Languages › English as a Second Language How to Improve Your Pronunciation Share Flipboard Email Print Andreas Kuehn/Getty Images English as a Second Language Pronunciation & Conversation Vocabulary Writing Skills Reading Comprehension Grammar Business English Resources for Teachers By Kenneth Beare English as a Second Language (ESL) Expert TESOL Diploma, Trinity College London M.A., Music Performance, Cologne University of Music B.A., Vocal Performance, Eastman School of Music Kenneth Beare is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher and course developer with over three decades of teaching experience. our editorial process Kenneth Beare Updated January 12, 2019 One of the most important aspects of learning English is pronunciation. Without clear pronunciation, it is difficult to make yourself understood. First, start by learning individual sounds. After that, focus on the music of the language. You might be surprised by the following statement: Pronouncing every word correctly leads to poor pronunciation! Good pronunciation comes from stressing the right words—this is because English is a time-stressed language. In other words, some words—the content words—receive more focus, whereas other words—function words—are less important. Difficulty: Hard Time Required: Varies Here's How to Improve Your Pronunciation: Start by learning individual sounds. These are called phonemes. Use minimal pairs to practice individual vowel sounds. Minimal pairs are words in which only one sound changes. For example, pop - pep - pip - pap changes the vowel sound. Using minimal pairs helps you isolate a sound to really focus on the small changes in sounds between vowels. Learn pairs of consonants that are voiced and voiceless and practice through minimal pairs. For example, f / v the 'f' sound is voiceless and the 'v' voiced. You can recognize the difference between voiced and voiceless by placing a finger on your throat. Voiced sounds vibrate, whereas voiceless sounds do not vibrate. These pairs include: b / p - z / s - d / t - v / f - zh / sh - dj / ch.Learn the difference between pure vowels and diphthongs such as the 'oi' sound in 'boy' or 'aee' sound in 'tray'. Learn the following rules concerning pronunciation: English is considered a stressed language while many other languages are considered syllabic. In other languages, such as French or Italian, each syllable receives equal importance (there is stress, but each syllable has its own length). English pronunciation focuses on specific stressed words while quickly gliding over the other, non-stressed, words. Stressed words are considered content words: Nouns e.g. kitchen, Peter—(most) principal verbs e.g. visit, construct—Adjectives e.g. beautiful, interesting—Adverbs e.g. often, carefully Non-stressed words are considered function words: Determiners e.g. the, a—Auxiliary verbs e.g. am, were—Prepositions e.g. before, of—Conjunctions e.g. but, and—Pronouns e.g. they, she. Try It for Yourself Read the following sentence aloud: The beautiful mountain appeared transfixed in the distance. Now, read the following sentence aloud: He can come on Sundays as long as he doesn't have to do any homework in the evening. Notice that the first sentence actually takes about the same time to speak well! Even though the second sentence is approximately 30% longer than the first, the sentences take the same time to speak. This is because there are five stressed words in each sentence. Exercise: Write down a few sentences, or take a few example sentences from a book or exercise.First underline the stressed words, then read aloud focusing on stressing the underlined words and gliding over the non-stressed words. You'll be surprised at how quickly your pronunciation improves! By focusing on stressed words, non-stressed words and syllables take on their more muted nature.When listening to native speakers, focus on how those speakers stress certain words and begin to copy this. More Tips to Improve Pronunciation Remember that non-stressed words and syllables are often 'swallowed' in English.Always focus on pronouncing stressed words well, non-stressed words can be glided over.Don't focus on pronouncing each word. Focus on the stressed words in each sentence.