Non-native English speakers often find pronunciation in English confusing and difficult to learn. There is a good reason for this. Take the example below.


This short sentence contains seven different spellings of the same sound “ee”.

“We believe that people would see that Caesar could seize the seas.”

English pronunciation describes how a word and, indeed, the language sounds when it is spoken. It defines the way you use a spoken word or language. The word pronunciation may also apply to the generally acknowledged pattern of sounds in a language spoken in a specific dialect. A dialect describes the way that a language is spoken by a localised group of people.

With enough practice, you can conquer the vagaries of the English language, and as you become more fluent, you’ll gain confidence. 



Why pronunciation is so important

Even if you use good grammar and have an extensive vocabulary, your pronunciation could let you down.


Unless you know how to pronounce words correctly, people will misunderstand your meaning. They will also likely believe that your English isn’t very good. They won’t notice your excellent grammar or extensive vocabulary. They’ll judge your English on what they hear.

You may also find that people continually ask you to repeat yourself. Listening to someone who has a problem with pronunciation is tiring, so you may find that you’re side-lined at gatherings unless you take the time and effort to practice your English pronunciation. 

Fun fact: “Did you know? Did you know that dictionaries can guide you on how to pronounce the words? Next to every word in the dictionary are some strange-looking symbols. These letter-like symbols serve as a guide to pronunciation!


Here is how to pronounce the word pronunciation as an example:




That doesn’t look like the word in the pronunciation at all, so how does it work? These are what is called "Phonetic symbols/ phonetic transcription".


Pronunciation and a clear understanding of English speech are complementary skills. This means that if you know how to pronounce the words and phrases correctly, with proper intonation, your level of speech understanding will also improve.


Pronunciation training is a very important part of mastering any foreign language.


What affects your pronunciation?


Your ability to quickly learn pronunciation will depend on many factors. We’ve listed a few of them below:


  • A natural ability to mimic/imitate accents
  • Age - children under twelve have a much easier time improving their pronunciation
  • How long, and to what extent, we’ve been exposed to a language
  • Native language interference - example - Some native languages have stronger accents that are harder to unlearn in the English language
  • A Student’s motivation - Students who want to do well and speak well, want to fit in and they will therefore put more effort into improving their pronunciation.

How to improve your English pronunciation

"If you don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!"

- William Strunk, JR.

Learning a language is all about practice. The more you practice, the better you’ll pronounce words, and you’ll be easier to understand. Here are some suggestions:

  • Find a friend who is a native speaker - this is one of the best ways to build your confidence because a friend can help by correcting your mispronunciations
  • Get feedback from a reputable source - join an online speaking class
  • Incorporate English listening into your daily lifestyle - Watch native English films and series to learn common phrases and fluency
  • Practice your speaking at home and record yourself- most people hate the sound of their own voices, but this will help you identify mistakes in your pronunciation.
    • A useful exercise is to listen to a section of an English video and then repeat what you’ve heard while recording yourself.
  • Read aloud every day - Once you have mastered the basics of English pronunciation, it is important to read out loud to improve your skills
  • Get into the habit of watching the news - Newsreaders have a habit of speaking slowly and clearly to deliver a message, and as a bonus, you’ll improve your general knowledge
  • Look up new words. The Merriam Webster dictionary has audio clips. Use them to learn to pronounce the words properly.
  • When you learn new words take care to pronounce them properly from the start. It is easier than trying to unlearn a bad habit.
  • Look out for heteronyms, words that are spelled the same, but pronounced differently. An example - minute, when pronounced "MINNit", means 60 seconds. Pronounce it "myNoot", and it means tiny. Have some fun with this long list of heteronyms.
  • Speak slowly. Speaking fast tends to slur your words, making it more difficult for people to understand you. When you choose to speak slowly, you give yourself time to think about what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to say it. This will help to grow your confidence, and lead to better fluency.

The most difficult sounds for non-native speakers and how to make them easier


English has plenty of difficult sounds. Depending on your native language, there may be sounds that you find difficult but that others find easier to pronounce. There are, however, some words that most people find difficult. Mastering these difficult sounds will help to build your confidence and improve your communication skills.

The TH sound:

  • Father
  • Theatre
  • Nurse

Example: To make TH sounds, place the tip of your tongue between your top and bottom teeth. Your tongue should not stick out very far. Then blow air through the space between your tongue and your top teeth.

The ER sound:

  • Nurse
  • Father


The schwa sound:

  • Amazing
  • Entrepreneur

Definition of schwa:
1: an unstressed mid-central vowel (such as the usual sound of the first and last vowels of the English word America)

2: the symbol ə used for the schwa sound and less widely for a similarly articulated stressed vowel (as in cut)

Short and long vowels:

  • Us  Use
  • Cap Cape

Important aspects of pronunciation


There several other aspects of pronunciation that you will have to master to ensure fluency.


Word stress
Word stress refers to the part of the word that is stressed. You must understand where the stress is placed in the English language, as incorrect word stress can change the meaning of the word completely.


Take the word desert. When the stress is placed in the first syllable, the word is a verb meaning to abandon. Stress the last syllable, and it becomes a noun describing a hot and sandy place with little vegetation. 


All of us know someone who speaks in a monotone. It is both boring and distracting. Intonation describes the natural cadence of the voice. It makes it easier and more pleasant to listen to the other person.  Intonation adds emotion and gradation to sentences. It gives clues to the speaker’s attitude. It also gives grammatical clues including whether the sentence is a question or a statement. 





How to practice pronunciation

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. "

-Benjamin Franklin

  • Find as many opportunities as possible to talk - practice makes perfect, so the more you practice the more confident and fluent you’ll become.
  • When you hear new words on television, movies, or podcasts, make sure to repeat them.
    • This will help you to remember what they sound like.
  • Have fun with tongue twisters - a tongue twister is a phrase that is hard to say because it contains so many similar sounds. Many English teachers assist their students using tongue twisters because it helps with pronunciation. Start slowly and then speed it up.
    Some tongue-twisting examples:
    • She sells seashells on the seashore. The seashells she sells are seashells, I’m sure.
    • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. How many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?
  • Pay attention to how your mouth, tongue, and lips move when pronouncing English words. You use different muscles when you speak a language other than your native tongue. Practice in front of a mirror.
  • You will battle with some words more than with others. Take note of the difficult words, and break them down into smaller parts that you can easily manage. If you learn to overcome problems with these difficult words, you’ll grow in confidence. Then, learning new sounds and words will become much easier.
  • Listening is one of the most important aspects of learning how to pronounce words properly. Have someone dictate a paragraph, and then write down what you have heard. Another fun way to improve your pronunciation is to listen to audio clips, and then practice saying some of the words.
  • Embolden two and three-syllable words to indicate the word stress along with the meaning. Then practice the words out loud in sentences.  

Learning a language is all about communication


Learning a new language is all about communication.

No matter how good your grammar or how broad your vocabulary, if you can’t pronounce the words properly, people won’t understand you. It’s not about your accent. Many people with broad accents are still easy enough to understand because they have learned about word stress and intonation, and they’ve understood the importance of pronouncing words correctly.


Some people may find learning English pronunciation is not easy.

The upside of learning such a widely spoken language is that there is plenty of reference material around. Motivation is a strong indicator of how quickly students will learn to pronounce the English language well. It takes a lot of practice, and those who want to communicate well will put in the extra mile.


Read, talk to native speakers, and listen as hard as you can, and you’ll soon speak English fluently. From there it’s all plain sailing, and you’ll go from strength to strength.  



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