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How to Get Better

We've all experienced it: that horrible feeling when you say something in a foreign language, and you know you are using the right words, but the other person doesn't understand you.


It's at times like those when you decide: 'I must improve my pronunciation!'  But how?


What's the secret?

The key to good pronunciation is to have: 

1. Good awareness. Some people say 'a good ear'.

2. A basic understanding of how sounds are made in the mouth.

3. A lot of practice.


But how do you do it? Try this step by step guide to improving your accent.




Here's How...


Before you start

Think about your aims.  How much do you want to improve?  Do you want to sound exactly like a native speaker, or do you just want people to understand you more easily?


Listen and learn

You have to learn pronunciation in your mother tongue by copying people around you.  Learn English pronunciation from native speaker friends, cassettes and CDs for learning English, TV, radio and films. 

It is useful to record friends, and programmes from the radio or TV, because you can listen as many times as you want.  If you hear something you think is useful, listen and repeat it several times to help fix it in your memory.

Relax and have doing this.  Think of yourself as an actor, a native speaker, or someone doing an impression.  If you feel shy, just repeat it silently - it's still useful because you are training the muscles in your mouth.


Understand how sounds are made in the mouth

To make a different sound, we use our mouth, tongue or throat muscles in a different way. 

Vowels are a good example.  Some are pronounced from the front of the mouth , like / i: / in 'me', and others are pronounced from the back, like // in 'more'.  Say 'Me, more, me, more, me, more, me more' (without pronouncing the 'r' in 'more') and you will notice your tongue move backwards and forwards.

Vowels can also be 'open' like /a:/ in party, or 'closed' like /u:/ in 'true'.


Don't think too much about the spelling.

You probably know about the strange relationship between spelling and sound in English.  English teachers often feel very apologetic about this! 'Road' and 'rode' have the same sound, so you can imagine the problems!

As you listen in English, think about the differences between the pronunciation and the spelling of the words.  Are their any surprises?  Have you noticed any patterns, like the sound of '-ous' in 'famous', 'fabulous', 'disastrous'?  Does the sound of one word remind you of another word - 'new' and 'blue', for example?


Better than us!

International learners of English sometimes have better spelling than native speakers.  I am always amazed and impressed by this, but there is a logical reason.

In your mother tongue you learn pronunciation first and spelling second.  English children (and adults!) often have terrible problems with spelling because they try to spell the word the same way as it sounds. 'Wensday' instead of 'Wednesday' is a common spelling mistake for English children, because that is how the word sounds.

Remember to be kind to your eyes and not read for too long.


Identify areas to improve

Focus on one problem at a time.  If you try to solve every problem at the same time, you are giving yourself a large and stressful task.  Make a list and work through it, step by step.

Choose the easiest and the most important problems to start with.



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