When I ask my students how important pronunciation is to them when learning a new language, I get a variety of different answers. Many of them don’t care too much about pronunciation, as long as they can be easily understood. A few of them think significantly improving their accent is hopeless, while others would like to learn to speak like a native. Still others want to learn a specific variety – British or American English, for example.
On the other hand, most of the schools that I’ve taught for and most of the classes I’ve attended have put very little emphasis on pronunciation, except in cases where incorrect pronunciation prevents understanding. Why is that?
Well, pronunciation training takes time, which makes it difficult to address in a group course with a tight schedule. It can also be repetitive, and therefor frustrating for many learners. Many people, both teachers and learners, also believe that as long as your pronunciation is good enough, there’s no sense in subjecting yourself to that frustration.
Of course, pronunciation also improves with time and experience in a language, so it doesn’t make sense to get too caught up in producing the perfect French “u” or English “th” at the beginning. But if you’re at a stage where you’d like to improve your pronunciation, here are 3 fun ways to do that.
Number 1: Sing along to your favourite songs
Singing can be a relaxing, fun way of practicing a language – it stimulates oxytocin production in the brain – and it’s a nice way to switch things up if you’ve been doing grammar and vocabulary exercises for a while.
For me personally, singing was really useful when I was working on my French “r”. One of my teachers introduced me to the song “Dégénérations” by the band Mes Aïeux – almost every line in it ends in a word ending in “r”. It got stuck in my head, and so I would just sing it over and over, which really allowed me to get a grip on that “r”. And if you like a challenge, see if you can get your tongue to keep up with faster songs, like “Chanson Populaire” by Claude François.
If you love music, singing is a fantastic way of practicing pronunciation without having it feel like work, and it also gives you a feel for the rhythm and melody of a language. Plus, as a little bonus bonus, songs can be a helpful as a memorisation tool when learning new words and phrases, as well as a great way of getting to know the culture surrounding a language.
Number 2: Tongue twisters
Whip your tongue into shape by repeating a few tongue twisters, especially ones that include difficult sounds from your new language. Are the English “w” and “r” giving you trouble? Try saying “Willie’s really weary” three times fast. Look at it as a challenge to yourself and turn a potentially repetitive task into something more fun.
Number 3: The imitation game
Have a friend who speaks your chosen language – say British English? If not find yourself a tandem partner and spend a few minutes repeating common phrases after them and imitating their speech. Get some feedback and challenge yourself to get closer and closer to their pronunciation. And don’t be afraid to exaggerate a little – learners are afraid that by going all in they’ll appear to be mocking native speakers. In reality, though, many learners are actually undershooting, so go for it.
In my opinion, it’s the social aspect of this last one that makes it fun, but if you don’t feel comfortable imitating a real person, find a good Youtube video or audiobook, get familiar with the pause button, and practice away!
Is pronunciation important to you? Do you have any fun ways to work on perfecting the sounds of a new language?