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How to Improve your English Pronunciation

Speaking a foreign language isn’t about sounding like a native speaker, it’s about successful communication. Whether or not interaction is successful, however, is dependent on your conversational partner’s ability to understand you. The English sound system is just as complex as any other – the sounds, stress, and intonation patters help carry meaning from one person to another. Consider┬áthese aspects that may need your attention if you’re hoping to master English pronunciation:

The Sounds of English: Phonetics to Improve your English Pronunciation

This one may seem obvious. Since spoken words are a form that are associated with a specific meaning, the form has to match your intended message. By ‘form’ I mean the combination of sounds that come out of your mouth. Accurate pronunciation of these forms depends on both your ability to perceive and pronounce them. Additionally, even if you can produce these sounds accurately, you’ll need to do so quite quickly and automatically – effortful, slow pronunciation can sometimes cause confusion as well. This of course, requires practice.

Step 1: Sensitize yourself to problematic sounds.

As you may have already learned from your own experience, it is nearly impossible to reproduce a sound that you cannot perceive as different from others. If you cannot hear the difference between the vowels in ‘ipod’ and ‘ipad’ (as my mother, a native Spanish-speaker, cannot), then you must sensitize yourself to the difference before you can reproduce it. But how do you do this?

First – identify the sound you need to work on. Let’s choose the vowel sound in ipad. This is the same sound in cat, pack, and dad. You can look up any (and all) of these words on a site like Forvo or even YouTube to hear the way native speakers say it. If you’re savvy enough, find the IPA symbol for the sound (see below), which will allow you to find descriptions of the correct mouth shape, tongue height, tongue “forwardness/backness,” and other characteristics that make the sound unique.

Do the same for sounds that you often confuse the sound with, such as ‘ipod’ (as in bond, law, and lock) to compare the description of the sounds until you begin to perceive a difference!English IPA Symbols -magoosh

Step 2: Practice, practice, practice!

If you’re like my mother and you have a hard time with some vowel sounds, you’ll have to practice recognizing and producing these two vowels as separate sounds. You can ‘kill two birds with one stone’ by checking out minimal pairs lists like this one (see the image below), listening to the difference between them, and practicing producing them.

Minimal Pairs for Vowels -magoosh

Stress & Intonation: More Important than You Might Think!

The need to pronounce individual sound segments of English may be more obvious than the importance of English stress patterns. But stress within a single word and across an entire sentence (intonation) can change meaning and convey attitudes, making it an important feature of good pronunciation. For example, did you know that the word record can be pronounced with two different stress patterns? Changing the stressed syllable makes one a verb (re-CORD: the action of recording something) and the other a noun (RE-cord: an object that you can play with a record player).

Online you can find tons of resources to help you work on varying your stress purposefully in order to be understand exactly as you mean to. Check out these neat resources:

If you haven’t already, check out Magoosh’s article on how pronunciation factors into your IELTS speaking score, which includes some tips about improving your English pronunciation.

By the way, sign up for our 1-week free trial to try out Magoosh IELTS prep!Most Popular Resources   * IELTS Lessons  <><noscript><img class=

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