How to Speak Like a Native – A Brief Guide to English Pronunciation

ESL

“Group Effort” by Dennis S. Hurd is licensed under CC0 1.0 

As an ESL teacher, I’ve encountered hundreds of students who mispronounced common English words despite having an extensive vocabulary and near-perfect grammar. That’s not really surprising, considering that English happens to be their second (or even third) language; what IS surprising is how many of them were completely unaware of the fact, despite being fluent English speakers and prolific writers. I’ve come to the conclusion that learning correct pronunciation is one of the toughest things about learning English as a second language. The good news is, you can teach yourself to speak like a native English speaker in ways that are efficient as well as budget-friendly. The not-so-good news is that it takes tons of time, patience and perseverance; there are no shortcuts to perfection. But as I always tell my students, there’s more in you than you think there is, so hang on long enough and you’ll get there sure enough. 

Tip No. 1 – Listen

If you want to achieve native proficiency in English without actually moving to England or the United States, you can do what so many actors do when a role demands fluency in a foreign language – listen carefully to recordings of native speakers, record your own imitation and compare both versions. Record yourself speaking sentences or reading paragraphs. Repeat this exercise, correcting your mistakes each time, until you’re able to imitate the original pronunciation and accent flawlessly. If possible, have a native speaker listen to your recordings to help you figure out the finer points of pronunciation. 

Listening to podcasts may be helpful here because you can listen to people speaking clearly and casually, just like they would in an everyday conversation. Add YouTube videos and free pronunciation apps for variety. Read a transcript of the podcast or video as you listen – this will help you connect the sounds to the letters. 

Tip No 2 – Write

And how exactly might writing help you improve your pronunciation? In my high school French classes, we had to take dictation; the teacher spoke for fifteen minutes and we had to listen carefully and write down exactly what she said. Trying to decipher her accent wasn’t easy but we wrote down what we thought we heard – this process helped me understand French spelling and pronunciation so much better. My ESL students say they used to be terrified of dictation but it has worked wonders for their language learning skills. 

Keep a notebook handy to write any English pronunciation problems you might have. Write out difficult words phonetically (by their sounds). If in doubt, ask others how they would say it. Make a list of words you have problems with and cross out the ones you’ve conquered. This will show you how much you’ve progressed with your pronunciation and is especially useful for visual learners. 

Make flashcards if you can. Write a word on one side and its phonetic spelling on the other. Underlining the stressed syllable(s) will be helpful here since English is a highly stressed language and learning the rules for stress is incredibly important for correct pronunciation.

Tip No. 3 – Speak

Practice your English in front of the mirror, speak to yourself at home, cultivate a language buddy, record your voice – in a nutshell, find ways to get over your nerves so you feel comfortable while speaking English with others. In my experience, nerves often lead to mispronunciation, undoing all the hard work you’ve put into learning the language. Practise speaking slowly and clearly for a few minutes everyday until you get accustomed to hearing yourself speak English. 

When it comes to learning a second language, pronunciation is as important as grammar and vocabulary. With diligent practice, the above tips will soon have you speaking English like a native!