7 Pronunciation Tips

From vowel and consonant sounds to stress and intonation. GB English has a distinctive sound, here are 7 tips to get it right (play the audio below each tip to listen):

1. Don’t always say ‘r’

In GB English you only pronounce /r/ if it is before a vowel sound, so you do say it in ROCK, PRETTY & COVERING, but you don’t say it in WORK, HARD or MOTHER. In American English you say all the written ‘r’s, so WORK, HARD & MOTHER, so it’s one of the main differences between most British and American accents.

2. Touch the teeTH

There are two fricative TH sounds in English: voiceless /θ/ in TEETH, THANKS & BATH, and voiced /ð/ in THE, BROTHER & BATHE. In GB English they are both made with the tongue touching behind the teeth, but in some accents they’re replaced with /f/ and /v/, like in London.

3. 12 vowels = 12 tongue positions

GB English has 12 mouth positions for vowel sounds, here goes: /i ɪ e æ ə ɜ ʌ ɑ u ʊ ɔ ɒ/. It’s really important to put the tongue in a different place for each of these, as many sounds are only subtly different – like the vowel sounds in SHIP and SHEEP. There isn’t actually much difference in the length of these two sounds, but the tongue is always further forward in SHEEP.

4. Oh No!

On top of the 12 basic vowels, there are a further 7 double vowels (diphthongs): /eɪ, ɔɪ, aɪ, əʊ, aʊ, ɪə, eə/, perhaps the hardest one is the /əʊ/ sound in OH, NO, GO & SHOW. Northern accents might say [nɜː] or [nɒʊ], cockney would be more like [naʊ], and really posh speakers would start toward the front [nɛʊ], but in standard GB English, it starts in the middle, you [nəʊ].

5. Mind the gap

In normal everyday speech we tend to join everything together in English. Sometimes consonants change and become silent. When a word begins with a vowel sound it joins onto the previous word: “move_it_along!” Sometimes if one word ends with a vowel sound and the next one starts with a vowel sound, we add /r/, just to make sure we can join, “is that_your_idea(r)_of_a joke?”. No, it really happens, listen again slowly.

6. Not too much stress

You probably have enough stress in your life, so don’t stress every syllable in English – half of them are weak (the underlined ones in this sentence). It’s essential, though, to find the main stress in every sentence or speech unit – and really stress it by making it longer, louder and normally higher:

A John! How are you?
B David! I’m fine, how are you?

The bold, underlined syllable is the main stress in each part, it’s also where the ↘intonation pattern begins (see next point).

7. Nice and high

GB English intonation is fairly flat until the main stress, then it tends to go high and fall. There are three intonation patterns: falling ↘YES, rising ↗YES, and fall-rising ↘↗YES, these show our attitude to our words, you can hear them in this conversation:

A | ↘John | How ↘are you? |
B | ↘David | I’m ↘fine | How are ↘you? |
A | ↘↗Actually | there’s something I need to ↘tell you |
B | ↘↗OK | shall we go and grab a ↗coffee? |
A | ↘Yes | somewhere ↘private | would be ↗best | where you can sit ↘down |
B | I don’t much like the ↘↗sound of this |