Isn’t it frustrating that there are too many new English words to learn every day? Then you also need to keep in mind other aspects like synonyms and antonyms, meanings in different contexts, etc. On top of that, pronunciation. Because mispronounced words can cause confusion and misinterpretation, many non-English speakers, particularly self-learners, feel that improving their pronunciation is an uphill task that’s almost impossible to overcome.
Naturally, we start learning phonics in the early stages of our lives. In the first six years, a child usually mimics what they hear from their parents. These “lessons” are rather raw, yet very impactful as they’re very likely to become long-term memories. In other words, how parents sound has a direct impact on their children’s pronunciation. It’s similar to when you start learning a language, technically, you become a “child” trying to imitate whatever source you are exposed to. As a result, imitation is regarded as one of the most natural and important strategies in language learning. The question is, how to imitate effectively to improve your pronunciation?
Here are the reasons you’re still struggling, and how to ace your pronunciation game.
Everything is not always what it seems
Let’s take the letter “a” as an example. There are actually seven different ways to pronounce it depending on the word it is in, like “apple” /ˈæp.əl/, “about” /əˈbaʊt/, or “share” /ʃeər/. So if one solely relies on their wild guess, they might end up being confused when it comes to pronouncing words they have never encountered before.
Besides, English learners also have the tendency to find the phonetic equivalence, or similar consonants and syllables, in their mother tongue. For instance, the sound /eɪ/ is usually mistaken with the sounds of “ây” or “ê” in Vietnamese. This is when an accent is formed. Having an accent is not necessarily a bad thing, however, it might probably cause some limit in getting your messages across.
There are other common pronunciation problems that English speakers have difficulties with, such as final sounds, stress, intonations, and so on.
To avoid repeating these mistakes and improve your pronunciation, get yourself familiar with the IPA (International Phonetic Association) of any English words you wish to work on.
See it. Say it.
Each word in English has a particular pronunciation, and some of them even sound different from the other "members" of its word family. Prefixes and/or suffixes are added to a root word to form parts of speech in a word family. For example, we have the words “real” /rɪəl/ (adjective), “reality” /riˈæl.ə.ti/ (noun), and “unrealistic” /ʌn.rɪəˈlɪs.tɪk/ (adjective). Regardless of their relation in meaning, they definitely don’t sound the same.
Next time, you may want to practice by putting words into a table with three columns: spellings, meanings, and IPA. Then, try covering one or two parts on the same row and figuring out the missing components. Make sure you speak up and be able to hear your voice. This effective drill helps you memorize the pronunciation and spelling of several word families at once.
Make your own flashcards
That’s right, forget about those boring long lists of vocabulary. A set of flashcards made by you is a far better option. These simple, portable, pocket-sized flashcards can come in handy whenever and wherever you want to check your vocabulary.
Simply write down a word on one side, with its meaning and pronunciation on the other side. To learn more than just one single word at a time, you can group the flashcards with words having similar meaning together, or categorize them by theme/topic, such as “words ending with -ism”. Your set of flashcards won’t be able to make you a professor, but it can surely help you deal with tough terms.
Flashcards, despite being a tried-and-tested method for English learners, have certain limitations. Some may find them not practical enough, or carrying them around isn’t always that convenient. And unfortunately, they can’t check or fix your pronunciation.
Get yourself a professional learning assistant
If you already find your phone indispensable, why not use it as your learning tool as well? No more chunky stacks of flashcards or notes, all you need on your smartphone is ELSA Speak.
When it comes to practicing English pronunciation, ELSA is unquestionably one of the best self-learning apps. Created and designed for pronunciation standardization, ELSA’s Study Set makes an excellent study companion that helps users memorize vocabulary and practice pronunciation.
This feature simulates a flashcard model with detailed transcription and meaning. What makes Study Set outweigh flashcards or dictionaries even is that you will be given a chance to have your pronunciation checked and corrected. All you have to do is simply touch the microphone button at the bottom of a word’s description to record your voice. ELSA's assessment system will inform users about the accuracy of their pronunciation, allowing them to make necessary corrections.
You can create a list of words on the same topic to review your knowledge and practice pronunciation as well. In addition, users will easily find a variety of pre-made sets carefully created and curated from commonly used vocabularies in English proficiency tests. And this feature also allows you to share your own sets to other users when being set to “Public”.
Learning pronunciation is a journey. So don’t trouble yourself with unrealistic goals. Make sure you find joy in the little interesting things along the way.
For enterprise inquiries, English centers or individuals operating in English education, you can connect with ELSA via firstname.lastname@example.org
Adapted by L A M.