Learning to pronounce English words correctly can be one of the hardest parts of learning English.
The English language has some sounds that your native language might not, so you will have to learn how to make completely new sounds.
Plus, English vowels make it really tricky to know how to say a word. “Way,” “weigh” and “whey” are all said the same, for example, while “comb,” “bomb” and “tomb” are all pronounced differently.
Ah! Yeah, we know it can make you crazy.
So that’s why we have eight tips for you, to help you pronounce English words better.
How to Improve Your English Pronunciation: 8 Tips to Talk Like a Native
1. Learn to listen.
Before you learn how to speak, you’ll need to learn how to listen. Some sounds can be hard to tell apart when you’re listening. Did the speaker sleep or slip? Did he hurt his chin or his shin? If you can hear the difference, it will be easier to speak the difference.
There are many guides to get you started in learning to listen. We have some great articles here about learning to listen from movies, songs and music and podcasts. You can also find listening exercises online, like this one from Rong-chang.
The pronunciation practice at Many Things is really slick, especially its huge selection of lessons on minimal pairs. Minimal pairs are pairs words like sleep and slip, that are only different by one sound. You can click on each word to hear a complete sentence with each, then quiz yourself in the second box and click the correct answer.
When you want to listen to authentic English instead of pronunciation exercises, you can watch videos on FluentU. FluentU is an online immersion platform that takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Every word comes with an in-context definition, image, audio and example sentences, so you have enough support to make native English accessible to you. FluentU’s “learn mode” takes your learning history into account, and asks questions based on what you already know, which sets you up for success.
The better you get at hearing words, the better you will become at pronouncing them.
2. Notice how your mouth and lips move.
When you speak, you move your mouth. How you move your mouth affects how you pronounce a word.
The first step to correcting your mouth shape is to notice it and pay attention. There are a few ways you can check that your mouth and lips are making the correct shape:
- Use a mirror. This is by far the simplest way to tell what your mouth is doing while you talk.
- Put a finger in front of your lips (like you’re saying “shh”). As you speak, don’t move your finger. You should feel your lips moving away from or pushing against your finger.
Watch other people and notice the shape their mouth and lips make when they talk. Try following along with your favorite TV show or movie. Can you repeat the faces and sounds that the actors are making?
There are guides and pictures online that will help you learn how to move your mouth. Sounds of English has some good explanations for pronouncing specific words. This guide is for people making 3D animations, but the pictures are a great start to understanding how your mouth should look when you speak.
3. Pay attention to your tongue.
The main difference between rice and lice is in your tongue. When you speak, you move your tongue to make sounds. You probably didn’t even notice that, since you do it without thinking. To improve your English pronunciation, it’s a good idea to check what your tongue is doing.
Some difficult sounds for non-native speakers to make are the letters “L” and “R,” and the sound “TH.” Pronouncing them correctly is all in the tongue!
- To make the “L” sound, your tongue should touch the back of your front teeth and the top of your mouth, just behind your teeth. Try it now: Say the word “light.” Say it a few times. Feel where your tongue is in your mouth. Make sure it touches the top of your mouth.
- To make the “R” sound, your tongue should not touch the top of your mouth. Pull your tongue back to the middle of your mouth, near where it naturally rests if you weren’t saying anything. As you say the sound, your lips should be a little rounded. Try it now: Say the word “right” a few times. You should feel air blowing between your tongue and the top of your mouth as you speak. You should also feel your lips get a little rounder when you make the sound.
- Now for the “TH” sound. This one may seem strange if you don’t have a similar sound in your native language. To make this sound, put your tongue between your top and bottom teeth. Your tongue should stick out a little between your teeth, and as you push air out of your mouth, let some air escape between your tongue and teeth—that’s what makes the sound. Try it now: Say the word “think.” Repeat it a few times. Make sure you push your tongue between your teeth.
Now that you know where to put your tongue, can you hear the difference?
For a more detailed explanation on how to make those three sounds correctly, watch this video from the Woosong University, this one from Club English, or any number of other pronunciation guides you can find on YouTube.
