Maybe you’ve heard of the English idiom: “Practice makes perfect.” It means that the more you practice something, the better you will become at whatever it is you’re practicing.
But it’s important to remember one thing about practice - not all types of practice are effective. If I wanted to learn how to play the piano, and I practiced by doing this to the keys, I’d never really get better at playing the piano. My practice strategy would be all wrong, and even if I spent hours doing this on the piano, I’d never be able to play like Beethoven.
The same goes for practicing your English pronunciation. You need to know how to practice in order to make the best use of your time and make the greatest amount of progress.
Here are some tips about how to best practice your American English pronunciation.
Imitate what you hear
You are training your ears to hear a certain sound or speech pattern, then training your brain to plan out that sound or speech pattern, and finally training your speech system to actually say that sound or speech pattern.
This is a constant loop of hearing, planning, saying - and nowhere in this loop is reading involved. You don’t need to know how to read a word in order to pronounce it. Just think about how infants learn language - it’s all from hearing, planning, and saying - not reading.
So when you are practicing your English pronunciation, don’t rely too heavily on how the word is spelled - focus more on how the word sounds, and then imitate exactly what you hear, even if you’re not sure what it is you’re saying. Imitation is key to learning a new language and learning a new accent.
Imitate in slow motion
For one of my clients, it was challenging for him to pronounce the N sounds in the word government, especially when he said it quickly. So the trick to help with this is to slow it down. If you are able to adjust the playback speed of the video or audio file, then do that and slow down what you hear...then imitate it at a slower pace. Do this several times until you are able to say the word, and then gradually speed yourself up to your normal speaking rate.
I would recommend doing this for every new word or sound pattern - imitate it in slow motion first!
Imitate it many, many times
Once you are able to imitate a word or sound pattern correctly, does that mean you’ve mastered it? Unfortunately, no. All that means is you said it correctly...once! Which is great, but one time is not enough to make lasting change to your speech behavior.
Imitate something 7, 8, 10 times in a row! And then go back to it the next day, and the day after that, until you fully understand how that word feels and sounds when you say it, and you can say it without thinking too much about it.
Record your practice and listen to it!
Ultimately, you need to hear what you say and correct it if it’s wrong. That can be hard to do when you’re listening to yourself speak in real time during conversations. I tell all of my clients to record their practice sessions so that I can listen to their practice, and also so that they can listen to it and evaluate how they sounded. You can use any voice recording app on your phone - some apps come standard with the phone, but there are many free apps that are compatible with Apple and Android devices.
Here’s what your practice might look like using these tips.
I’m going to imitate a sentence in Russian, which is a language that I don’t speak at all, and the sentence I’m going to say is “Hello, how are you?” translated by Google Translate. First, I’ll imitate it in slow motion, and then I’ll speed it up. I’m going to use my computer to help me with this one.
Privet kak dela.
Thanks for watching! And I'd love to hear from you - contact me to learn how we can work together to perfect your American English pronunciation!