Does English pronunciation sometimes give you trouble? Do you ever wonder how to pronounce certain common sounds? Today I go over 5 English sounds that can be tricky to pronounce. I give you some clues on how to pronounce them in a more native-like way.
The first step to good English pronunciation is to hear the sound as native speakers do. This may be difficult if the sound does not exist in your language. I show some ways of feeling the sound in your mouth. Often once a speaker can feel a sound, he begins to hear it in a new way.Then, with practice, it becomes easier and easier. You need a mirror to help you see how to pronounce these sounds.There are also links to samples of correct English pronunciation.
- How do you pronounce /th/, as in “think”? The /th/ sound only exists in a few languages. It comes to us from Greek. Look in your mirror and open your mouth slightly so you can see your teeth. Place your tongue between your teeth. You can pretend that you are a child sticking your tongue out at another child on the playground. Try to say the /t/ or the /d/ sound. Instead of saying /t/ or /d/, you will produce a nice /th/ sound. Of course this is exaggerated. You are not a child on the playground. So pull your tongue in and just let the tip of it remain between your teeth. You can still produce an excellent /th/ sound.
- How do you pronounce the /i/ as in “bit”? The /i/ sound also does not exist in many languages. People learning English often confuse it with the /ee/ sound, as in “beet.” Again, look in your mirror. Say the word “beet.” What does your mouth look like? Your lips should form a smile and your teeth should be shut together. Now, keep smiling, but make your smile a little smaller. Open your teeth very slightly, only enough to be able to put the tip of your fingernail or the edge of your fingertip between your teeth. Try to say, “beet.” It should come out as “bit.”
- How do you pronounce /l/ as in “life” and /r/ as in “road”?
These sounds are difficult for speakers of many Asian languages. To say the /l/, first look in your mirror. Open your lips and your teeth slightly. Keep your tongue inside your mouth and place the tip against your upper teeth. It will touch the roof your mouth. You should be able to say “life” with correct English pronunciation. To say /r/, position your mouth as if you are going to say /l/. However, curl the back of your tongue up against the back of the roof of your mouth. You should now be able to say “road.”
- How do you pronounce /ch/ as in “chair” and /sh/ as in “share”? These sounds may be difficult for Spanish speakers. The English sound /ch/ is the same as the Spanish sound /ch/, as in the Spanish word chico. When you pronounce this sound your lips form a small, round “o.” Your teeth are open only enough to insert the tip of your fingernail. Your tongue touches the roof of your mouth behind your upper teeth as your force out a short puff of air. In the /sh/ sound, your mouth is a little less round and your teeth are shut together. The /sh/ sound makes a long, skinny stream of air coming out of your mouth.
- How do you pronounce the schwa sound? The schwa sound can be used to take the place of any short vowel sound (a,e,i,o, or u). It is pronounced /uh/, with an open mouth. Think of when you were a child in school. If the teacher asked you a question and you didn’t know the answer, maybe you said, “Uh.” In correct English pronunciation, we often use the schwa for any vowel in a syllable that is not stressed (said a little louder than the other syllables). For example, Alaska is pronounced Uh-LAS-kuh. The word memory is pronounced MEM-uh-ry, not MEM-oh-ry.
The first step to good English pronunciation is hearing the sounds. The next step is saying the sound correctly, but only if you think about it. After enough practice, however, it becomes automatic, and your English pronunciation greatly improves.
Idioms of the Day
To go over–to discuss or review. I forgot some of what my boss told me, so I asked him to go over the instructions again.
A blessing in disguise–something that seems bad at first, but then turns out to be good. I lost my job and I was very upset. But now I have a better one, so I guess it was a blessing in disguise.
In the next post we talk about how American television can help you with learning English.