Have you settled for a quality of pronunciation in English, 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.
With formal instruction or learning, there are people who do learn to improve their pronunciation. However many struggle, as they have not come to understand some basic truths about about how to improve. Most English language teachers struggle to provide effective training for their students, as the training they have received for the most part is deficient. It is deficient because the ideas used do not reflect how successful people improve their pronunciation.
Whether you have managed to improve or not the way you speak English with formal instruction, you probably have found that your pronunciation tends to get stuck once you leave it. (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 the way you sound. It is not to do with your innate ability or talent. It is all about how you are learning.
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. Watch this space, as I am going to put this to the test soon! 🙂
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, your success just depends on where you start and what approach you use.
English presents its own unique difficulties but once you have a solid approach that consistently produces results, it is not difficult. At times though, some pointed outside input can point out issues that may have not come to your attention yet. This does not mean you could not reach them yourself. It just could take you a lot longer.
All 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 so on. To a large extent they are all just a smoke screen covering up the fact that some people use ways of learning English 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.
Letting go of what does not work and taking on what does.
Mimicry and repetition is one practice that is referred to and used often when talking about learning pronunciation. It can appear to work, when the learner has many similar sounds to English in their 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 realities that need to be embraced and factors that we need to be aware of if we are to learn any new skill. It’s whether you learn to embrace them and deal with these factors that will enable you to improve 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.
In that listening, we have to be of course attentive AND notice what we are doing and not doing with respect to what we say. We also have to be attentive to what we are hearing and not hearing with respect to what English speakers say and what we say. Without noticing the appearance of differences ( and when the two are the same) progress is just not going to be sustainable.
It is critical to not just let your teacher ( friend or family member) to point out your problems. You have to learn to do this for yourself. If you get stuck here and unable to do this, then turning to someone who can help is critical. That is if you want to keep improving! Relying on a person to point out your problems can only get you so far. Even then, the skills you exercise as you become self reliant can extend to modifying your production as well.
Areas of Pronunciation
Pronunciation issues can be seen to fall 5 different categories:
- basic pronunciation problems with some sounds, individual and combinations. It’s not essential for speaking but learning how to connect pronunciation to the spelling of words can help a lot.
- rhythm, melody and tone. English places a unique importance on stress in the way we speak. This affects every part of how we speak
- accent (this is made up from a combination of the above factors but I put it here as a category of its own to help understanding)
- confidence (is really a different order of problem, but it is so important, I am going to pop it in here.) Without a developing confidence the learning you do can feel like nothing has changed,
All of these can be improved on with an approach that seeks to develop your awareness, sensitivity, understanding and skills. Progress can be limited by any one of the these factors not being sufficiently in play. Getting them in to play is what you need to work towards.
In working with English language learners, 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 having a language learner, by the time they leave the teacher, to 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 figured out what they need to do to keep improving, and they just keep doing it!
However, once a learner gets to this point, 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. Sometimes people can figure this out themselves, other times, some outside input could help hasten this process
Sometimes, all that is needed is a small prompt to alert you to where the problems are. With this in mind I have created a service to give English language learners just such an input. I won’t go into it here. Just check out this page to get some more details on what this service is and what it can do for you.
Whatever you do, learn to focus on measurable results in whatever you do. That is a bare minimum. If you aren’t getting the results you are looking for after a time, change what you do or go and get some professional input. In choosing a person to work with, ask them, “Are you able to get me to sounding close to like a native speaker?” If they say yes, ask them how? If their answer does not talk about helping to make you a better learner and independent, then my suggestion is to find someone else!