Have you ever heard of phonetics and phonology? Well, these are the areas of language that deal with speech sounds – the sounds that you produce when you speak.
Learning another language,
English in this case, involves learning a new system of sounds, and more often than not, learners tend to have great difficulty mastering all these new sounds in the new language (English). You may be wondering then, should I do a course in phonetics and phonology to improve my pronunciation? Well, the answer is NO. You don’t need to become a ‘language expert’ (linguist) to improve aspects of your pronunciation. However, there are a few important things that you may need in order to work on your pronunciation.
1. Develop an understanding of those English sounds that you are really having trouble with. Which particular sound? In which words? Identifying the sounds that give you ‘trouble’ is really important. Sometimes these sounds do not exist in your first language, or perhaps they do but in different ways.
2. Once you’ve identified those difficult sounds, make sure you practise as much as necessary until you produce it. For example, it may be this sound /θ/ as in , think, thought, thumb, theme, etc. You would realise that in order to produce the sound you need to stick out the tip of your tongue and place it in between the upper and lower teeth. Do it once, again and again until you get the sound.
3. Once you’ve done this, go online and type ‘minimal pairs’ and practise those words that contain the sounds that are problematic to you. Minimal pairs are pairs of words that can be very similar in sound, and sometimes in spelling, but differ in one sound only. For example, the words ‘free’ and ‘three’ are quite similar. It’s just the first sound that differs.
These three steps might help you identify and improve those areas or sounds that you’re struggling with. However, the key to everything is ‘practice’ – practice in the form of drilling (lots of repetition),and practice in the form of meaningful communication. Repeating individual sounds again and again is important, but it’s also very important to try to use these in real life communication.