How to improve your American accent 🇺🇸
How to improve your pronunciation in English? 🎤
Want to improve your English accent? Today, we will show you the best ways to improve your pronunciation in English!
Speaking like a native speaker is not an easy task. Sounding like one takes a lot of work. So, we will explore the best ways to improve your pronunciation in English and how to speak English with a good accent by using a few pronunciation exercises.
The foundation of a good pronunciation in English
First and foremost, let's have a look at the key elements you should know about in order to have a good pronunciation in English. There's three of them:
Build a foundation in English phonetics!
The first thing you need to do when you check the pronunciation of a word in the dictionary is to see which syllable is stressed. This is called word stress in English.
Not all languages have stressed syllables and therefore, many learners tend to neglect this aspect and don't check it. Some people naturally stress the last syllables, while others always stress the first one. This is how our mother tongue can affect our English and is a common mistake. This is the main reason why you're still speaking with a foreign accent! In English, however, word stress varies a lot and contributes greatly to the comprehension of a word.
It can even be the case that, if we articulate a word poorly but we still stress the correct syllable, our conversation partner will understand us. While if we over-articulate and neglect word stress completely, this will make it difficult to understand.
In phonetics, the word stress is shown by this symbol (which looks like an apostrophe) :
'. It is placed before the stressed syllable. Here are some examples of common words, which learners tend to pronounce incorrectly:
- ACtion /'æk·ʃən/
- OPtion /ˈɑp·ʃən/
- SIlence /ˈsaɪ·ləns/
- diRECtion /dɪˈrɛk·ʃən/
In English, word stress can sometimes even be the only difference between a noun and a verb. Compare:
- RECord /ˈɹɛk·ɝd/ (like a world record)
- to reCORD /ɹɪˈkɔɹd/ (make a recording of something)
We can notice that word stress has an impact not only on the intonation, the power and the length of a syllable, but also on its articulation.
Word stress can also be the only difference between an adjective and a verb:
- PERfect /ˈpɝ·fɪkt/ = ideal, flawless
- to perFECT /pɝˈfɛkt/ = to make perfect
Because it is such an important topic in English pronunciation, we're preparing an entire article on the rules for word stress.
Breaking a word down in order to analyze each of its sounds is essential in order to learn to pronounce it well. Focus on the sounds which don't exist in your own language, because those will tend to be the hardest. Discover our infographic of all the sounds in American English!
When we take the time to identify the sounds in English which don't exist in our own language, it lowers the risks of making an embarrassing mistake! This can be the difference between ordering a large Coke (the fizzy drink) and asking for a big cock (penis).
For example, I wasn't aware of the existence of the so-called TH sound for years until I learned about the International Phonetic Alphabet (or the IPA). This means that I had spent about 8 years speaking English without even knowing all of its sounds... quite embarrassing, I know. But you can learn from my mistakes!
In short, analyzing the sounds which constitute words is a keystep in your studies. Let's take an example with the word "thought /θɔt/".
We can immediately see that the pronunciation of this word is very different from its spelling, so let's look a bit more closely:
- We see that it's comprised of three phonemes:
- /θ/ ;
- /ɔ/ ; and
- while the GH is silent.
- Out of all of these, the one that doesn't exist in most languages is "θ" !
This type of exercise of breaking a word down is called chunking and is the foundation for a good learning. It allows you to understand how English is actually pronounced and to start speaking it with a better accent and thus, with more confidence.
So, focus your efforts on those sounds, don't be afraid to exaggerate at the beginning until you get used to it. With time, it will become a habit and you'll know how to pronounce even the hardest words!
To understand how to say a word, break it down into pieces.
Once you have examined the word, you can climb up the ladder to focus on the next step - the sentence. Many learners are aware of word stress, but don't know a lot about sentence stress. Is that the case for you?
You have to be careful with sentence stress, because it will help you start speaking more naturally, more precisely, and to go from talking like a ro-bot to speaking fluently and naturally!
So, where do you start? Here are the first rules you need to know in order to fix your pronunciation of whole sentences in English:
- We always stress at least one word in each sentence, but not all words.
- We put the stress on content words, meaning the words which give the main information.
- We put the stress on new information.
Applying these rules will help you improve your accent in English!
Improve your pronunciation in English and never get this expression from your conversation partners again!
Techniques to improve your pronunciation in English
You already have the foundation. Now, let's see a few ways to put this into practice in order to improve your English pronunciation, even if you're currently not in an English-speaking environment.
Learn the IPA
Since in the IPA each symbol corresponds to only one sound, you'll always know how to pronounce words with certainty. No more chaos caused by the confusing spelling system!
One of the best ways to learn the IPA is by using our interactive document. It has audio, all of the sounds of General American English, and a list of example words! All you have to do is click on the sound in order to hear it.
Listen to an audio book and read at the same time
If you like reading, paper books and e-books can be an extraordinary tool to help you practice your English pronunciation. Listening and reading at the same time will help you get used to the pronunciation, the accent, and the differences between the way we speak and the way we write in English.
This is an exercise which will help you better understand and better pronounce English!
Read on Kindle
The enormous advantage of using a Kindle (or e-readers in general) is that they have integrated dictionaries! This allows you to systematically check the pronunciation of words - quickly and easily.
When you're reading and you come across a word you don't understand or a word that you're not sure how to pronounce, you can simply click on it and see its definition and transcription.
Reading this way in English is one of the best ways to enrich your vocabulary while also correcting your pronunciation, and enjoying content of your taste! Not sure what to read? Check out our top picks for books in English!
Study articulatory phonetics
How do native speakers from the USA, the UK or others pronounce English exactly? Pay attention to the way their lips, mouth, and tongue move when they speak. Identifying where a sound comes from is very useful and helps you learn how to articulate it. This is what we call articulatory phonetics.
Improve your pronunciation in English with articulatory phonetics
Record yourself while you're speaking English, pronouncing a single word or even a single sound. 📼
Use video, instead of just audio recordings, so you can not only hear your voice, but also see how you're moving your mouth. Compare this to native speakers. When you compare the two versions side by side, it becomes easier to identify what doesn't sound correct and to then practice the correct articulation in English. Check the position of the mouth, the tongue's movement and where you put the stress.
Play with Siri
An exercise to help you better pronounce English is to test your English pronunciation and see if you articulate clearly enough is to use Siri, Google assistant or whichever other voice recognition system. Give it orders! Try calling someone or opening your favorite application in English. If it works, you must be on the right track!
... but don't worry too much if Siri doesn't always understand you! It's a piece of software which is still not perfect. There are even certain English dialects which Siri finds difficult to catch:
The Scottish accent is notorious for being difficult to understand!
Use these techniques, practice regularly, and you will master English pronunciation in no time!
Work on your spoken English with one complete solution
In order to save time and practice more English in an organized way, use Click & Speak, our English-learning training, which combines everything you need in order to learn English with a good pronunciation:
🎧 audio everywhere
🔣 phonetic transcriptions
✔️ high-quality recordings
🤩 lots of content
... and much more!
With Click & Speak, you to check the pronunciation of words immediately, while learning with lively content!
I hope you this article has helped you get a better idea about what you need to do in order to improve your pronunciation in English! If you'd like to continue your studies on the topic, check out the following resources:
- The International Phonetic Alphabet in order to easily learn the pronunciation of all the sounds in American English.
- Click & Speak in order to practice your English in an organized way, understand the spoken language, correct your accent, and cover all the vocabulary and grammar you need to become fluent. After having finished your training, you will no longer need the help of your mother tongue!