Improved English pronunciation: best tools and techniques

Updated: Dec 30, 2019


Regional accents are a nightmare to navigate, for natives as well as students. The most clearly understandable form of English is RP or ‘Received Pronunciation.’

RP is also known as Standard English, as it uses clear and concise pronunciation, stress and intonation making it more universally understandable, for this reason it is also described as ‘regionally neutral’ meaning it is difficult to place the origin of the speaker. RP doesn’t use slang or dialectical language, making it less exclusive and confusing. It is also known as BBC English as the clear annunciation of vocabulary is synonymous with the diction of BBC reporters on the TV and radio.

RP used to be an exclusive asset of the upper classes, but after the second World War more opportunities became available to the general public. At this time the BBC was the Nations most loved and reliable platform and the voices that came through the radio and later telephone needed to be clear and easily understandable.

A standard English accent will help you to be understood more broadly, as it focuses on annunciation and demands clarity of expression. Below are some tools that will help you improve your accent and pronunciation, but first here is a short video demonstrating some of the accents across the UK (subtitles may be necessary).

Be aware of your mouth

When you speak you use hundreds of tiny muscles in and around your mouth. Some may not get as much exercise in your native language, or at least not in the same combinations. Here are some difficult words to pronounce in English, along with their phonetic value. Try and say each word using the phonetic guide below it.

BREWERY

/broo-uh-ree

COMFORTABLE

/kuhm-fer-tuh-buh l

RURAL

/roo r-uh l

SHADENFREUDE

/shahd-n-froi-duh

SIXTH

/siksth

SPECIFIC

/spi-sif-ik

SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS

/soo-per-kal-uh-fraj-uh-lis-tik-ek-spee-al-i-doh-shuh s

You should consider breaking new vocabulary into constituent parts as above, train yourself to write the words how they sound. You can use wordreference to listen to the correct pronunciation which now has a variety of accents available on the ‘listen’ option including UK-RP. Or find out how many syllables are in a word using this platform

The best (and possibly oldest) way to improve your pronunciation is with a mirror. Try different words in front of a mirror, focus on your mouth and how it moves, be conscious of the muscles working to make the shapes and the sounds they produce. For support, use this app, which provides diagrams of mouth movements and training in individual sounds. It also allows you to listen and then record your own version of specific words, comparing yourself to the dictionary version. This is an exercise you can spend 5 minutes on every day, slowly building the strength and dexterity of your mouth muscles – after a couple of weeks you will clearly hear the difference.

Lips and throat

Say the word BEAT. What do you notice about the shape your lips make?

They should spread across your face like a smile, this is one shape for a long vowel sound, it is also the reason we say ‘CHEESE’ when we have a photo taken to at least appear happy.

In contrast, try the word BOAT. This is a much flatter shape, the lips should form the ‘O’ shape.

/t/ versus /d/

The ‘t’ sound like in the word TEA and the D sound as in DAVID are often mispronounced, used in the wrong place or forgotten completely. However, they are essential for the past simple tense and other vocabulary. Put your hand on your throat and make the ‘t’ sound. Do you notice there is no movement? Now try the same with ‘d.’ This time you should notice some vibration, this is because these sounds, although similar, come from different places. Be conscious of how you produce a sound, train your muscle memory and soon you will pronounce words correctly without even thinking about it.

Try a combination of words with the above sounds, use a mirror or some of the platforms below to train and perfect, adapt and repeat.

Record yourself

Much like the mirror, this is a fantastic way to monitor your progress. In the 21st century there is no shortage of platforms to record your voice. Your phone undoubtedly came with an app for voice recording. Use it. Or send voice messages in whatsapp, if you have a group with fellow students, make it a habit to communicate like this in place of writing text. You will see more platforms in this article

Go one step further, be brave, make a podcast...this easy to use platform is for amateur podcasters, recording with their phones, laptops or mics, directly to the platform, not only can you listen to other learners, you can get genuine feedback and find new ways to express yourself through your interests and passions. Get your voice out there and don’t forget to share your efforts with Bulldog!

We would love to put together a list of best student podcasts :)

International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

Everything healthy tastes awful. The same rule applies to the IPA. It is genuinely worth learning though. The IPA will not only give you a guide to how words should be pronounced correctly (every dictionary provides an IPA definition) it will also help you build a phonetic image related to the sounds, connecting the written word to the spoken word. You can print the IPA here or practice with the online version (including listen option) and of course there is an app

Once you have learnt the IPA or if you already know it, you can drop text into this platform and see the phonetic value of all the words used.

Tongue twisters

Tongue twisters aren’t just a funny way to confuse your friends and classmates, they are difficult for a reason. A tongue twister intentionally forces you to produce difficult sounds and oral shapes in rapid succession. Ultimately, it is like a crossfit workout for your mouth. Below are some of our favourites, notice the types of sounds they are training and the way your mouth moves. Use this app to practice different tongue twisters on a daily basis.

'A proper copper coffee pot'

'Six thick thistle sticks. Six thick thistles stick'

'I slit a sheet, a sheet I slit. And on a slitted sheet I sit. I slit a sheet, a sheet I slit. The sheet I slit, that sheet was it'

Sing

There’s nothing more fun that a good bit of karaoke in the classroom, street or shower. One of my favourite ways to practice with my students is to sing a long using this platform. Missing words must be input correctly for the song to continue and a new feature allows you to create your own gap fill exercises.

Get your X Factor on in the classroom!

Let us know about your progress and if you have any personal tips to add to our list.

TEACHERS download a PDF version of this as a class here and the Teacher notes with links here

#english #pronunciation #speaking #tefl #esl

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