Pronunciation checklist download (PDF 150kB, 1 page)
Do any of these statements apply to you?
" I think I... / some people tell me I...
- speak too fast
- can be difficult to understand
- say words incorrectly
- speak with a strong accent
- hesitate too much when I'm speaking.
"I've noticed that people...
- often ask me to repeat myself
- look puzzled or confused when I'm speaking
- misinterpret what I say
- seem impatient or distracted when I'm speaking to them.
If you recognise yourself in most or all of these descriptions, then you need to pay attention to your pronunciation.
Some tips to help with your pronunciation.
1. Get a 'pronunciation tool box'
This should include:
- a notebook specifically for pronunciation
- a recording device such as an mp3 recorder (or mobile phone)
- a dictionary with phonetic transcription (showing the sounds in words).
2. Find someone to give you feedback
Let's call this person a 'pronunciation buddy', someone who speaks English clearly and fluently, perhaps a friend, work colleague or fellow student. Your 'pronunciation buddy' can be your 'sounding board', that is, someone who can give you regular support and feedback about how you sound in academic or work situations.
Your buddy can help with many aspects of your speech and pronunciation. You can also do some analysis yourself. Ask yourself:
- what aspects of my pronunciation are affecting my communication? What would help me to communicate more effectively?
- what words or expressions are people asking me to repeat?
- are there some sounds which re-occur in these words, expressions etc.?
- is it hard to say longer words and word groups clearly and fluently?
- am I getting feedback that I 'speak too fast'?
It's hard to do everything correctly, especially if you have a number of things to work on. So just practise one thing at a time, for example, words which contain a problem sound, word stress or the key words in a speech chunk. You can slowly build up to controlling more features at the same time:
- make a note of the words or terminology you use commonly
- mark the syllable stress and note any problem sounds
- check your dictionary to get the correct pronunciation
- practise the items aloud, individually and in sentences.
When you practice, limit what you say. For example, say the main key word and its tone, or link one or two words together, or only say the key words. Add more words to make phrases. Repeat several times till you feel more confident. Then build on the speed and number of words you say.
You could also ask for feedback on your speech in general conversation.
3. Listen to yourself
One of the most useful and powerful forms of feedback on your pronunciation, is to listen to a recording of your voice. It's often a shock - even for native speakers - to hear themselves speaking. The best way to do this is to record yourself speaking so you can listen to your voice and pronunciation and reflect on how you sound. Very often we actually have a pretty accurate idea of what's making us difficult to understand when we listen carefully to how we are speaking. To be on the safe side however, check your impressions by getting feedback from your 'pron buddy'. Otherwise, you could be 'too hard' or 'too soft' on yourself.
Did the speaker communicate meaning effectively?
Needs practice/ examples
Chunking and pausing
Was information divided into chunks or thought groups?
Did the speaker use pausing appropriately?
Were key words stressed?
Did the speaker use correct stress in words and word groups?
Was there a clear contrast between stressed and unstressed syllables?
Was the pitch range wide enough to make the most important key words easy to hear?
Did the speaker's intonation clearly indicate finished and unfinished information?
Was the pitch range wide enough to make the speaker sound interesting?
Were most sounds pronounced well enough not to be confusing for the listener?
Were sounds and syllables linked together?
Other tips for practicing pronunciation
Print Other tips for practicing pronunciation (PDF 244kB, 2 pages)
Identify a 'model' speaker, someone who speaks English well and who you want to sound like. It could be someone you regularly see on TV, a lecturer or someone in your class or workplace. Listen carefully to your model. What strategies do they use to speak effectively? Try to imitate the way they speak.
Australia’s ABC radio feature speakers with very good pronunciation. You can download podcasts from the ABC radio station and carefully listen to a small chunk. Note key words and syllable stress in longer words. Identify key vocabulary to practise. Write what you hear as dictation. Use the transcript to check what you have written. Then listen again and underline the key words and syllable stress in longer words. Notice any features of fluent, connected speech such as the schwa or linking. Try reading the chunk and get feedback if possible. You could also record yourself reading. Compare your version with the model recording.
Using a system of notation is helpful because it's a way of marking a text and reminding you of what's important when you're practising. You can use the notation we are using on these web pages:
- speech chunks and pauses are marked with a slash / or // for a longer pause
- stressed syllables in key words are marked in bold
- focus words (the most important key words) have an underlined stressed syllable
- arrows mark the direction of pitch movement of the voice (e.g. for falling intonation; for rising intonation).
More information and examples are available in
Practicing pronunciation guide (PDF 244kB, 3 pages).