English pronunciation is one of the hardest aspects to master. There are hundreds of different dialects and accents out there that are considered "correct" in different parts of the Anglosphere, and English spelling often has little to do with how a word is pronounced.
Mastering an English accent to a native level is a worthy goal. However, it's a whole different ball game to memorizing grammar rules and conjugations.
English Speaking Lessons: perfect is the enemy of good
Unless your parents are native English speakers, or you spent most of your formative years living in England, you may never perfect an English accent. Don't let this hold you back, though!
English has so many sounds that can't be found in other languages, and most people start learning by practicing verb conjugation and grammar rules rather than working on their pronunciation or speaking skills. These problems often compound if you are have been taught by a non-native speaker.
Even without perfect English, if you can get your point across, native speakers will gladly speak with you.
All English learners should focus on achieving a good accent, but don't get too hung up on speaking perfectly. Don't forget to follow word order rules carefully if you wish to be understood, as syntax in English is quite strict.
Why is accent reduction important?
So why should you make your accent your focus?
To communicate clearly. This seems obvious - the chief goal of any foreign language learner is to communicate with others in that language. Along with Spanish and Chinese, English tops the list for most speakers all over the world. Speaking clearly will also help to avoid frustrating misunderstandings when communicating.
To show off your English knowledge! A good level of spelling and grammar is a great start, but if an English speaker can't understand you in conversation, your abilities won't shine. Mastering pronunciation is the key to giving the impression that you speak fluent English.
To improve your English skills overall. Don't leave your grammar by the wayside! But spending just 10 minutes a day practicing your English pronunciation, and your overall English skills will benefit as a whole.
To see real improvement, you need to take a holistic approach. Alongside accent practice, don't forget to:
Check out some English films
Make a daily habit of memorising new English words
Regularly evaluate where you're at and adjust your learning accordingly
Some key points to learning the English accent
If avoiding misunderstandings and eventually becoming bilingual is your goal, you must pay special attention to your accent. Here are some things to keep in mind when practicing English in the classroom or with friends:
The English "h" should be aspirated.
In English, there's a very big difference betwee nthe world "ate" and "hate'! Try practising the letter "h" in front of your mirror - if you see steam from your breath, you're doing it right!
- "Th" can be one of the hardest sounds to pronounce for non-native speakers.
This isn't the same as a "z" or "s" sound. Start with your tongue between your front teeth, and make a "z" sound as you retract your tongue.
Don't roll your "r" sounds!
Many languages roll the "r" sound, but not in English!
Find out about taking English lessons here.
English Accent Reduction, Not Perfection
Putting in more effort to sound like a native is a great idea, but you don't need perfect pronunciation. Your goal should be to produce a good enough English accent so that people can understand you.
If you're just beginning, focus on practising a little each day, and don't leave out vocabulary, listening comprehension and grammar!
Since communication is your ultimate goal, focus more on improving your English pronunciation so native speakers will understand you.
A small accent won't get in the way of people understanding you, but always using pronunciation from your own language definitely will!
Improving Your Own English Speaking Lessons
Shorter sessions will help you to stay focused and work more effectively.
Listen to all the different English dialects. You can start by focusing on the difference between British and American English, and trying out phrases in both accents.
Incoporate your favourite English media into your language learning. Try watching your favourite films in English and repeating your favourite scenes, or learn the lyrics to your favourite English-language sonds.
Check here to learn English for beginners.
This can be difficult to begin with, but it will get easier with time. You can turbo-boost your English by visiting an Anglophone country and practising during your stay!
Finally, ensure you are reading aloud from books, articles or blogs. This will help you get used to speaking and reading English. When reading aloud, focus on pronunciation and pay special attention to any sounds you find difficult.
More advice for accent reduction:
- Listen carefully to yourself
- Speak to yourself in a mirror
- Slow down when speaking
- Practice English alone and in group conversations
- Try singing English lyrics
There is no magic solution, but regular practice will see a lot of progress with your English accent.
To see how you're going and look back on your progress, consider taking short videos of yourself. This could be with a laptop webcam or iPhone front-facing camera. Keep these videos in a special folder or personal YouTube account to look back over. Seeing your progress through a video diary will keep you motivated!
The Shadowing Technique
One of the best ways to reduce your accent is to repeat native English speakers using a technique called “shadowing”.
With shadowing, you essential listen closely and copy what you hear. You can check it out on YouTube, or practice it while you watch TV.
And finally, to keep your English learning fun, check out English slang dictionaries!