Improving pronunciation is different from other language skills. There is a physical dimension to learning sounds, alongside the more grammatical aspects of sound selection and joining, and the musical elements of intonation.
Your approach should reflect this – to improve requires repetition drills, learning the IPA alphabet and the rules of connected speech, and applying new stress and intonation patterns to your speech. Breaking the task down into these areas will help make the learning process easy to manage and effective.
It is very common for English learners to import the sounds and intonation from their first language, causing errors in English. GB English has 45 sounds, consisting of 19 vowel sounds and 26 consonant sounds. So the first step is to identify which sounds are missing or different in your language, this will give you the key to your likely errors in sound production.
The same is true of stress and intonation – English uses a wide pitch range and a weak/strong structure that is quite unusual to a lot of learners. Identifying where your intonation and stress varies is the first step to improvement (see these articles on common pronunciation errors by language).
The key to progress is found in the way you practise. For sounds, repeat drills of the sound alone, the sound within a word and then within a sentence. Repeat the drills regularly until they become natural, use of a mirror and a voice recorder is recommended.
For connected speech and intonation, it is important to learn the rules, practise them in short discourse and listen carefully to native speakers to pick out the key points you have learnt. You will firstly notice your more accurate listening skills and this will transfer to your speech in time.
If your aim is to sound like a native in 4 weeks, then you are probably heading for a disappointment. For advanced learners of English, a realistic aim is to gain a high level of accuracy over a period of months and years of study and practice. Pronunciation is a big area of study (we split it into 4 separate courses), it takes time to digest all the new sounds and rules, then for them to transfer to your natural speech.
When you reach a high level where you have mastered all the sounds, joining techniques and intonation then you will be able to play with different accents, but be realistic – aim to improve little by little and enjoy the moments when you notice a change.
We often hear feedback in class at the beginning of a course along the lines of “I feel ridiculous” when practising intonation or sounds. This is a natural reaction to doing something new and unnatural, but with practice and a little courage, the new sounds and tones become a natural part of speech. It helps to act a little, make a slightly different “you” that speaks in a slightly different way, even if it’s only when you are practising.
by Joseph Hudson | 7/1/2016