, I would like to clarify that my own pronunciation in Portuguese is far from perfect, but in all the years of teaching and learning languages, and observing the best language learners, the answers have been put in front of me.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig Cudworth June 26, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Great tips Justin If anyone in the Real Life group is interested I will be teaching an intensive 2 week pronunciation course in Conceiçao do mato dentro in July. I have already taught this course in Rome, Italy and it was very successsful.

Craig Cudworth June 26, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Great tips Justin If anyone in the Real Life group is interested I will be teaching an intensive 2 week pronunciation course in Conceiçao do mato dentro in July. I have already taught this course in Rome, Italy and it was very successsful.

Susan Ryan August 27, 2012 at 9:27 am

These are excellent tips Justin. You explained them well.

I urge my students and clients to use strategies 1-3, 5 &6 on a weekly basis. Those who live outside North American especially need to listen to North American radio shows and podcasts. My clients usually prefer NPR to VOA (VOA is a bit slow).

I’ll take a closer look at the idea of reverse mimicry. That looks complicated….

Justin August 27, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Thanks Susan, I took a look at your blog and it seems like you know what you´re doing. If you want to share your videos and any articles you might have in the Real Life English community, check it out http://www.facebook.com/groups/reallifeenglish/ Take care!

Check out this article on lifestyle English, which talks about some of the methods you use (NPR) http://reallifebh.com/rle-lifestyle-guide-5-ways-to-make-english-a-part-of-your-daily-life

Tunein Radio is great too!

Vicki Hollett September 10, 2012 at 6:46 pm

I love your reverse accent mimicry idea, and yes, it does sound like it should work!

Justin September 20, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Hey Vicki, Thanks for your comment! Are you learning any other languages? I’d love to hear what you learn about the reverse accent mimicry. I checked out your youtube channel. Pretty cool. We have an international community http://www.facebook.com/groups/reallifeenglish/. You’re welcome to share your content there. Take care!

Denise February 21, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Hi Justin,
Please forgive my stupidity but I still don’t get the reverse accent mimicry. I’m a filipino learning english, am I suppose to imitate a native english speaker speaking in portuguese as well? Thank you :)

Justin February 24, 2013 at 8:08 am

Hi Denise, the Portuguese was just an example because we have a lot of Brazilians in our community. You should imitate a native English speaker speaking your native language (filipino?).

Improve Your Accent March 24, 2013 at 12:38 pm

This is a great resource for learners. I find the reverse accent mimicry particularly interesting.

Ludmila Krajcovicova April 10, 2013 at 8:48 pm

Good job.

Danny Lopez Ruiz May 10, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Great, this article it's so amazing.

nadia July 1, 2013 at 9:28 am

i like your website tooo much , i want really want to learn english fluntly ,but i dont understand your methods, just listening!!!!!!! what is your methods or this method for BRAZILAN people!!!! iam hardly read your comment

Rodrigo Penna July 27, 2013 at 2:03 am

Awesome work, Justin!

Nasrullah Stanikzai August 16, 2013 at 7:15 am

helpful

Jagruti Rakesh Gohil April 4, 2014 at 11:04 am

Hi, I am a teacher. I have problem with English pronunciations and accents. I want to improve it to get a better job for me. I’m from Gujarat and my mother tongue is Gujarati. Pls give me more best ideas to learn perfect English speech within short period of time

Justin April 4, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Hey Jagruti, Check this post out- http://reallifebh.com/pronunciation-fluency It takes what this article was about and goes A LOT deeper! Thanks for reading and commenting.

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