Pronunciation Tips

Written by
Nicholas Wheeldon

Academic Manager at Milestones English Academy.

Accents and pronunciation are not the same!

In English we have many different accents, Australian, American, British for example. These accents all have good pronunciation, but they sound different – that’s fine because they are accents.  Accents and pronunciation are not the same! You don’t need to sound like an American or a Londoner to have good pronunciation. Pronunciation is about being understood, not about sounding like an Englishman. In fact, a lot of native speakers enjoy listening to English spoken with a Spanish, Italian or French accent.

Understanding Pronunciation

Pronunciation then, is knowing how words sound and not how they are spelt. The spelling of the word does not help us pronounce them. Just like English grammar, and its grammatical rules, pronunciation has its own set of rules too. To make it a little harder, but fun, good pronunciation is not just ‘how words and letters sound’ it involves other important features too; for example: Intonation – how your tone of voice changes (going up and down) during a sentence. Stress – the words and syllables which have more prominence when we are speaking. Connected speech – how words can sound different when they are joined together in natural speech. All of these features contribute to good pronunciation – but don’t confuse them with accent. 

Over the next few months, we are going to be looking at some of these pronunciation features and rules, allowing you to practice at home. But first, let’s look at some basic tips to help you on your way 😊 

Tip One: Listen and repeat: 

This is a simple activity and can be done watching films, listening to music, podcasts, or even listening and talking to your friends. It can simply be listening and repeating single isolated words or perhaps listening and repeating short sentences or phrases. Try repeating a short sentence and imitating the intonation – notice how your mouth and tongue move. It’s a lot of fun! 

Tip Two: Get to know the phonemic chart:

The phonemic chart shows a visual representation of different sounds – meaning you are able to see how a word is pronounced. It might look like you are learning a whole new alphabet, but just learn a few symbols gradually – it really helps with your pronunciation. Once you know what a symbol means or how it sounds you won’t have to listen and repeat anymore, you will just know how it sounds. All dictionaries have the phonemic spelling of words, so again, when you understand the symbols, you will know how to say a word. Look at these two examples: Ship and Sheep – very similar words to pronounce but one vowel sound is longer than the other.

The phonemic spelling is Ship:   / ʃ ɪ p /    short vowel = / i /      ( i )

                                      Sheep: / ʃ iː p /    long vowel = / / ( ee ):

The site below shows the phonemic chart – just press on the symbol and hear the sound.        


Tip Three: Practice and Exercise

Practice makes perfect. All languages have different sounds and our mouths all work differently. Some sounds almost feel impossible to imitate because our mouth and tongue just won’t do what we want them to do – that’s only because the sounds don’t exist in our native language. A perfect example is with the sound /b/ and /v/ – some speakers have difficulty pronouncing them.  To make the /b/ sound we join our lips together and then let go. The /v/ sound is similar, but your top teeth should touch your bottom lip before you let go. The only way to get this right is to practice, practice, practice.                   

Tip Four: Use a dictionary.

Dictionaries don’t just give you the meaning of the word they also show you how to pronounce the word, as mentioned earlier (phonemic chart). These will be shown in phonemic script so again, if you are familiar with the phonemic chart, you will be able to see how to pronounce the word in the dictionary. The site below is also a good online dictionary which shows meaning of a word and its pronunciation  It’s a lot of fun and works with phrases too! 

Over the next few months, we are going to look at some of these pronunciation features: 

  • introduction to the phonemic chart
  • present simple ‘es’ endings
  • past simple ‘ed’ endings
  • sounds versus spellings
  • minimal pairs
  • connected speech/ linking
  • pausing
  • intonation
Written by
Nicholas Wheeldon

Academic Manager at Milestones English Academy.

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