Is your pronunciation as good as you want it?

“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”
by ~Zig Ziglar

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Have you settled for a quality of pronunciation, in the language you are learning, far less than you would like? If you have, there are various reasons for that. Without a doubt, a key reason for that is that the ways you have been learning are not been producing the results you seek. Note, I didn’t say that “you” were somehow deficient! There are of course other factors. I don’t wish to diminish those, as at times they may be critical. However once you settle on ways of learning that work and give away ways that don’t, you’ll be surprised just how much you can achieve even with limited resources.

For some people, just being understandable is their goal whilst at the other end there are those that aspire to reach a native like quality. Wherever you are in that continuum, the issues are similar, it just depends where you start from in terms of the approach you are using.

Each language presents its own unique difficulties but once you have a solid approach that consistently produces results, then no language is too difficult.  At times though, some pointed outside input can point out issues that may have not come to your attention yet.

pronunciation continual improvementAll of us are capable are making any sound or combination of them that anyone else can. People try to explain away why people struggle with arguments about genes, talent, the unique difficulties of the language  and etc. To a large extent they are all just a smoke screen covering up the fact that some people use ways of learning pronunciation that just don’t work that well for most people. Then there are of course those that just don’t understand the critical importance of real life use of the language. They bemoan the fact that improvement is slow, but without sufficient real use (not practice in the limited way as seen in language classes or course books etc) improvements are necessarily slow, if at all.

Mimicry and repetition is one practice that is referred to and used often when talking about pronunciation. It can appear to work, when the learner is learning a language that has similar sounds to the first language. But how is that going to work when the sounds are completely different. New skills are not learned through repetition and mimicry. There are a number of qualities and attitudes that need to be embraced and factors that we need to be aware of if we are to become, for example, a skilled dancer, driver or cook. It’s whether you learn to express these qualities and deal with these factors that will enable you to inprove your chances of success.. 

Learning to pay more attention to all facets of your experience in pronouncing new sounds, from what you do with your mouth, to how that affects the sounds that come out of it, to how carefully you listen is pivotal. The importance of the quality of your listening cannot be overemphasised. Some people come to these understandings more easily. Whilst some need more external guidance or prompts so that they start to focus their energies in areas that will bring results.

With formal instruction or learning, many people do learn to improve their pronunciation. Some struggle there as well, as they have not come to understand some basic truths about about how to improve. Most language teachers struggle to provide effective training as well, as the training they have received for the most part is deficient.

Whether you have managed to improve or have not, you may have found is that your pronunciation tends to get stuck once you leave a formal learning learning environment. (In fact it may not even have made much progress with there)  This happens because you have not learned what it takes to keep improving their pronunciation. It is not to do with your innate ability, as I have mentioned before. You are probably tired of me talking about it, but most people I come across, teachers and learners alike, believe that talent is the key. 

People who are close to me keep telling me I have no talent for singing. If you heard my singing, you would know why they say that. 🙂 Mind you I don’t sing very often (guess why!) even though I enjoy singing. I know “I can’t sing” but I also am certain that once I decide to face this issue I can learn to. All I need to do is to find an expert in the field who can direct my attention to what I have been missing.

It’s not a matter of talent. It’s a matter of learning to do something in a way that will work. It might just need a small change in how I use my voice or there may be something more involved. No idea. However, I know that all I have to do is to go to someone who understands the issue and can give me a few pointers as to what I need to do.

Pronunciation issues can be seen to fall 5 different categories:

  • basic pronunciation problems with some sounds, individual and combinations.
  • accent
  • rhythm, melody and tone 
  • fluency
  • confidence. This is really a different order of problem, but it is so prevalent, I am going to pop it in here.

All of these can be improved on with the right input. 

In working with language learners, primarily learning English, I have yet to come across any person that I was not able to help to move forward in any of these areas. I am not bragging here, just stating a fact about what any competent teacher should be able to do.  

What however is much more challenging is doing enough with a language learner so that by the time they leave the teacher, they will be able to keep improving their pronunciation of their own accord. Much like those people one hears of, who never go to language classes yet manage to learn the new language to very high levels, just by using the language. They have just figured out what they need to do, and they keep doing it!

Once a learner does this, then they can keep improving as long as they wish to. That I believe is what all language learners want, yet it is seldom what they get when they go to language classes. They have to figure it how they can keep learning by themselves. I am not talking here about studying course materials here of course. I am talking about how to keep learning whilst using the language. 

With that in mind, I have been working on developing an online service that can help put a language learner on to the path of becoming someone who can keep improving their pronunciation. I hope to be able to launch it within 6 weeks. As a way of tweaking it, I have put together a small survey designed to help me do just that. I would really be appreciative if you could spend 2 minutes filling it in.