If you can’t figure out what to do with your tongue to make the right sound, try asking someone. Ask them to say a word with that sound, then tell you where they put their tongue. They probably never thought about it before either!
4. Break words down into sounds.
Words are made up of syllables, or parts. The word “syllable,” for example, has three syllables: syl-la-ble. Turning words into parts can make them easier to pronounce.
To check how many syllables a word has, place your hand flat just under your chin. Say the word slowly. Each time your chin touches your hand, that’s a syllable.
You can even write the word down in parts. Leave a space or draw a line between each syllable (every syllable should have at least one vowel: a, e, i, o, u, y). Now try saying the word. Say it slowly and pause after each syllable. Isn’t that easier?
If you’re having trouble with syllables, you can check out How Many Syllables. This website shows you the syllables in any word you look up, and even shows you how to pronounce it.
5. Add stress to sounds and words.
English is a stressed language. That means some words and sounds are more important than others. You can hear this when you say a word out loud. For example, the word “introduce” is pronounced with a stress at the end, so it sounds like this: “in-tro-DUCE.”
Sometimes where you put the stress in a word can change the word’s meaning. Say this word out loud: “present.” If you said “PREsent,” you are talking about a noun that means either “right this moment” or “a gift.” If you said “preSENT,” you are talking about a verb that means “to give or show.”
There are rules for where the stress goes in each word. Here’s one rule:
- Most two-syllable nouns are stressed on the first syllable, and most two-syllable verbs are stressed on the second syllable.
That’s just like the word “present.” Here’s another example: the noun “ADDress” is the place where you live, and the verb “addRESS” is to speak to someone.
If this all sounds too complicated, don’t worry about memorizing all these rules—the best way to learn is by listening and practicing. Remember that most native English speakers don’t know the rules either, they just say what “sounds right.” With enough practice, you can get what sounds right too.
Sentences have stresses too; some words are more important, and are said with more clarity and strength than the rest of the sentence. Try reading this sentence aloud: “I ate some toast with butter in the morning.”
The sentence should have sounded like this (the bold words are the stressed ones): “I ate some toast with butter in the morning.” Notice how you slow down every time you get to an important word, and quickly pass over the less important ones?
Keep practicing by reading out loud, having conversations and listening well to where others place stress when they speak.
6. Use pronunciation podcasts and videos.
There are some excellent video and audio guides on English pronunciations that you can use to improve. The English Language Club has videos that show how to make different sounds in English. Rachel’s English has friendly videos on how to speak and pronounce American English in everyday conversations.
If you like podcasts better, Pronuncian has over 200 audio files that help with everything from pronunciation to stress and pitch (how you raise and lower your voice while you speak).
If none of these are what you’re looking for, there are many more to choose from. Find the one that’s right for you.
7. Record yourself.
One way to tell if all your practice is working is to record yourself with a camera. Use a camera and not just a sound recorder because it’s important to see how you speak, not only hear it.
You don’t need to download any special software to record yourself; most computers and mobile devices have built-in video recorders. You can use PhotoBooth on a Mac or Movie Moments on a Windows computer. Your phone or mobile device also has a video capturing app, usually as part of the camera app.
Compare your recording to someone else saying the same words or sounds. Find a video of your favorite part from a movie, like this clip from “Earth to Echo.” Choose one or two sentences and record yourself trying to match the stress, tone and pronunciation of the video. Then you can compare the two and see what you did differently, and try again.
Ask a friend or watch a video to check. If your pronunciation doesn’t sound the same, ask yourself some questions: Are you moving your mouth the right way? Is your tongue in the right place? Are you stressing the right part of the word? Use everything you learned in this article!
8. Practice with a buddy.
As always, “Practice makes perfect!” And it’s easier to practice with a friend. Find someone to practice pronunciation with, either in person or through online communities like Language Exchange or InterPals.
Practicing with a buddy (friend) will give you a chance to try everything you learned, and learn new things from each other. Plus, it’s fun!
Pronunciation is as important to learning English as vocabulary and grammar. Thanks to these eight tips, you’ll soon be on your way to pronouncing English like a native.