“If you are not failing every now and again, it is a sign you are not doing anything very innovative.” by ~Woody Allen~
You will discover ideas and practical suggestions as to how you can improve your pronunciation in this second part of a two part article. You can implement them right now to improve your pronunciation in whatever language you are learning in any aspect of that language, whether it be at the level of individual sounds (phonemes), tones, melody, etc.
So, how have you gone with the little exercise I left you in Part 1? For the ones of you who have started here, I would suggest that before you read this, go and look up the last post, Improve Pronunciation Part 1, and do what is suggested at least for a day or two. And if you did read the last one but did not get around to doing the little exercise I set you, I would suggest before you read this, you should at least do the same!
I hope in the past 2 weeks you have put yourself to work a bit and had a careful look at your listening skills. You may have found that your skills are in A1 shape, however, more likely, you would have found some areas that may need to be improved. I would seriously suggest that you not put this in the too hard basket but set yourself to do something about it. Should you decide you want to, I will suggest that you set yourself a goal to do precisely that. For now, this is not an area that I will go into, but it does not mean you should not!
Of course improving your general listening is not the whole answer. Let us now look at one way of improving pronunciation. You will find that if you really focus on and improve one aspect of your pronunciation you will find that many benefits will flow over to other areas. The reality is that when you manage to consciously improve one aspect of your pronunciation there will be other lessons that you learn along the way. So for starters, you will experience:
A new found AND increased confidence and belief in yourself – I can actually do it!
An improvement in your focussed listening skill.
A better working understanding of what is involved in consciously improving one or more aspects of your production. Some of these aspects are:
i. Becoming aware of something you need to fix.
ii. Developing your listening skills so you can discriminate subtleties in sound production.
iii. An increased awareness of your articulatory system that you adjusted to get the desired results.
So what I suggest you do is to find one aspect of your pronunciation that you would like to improve. What you have to do here to isolate a problem OR a point of difference you have identified between what you say and what a native speaker in the language you are learning says.
Many learners I have worked with have problems doing this. If you don’t, great! Just make sure though that you clearly identify a single simple problem/difference. If you are not sure what I mean, what YOU have to do is to find something that you say differently. An alternative starting point is to have a language teacher (if you have one) point out a difference. Having help like this is an acceptable starting point but it is just that. You need to work towards being able to find differences yourself. Language learners who have great pronunciation learnt this process at some point in their life and automated this so for them it is seamless.
To learn this for yourself means listening to yourself and comparing what you hear to what a native speaker says. Every learner, to some extent, does this unconsciously. What I am suggesting is that you make this process conscious.
So let’s take an example. Let’s say someone who is learning English wants to say “same” but actually they are saying “sam” , in fact that is what they are hearing. What they have to do is to be able to hear the difference. In a classroom, a teacher may tell you, but in real life very few people will tell you that you are saying the word wrong. They may say “huh?” which will alert you to the fact that your pronunciation is non standard. So the trick is that you have to find the differences yourself.
If you have trouble doing that, I would suggest you record a native speaker saying something (appropriate to your level of language) and then you say the same thing and then compare the two. If there is no difference great! If there is, find one sound which is different (not a word…a sound in the word…like above) and work at changing what you say so you bring it in line with what the native speaker says.
If you can find one point of difference and correct that then you have to do that again. The second time will be easier. Once you learn to do this, you can improve your pronunciation step by step. Do it often enough and you will start to automate this self correction. There are many aspects to pronunciation but this approach can in fact help you with all problems you may find. At times turning to someone else can help if you get stuck. But it is important that the person you turn to helps you keep moving rather than just helping you solve a problem. There is a big difference between someone who “gives you a fish and someone who teaches you how to fish”.
The biggest hurdle in mastering this approach to improve your pronunciation you will find is to doing it for the first time. Once you have done that, you will start to get a sense of what has to happen. Keep going and see what you can do with it. If you have comments on what you have done, any problems or questions, leave a comment at the end of this article about what you are doing and what success you had in improving your pronunciation. Click below if you would like to listen to this instead or as well as reading it.