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Pronunciation, Speaking

Pronunciation: getting the sounds of words right

When people talk about pronunciation, they usually mean the sounds of individual words. This is not the whole story. Having good pronunciation also means having a good knowledge of word stress, sentence stress, intonation and rhythm.

The good news is that problems with the individual sounds of words are usually easy to fix.

Problems:

  • It’s not always possible to know how to pronounce a word from the way that it is spelt.
  • Some words are spelt the same, but pronounced differently. E.g. ‘A dove is a bird.’ and ‘I dove into the water.’; ‘She gave me a present’ and ‘I am going to present a talk at the conference.’; ‘I want to tear up the letter.’ and ‘A tear rolled down his face.’
  • Some words are spelt differently, but pronounced the same. E.g. ‘allowed’ and ‘aloud’, ‘bored’ and ‘board’, ‘hour’ and ‘our’, ‘knows’ and ‘nose.
  • Your language may not have the same consonant sounds as we have in English. E.g. is there a difference in your language between ‘v’ and ‘w’? does your language have the ‘th’ sound?
  • English has 20 vowel sounds and diphthongs. Does your language have this many? Most don’t.
  • English has sound combinations which many other languages don’t have. E.g. Does your language have ‘s’ after ‘th’ as in ‘months’?

Solutions:

Learn the Sounds of English

  • Learn the international phonetic alphabet (IPA). Click on ‘Learn the Sounds of English‘ to do this the easy way.
  • Practise saying any of the sounds which are difficult for you to pronounce.
  • Make sure you practise these sounds, and combinations of these sounds, in words and sentences.
  • Practise any sound combinations which are difficult for you to pronounce.
  • Use your knowledge of the IPA to look up the pronunciation of words in your dictionary.
  • Some online dictionaries allow you to listen to the sounds of words. Practise repeating these.
  • When you listen, pay attention to the individual sounds in words, especially those you have problems with.
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