Simple Tips For Pronunciation

January 20th, 2010

Speaking Clearly

You know, it’s one thing to speak another language, and it is entirely another to speak another language so that it can be understood by others. I know that sounds pretty obvious, but you would be surprised how many people don’t pay any attention to speaking clearly and understandably. And that, really, is the most important part of communicating. Well, of course! You can have the largest vocabulary in the world, but if I can’t understand what the heck you are saying, you have wasted your breath.

What really drives me crazy are all those pronunciation diagrams that are out there which supposedly show you where your tongue is supposed to be in your mouth when you are speaking. Maybe it’s just me, but I can never figure out what they’re showing. And even if I could figure it out, how could I put it into action? I can’t see what I am doing and match it to the side-view drawing. And how could I possibly remember that, when I am in the middle of talking, anyway? It’s like learning grammar – fairly useless as a practical exercise to help learn to speak another language.

Mouth Position is Critical

I think the best way to start working on pronunciation is to get your mouth position right. Every language requires its speakers to hold their lips, mouth, tongue, and jaw in a different position. The proper sounds cannot be made unless the mouth is held properly. Mouth position is critical.

So, first notice how you hold your mouth when you speak. Is your jaw relaxed or tense? How about the muscles at the corners of your mouth? Tight or relaxed? Your lips? Are they relaxed against the teeth, or do they push forward a bit when you talk?

And where does it feel like you are making the sound in your mouth, approximately? Forward, middle, high, low, back? Each of these positions makes a big difference in the sounds that are created. This point in your mouth is called the point of articulation, and creates the point of resonance. It is difficult to scientifically analyze these points of articulation and resonance, but, with practice, it is easy to feel them.

Imitate Accents

So, don’t spend time learning exact rules for mouth positions. Pretend you are an actor, learning to do an accent for a film. Imitate the sounds that an actor makes. In your native language, imitate someone who speaks your language with an English accent. Can you feel how you have to hold your mouth to speak with an English accent? That is how you have to hold your mouth when you speak English. Only it won’t be funny when you’re actually speaking English!

Speak From the Middle of the Mouth

In general, American English is spoken from the middle of the mouth. A hollow is almost created with the tongue, which is held in the middle of the mouth. The tongue bounces off the ridge of gums directly above the front teeth, not so much the teeth themselves. The lips are back and relaxed against the teeth. The jaw is fairly relaxed and loose, and the muscles at the corner of the mouth are relaxed.

For now, pay attention when you are speaking to how you hold your mouth. Pay attention when you are watching television to how speakers of your native language hold their mouth as compared to those speaking English. Try to get a feel for what it looks and feels like.

In my next post, I will explore this topic some more, and give some suggestions as to how you can learn to speak with a better American English Accent.

One Response to “Simple Tips For Pronunciation”

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