English Pronunciation

English pronunciation can be one of the most difficult areas for a learner of the language.

Words can sound completely different from how they are written and you may encounter completely new sounds that you aren’t used to making.

Luckily, there are ways to conquer the pronunciation jungle! Let’s look at some of these now.

Read phonetics

As you know, English pronunciation can be completely different from the way a word is written.

You may be able to guess a new word’s spelling based on similar words and patterns but there’s no way to be 100% sure without hearing it… or is there?

Well, using the international phonetic alphabet (IPA) we can read a word and know exactly how it should sound. Each sound is given its own symbol and then these symbols are used to spell the word.

Let’s take the word “analysis” as an example. Using the IPA we see that it is written:

/əˈnæl.ə.sɪs/

This shows us that the “a” and “y” are pronounced the same way (as a schwa). It also shows us that the stress (‘) is on the 2nd syllable. Very useful stuff, considering we haven’t even listened to someone saying it.

It may take some time learning which symbol represents which sound but it is well worth it in the long run. 

The Cambridge Dictionary has the IPA spelling (as well as audio) for most words you will come across in English.

Tongue Twisters

Use tongue twisters to target specific sounds you have difficulty with and see fast improvement.

These are sentences made up of words that have similar sounds and this similarity makes it difficult going between words.

Their difficulty is what makes them perfect for training though. Think of it like going to the gym. Lifting those extra heavy weights makes everything else seem lighter.

After giving your speaking ability its workout, you will see that making these sounds in normal conversation is that much easier.

Body Awareness

When trying to pronounce certain sounds it’s important to be aware of the 3 things that you can move when speaking:

  1. Jaw
  2. Lips
  3. Tongue

When trying to make the sound you want focus on these one at a time. Experiment with the position and notice how the sound changes.

Connected Speech

Listen to Native English speakers speak casually and you will notice that not every word is pronounced with a clear gap at the start and end.

Connected speech requires less energy and it’s this that makes it a tempting choice for a speaker of English.

However, this also makes pronunciation more difficult for learners, not to mention listening comprehension!

Learning about the rules of connected speech will help you sound more natural and understand what is being said in casual situations.

Country Specific Guides

One way to take a “shortcut” is to look at a pronunciation guide specific to your country.

A lot of pronunciation problems are similar from country to country as each language influences the pronunciation of an English learner.

For example French students tend to not pronounce “h”as it’s usually silenced in their language.

Japanese students wouldn’t struggle with this but would find it difficult to pronounce “r” as this sound doesn’t exist in the same way in Japanese. Read more on English pronunciation for Japanese.