Thursday, January 28, 2010

ESL Pronunciation

For the ESL student it is vitally important to minimize your native accent and improve your pronunciation skills so that your spoken English is clearly understood. As a rule, pronunciation and accent reduction should be learned as you pursue your English studies so that it becomes a part of your study program. Often times a person learns English with an excellent theoretical understanding but through one reason or another has not had enough opportunities to actively engage in the spoken aspect of ESL.

As time goes on the student becomes very despondent with the quality of their spoken English skills, because this is not reflecting the true level of their ability. It is easy to lose confidence when others cannot understand your accent easily. At the end of the day it doesn't really matter how great your grammar is if you have a hard time communicating clearly with others.
In an earlier post I explained some of the rules of English pronunciation. Please click here to read that article.

English is a very musical sounding language with a range of intonation and distinct rhythm which gives meaning to the words we say. Not all languages are like this, and therefore it is important for the ESL student to become familiar with the distinct sound of English.

Another difficulty for ESL learners is the fact that English is not a phonetic language. Some of the spellings are very odd and can be pronounced in many different ways. For example, the spelling of ough has a variety of ways in which it can be pronounced. No wonder ESL students encounter some frustrations when figuring out the correct way to say something! Looking at the example of ough here are some examples of the different ways to pronounce it.

  • Cough   -   ough pronounced as off
  • Thought  -  ough pronounced as or
  • Though  -  ough pronounced as oh (as in so)
  • Enough  - ough pronounced as uff
  • Bough -   ough pronounced as ow ( as in cow)
  • Fought - ough pronounced as ort 
For many people a viable solution to this dilemma is the learning of the phonetic alphabet. The symbols can help a student identify the correct way in which to pronounce words. I think that this approach works better the younger a person is. That is not to say that mature students cannot learn the phonetic alphabet, but in my experience younger people seem to pick it up more easily. However, if you do not have a pronunciation teacher to help you with saying the words correctly, then it is possible that through understanding the phonetic alphabet, you can learn to correctly pronounce words.

As an accent reduction and pronunciation tutor, I have can offer you the following tips to help you improve your spoken English.


  • Speak as much English as possible and give people permission to correct you.   
  • Watch English speaking movies and TV shows in order to hear the sounds of English. Over time this will increase your ability to copy the rythm and intonation patterns. 
  •  Use an online dictionary with audio to help you with pronouncing words that you are not sure about. 
  • If possible work with an ESL Tutor or native speaker. 
  • Enjoy the challenges of perfecting your English skills. Try and remain confident and know that practice does pay off in the end.

With regular commitment and effort you will improve. I am a qualified ESL Tutor and specialize in pronunciation and accent reduction. Click here to send me email to arrange an initial free consultation.