Sunday, 30 October 2011

The importance of pronunciation

• pronunciation (noun) - the way in which we pronounce a word
• pronounce (verb) - to make the sound of a word

About pronunciation

One of the most difficult problems facing non-native speakers of English is pronunciation. It is usually the largest obstacle to overcome when trying to achieve fluency. Many non-native speakers have studied grammar for many years but are unable to speak like native speakers due to their inability to pronounce the sounds of words properly. This page is designed to provide techniques to help you pronounce the sounds of the English language.

Your pronunciation is the first and most important thing native speakers notice during a conversation. Knowing grammar and vocabulary are important but useless if you are unable to pronoun those structures or words correctly. Also, native speakers are more likely to understand you, even if you make grammatical mistakes rather than if you make mistakes in pronunciation. Even the simplest words misspoken will keep you from effectively communicating with native English speakers. Achieving good pronunciation should be your main goal. You already know the grammar…probably better than native speakers…and the vocabulary will come in time.

Many people, especially those who have not studied a foreign or second language, are easily irritated if they cannot quickly understand what non-native speakers are saying. This is sad but often true. The importance of good pronunciation can be easily realized by visiting a predominantly English speaking country and talking to the native speakers. If they constantly reply to your statements with “what?”, ”huh?” or ”could you repeat that”, then you know your pronunciation needs work. Going to a foreign country is the best way to assess your speaking skills. Keep in mind that your friends may be from the same country as you and make the same pronunciation mistakes. For this reason they cannot accurately judge your speaking abilities. If you should visit another country, go out and talk to people. You may want the comfort of speaking in your native language but to become a better English speaker, you have to talk to native speakers.

Pronunciation and accent

Pronunciation teachers usually agree that there are three basic levels of English pronunciation.

• People usually don’t understand what you are saying.
• People usually understand what you are saying but you may have to repeat your statements for clarification.
• People understand what you are saying the first time. This level is the goal of most English language learners.

Many non-native speakers worry about having an obvious accent when they speak English. This is unavoidable and depends on where you study English. Realize that the English spoken in England, Australia or Canada is different than the English spoken in the United States. Even within these countries there is a wide range of accents. People from New York speak different English than people from California. Realize though, that if your pronunciation is good, you will be understood anywhere you go. To achieve a “standard accent” in any country, listen to news broadcasts to get an idea of what typical native speakers in that area sound like.

Pronunciation tips

• The most important thing to remember is practice. Learning English takes time but if you practice often you will soon improve and be able to pronounce words like a native speaker.
• Practice pronunciation in front of a mirror. You have to train your mouth to move in new ways in order to make new sounds. Watch your mouth as you speak.
Think about each word before you say it. Try to imagine the position your mouth needs to be in to produce the sound.
• What you see is not always what you get. Remember that the spelling of words and their pronunciation are often different.
• Recognize that the English language has many different dialects depending on the country and the different regions within a particular country.

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