“I want to learn pronunciation, but how do I get started?!”
That’s a question I get in the comments under my YouTube videos or in emails every week.
Nowadays, there are so many videos and lessons all over the internet about how to learn pronunciation. But how exactly can you do it? Where should you even begin?
Today, that’s exactly what I’m going to talk about.
Welcome to the InFluency Podcast. I’m Hadar, and this is episode number 348. And today we’re going to talk about how to get started with pronunciation.
Hey, what’s up? I’m speaking to you from my regular studio. If you’ve been following me a little bit on social media or even here on the podcast, you might know that I’ve been away for a month, working and vacationing, and it has been great. But you know what else is great? To be back into my normal routine, which is where I’m at, because I love my work. And I love recording podcasts for you and creating content and doing other things, and teaching all those things that I usually do.
So I’m happy to be back, even though it’s a lot hotter here than in Europe. I am speaking to you from Tel Aviv, Israel, and it’s hot in here. But it’s okay because I like the warm weather, I don’t like it when it gets too cold.
Anyway. Today I am going to answer a question that I often get on social media and in the comments below my video… videos, in plural. And that question is, “Hadar, how do I get started? I see all this content, I want to work on my pronunciation, but where do I start? It is so confusing, it is so overwhelming”. So I created a guide for you in the disguise of this episode, that is going to help you understand how to get started if you want to improve your pronunciation.
Now, even if you do already have a lot of experience in pronunciation work – I know a lot of my students are listening to this, hello students – and you’re already experienced, I want you to know that there is still something for you in this episode. Because it will remind you some steps or some things that you can incorporate into your practice. Sometimes it’s nice to restart certain processes when it comes to learning and practicing pronunciation, especially in areas that you still feel like there’s work to be done.
So, whether you’re just starting out or you are very experienced with pronunciation work, I think this is a very valuable lesson that will provide you with clarity around the steps and around a healthy process learning and practicing pronunciation.
As you may or may not know, I’m very passionate about pronunciation. My entire English journey started with pronunciation work. I moved to the US when I was 20. I had a very distinct accent, non native accent. I constantly got asked, “Where are you from?” People commented on how cute my accent was.
And then when I started studying acting in New York City, this is where I trained as an actress and I had speech and pronunciation classes, and that’s when I I started doing this type of work. And how I teach it now is a little different than how I learned it, because I think there are better ways to do what I did. I do think that I took some detours when learning, and I really refined my strategy around learning pronunciation.
When I started teaching, I started seeing what works, what doesn’t work. I remembered what worked and what didn’t work for me. And I want to share all of that with you today. I also want to tell you that we opened registration for a free pronunciation training. It’s a 5-day Intensive Training that I’m hosting for free. And I’m mostly going to talk about prosody, which is intonation, connected speech, delivering a clear message, how to bring more emotion to your voice.
I’m also going to talk about sounds. And to help you understand how to prioritize your pronunciation work and what is important to work on and what is less important, I’m going to teach you some effective techniques and honestly, things that I usually don’t teach on my podcast or YouTube channel.
So if you are interested in pronunciation work, or even interested in improving your fluency, and you don’t know if you need pronunciation, I highly recommend that you sign up because pronunciation is not just about how you sound, it really is about how confident you feel, how free you feel, how much effort you put into your speech. It’s about feeling natural and delivering a clear message and getting what you want using the words that you want to use, and making sure that people get what you want. So, there’s a lot that goes into pronunciation work.
And I love it, I really, really do. And I’m going to share some of those things with you in this training, in those five days of Pronunciation Made Simple, English Pronunciation Made Simple event. So it’s absolutely free. There are going to be practice groups and conversation groups and challenges, as we always do in our live events. And you are so invited. Link in the description. Or you can just go to hadarshemesh.com/training. Easy, right? All right. So now let’s go into the episode and get started with how to get started with pronunciation work.
How to get started with learning pronunciation? Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from followers who are saying to me, “Hadar, I love learning pronunciation with you, but I have no idea where to get started. So, if you are just starting out with learning pronunciation and you’re not sure about what strategy you should have, or how to practice effectively, this video is for you.
Now, if you’re not sure if you need to learn pronunciation, I actually have another video that talks about six signs that it’s time for you to learn pronunciation. So, if you’re just starting out with pronunciation work, this video is for you. And make sure to watch it all the way until the end because then I’m going to give you some practical tips on how to put this into practice.
But also, if you are an experienced learner, I would recommend for you to watch it all the way until the end to make sure that you haven’t skipped any steps in your pronunciation practice and in how you create the strategy for your learning.
Now, if you want to take it one step further and train live with me, I actually have a live event coming up – it’s an intensive pronunciation training, it’s absolutely free, and it starts September 4th. Now, if you’re watching this before September 4th, 2023, I’m going to share a link where you can sign up to join this 5-day intensive pronunciation training with me that is absolutely free. I really hope to see you there.
So whether you’re starting out or whether you’re very experienced in practicing and learning pronunciation, you are going to love this event. I’m going to be teaching you, focusing especially on prosody, which is intonation, rhythm, stress, connected speech. We’re going to have practice groups, conversation groups, where you can put everything you learn into practice, and a lot of opportunities to speak with me and ask me questions. So, I really hope to see you there. Again, it starts on September 4th, and the link to join is in the description below.
When it comes to getting started with pronunciation work, there are two elements that we need to take into consideration. The first one is strategy and planning, which is what I’m going to talk about in this video: how to know what to focus on, how to practice effectively, or the structure of learning pronunciation. And then there is the actual practice – how you actually practice your pronunciation in the most effective way.
So, today we are going to talk about focus and strategy. Now, when it comes to pronunciation, it’s really important that you have a clear understanding between how your language behaves in your mouth, your first language, and how English behaves in the mouth of the person speaking it. Every language behaves really differently when it comes to speaking. So the melody in your first language is probably going to be different than the melody in English. And the sounds that you use in your first language may not be the sounds that you might need to use for English.
So when I teach my students, one of the first things that I tell them is to start investigating the differences between their first language and English. There are a lot of resources online for that, so you can actually actively learn it. But even if you don’t, then you can just start paying attention and start noticing the elements that you hear in English that are new to you, versus also the elements that you have in your first language that don’t exist in English.
By the way, I have guides for specific speakers, and I’m going to link all of them below. So if you’re a speaker of Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, and many other languages, check out the description below to see if I have a guide for your language. It’s absolutely free, by the way.
So now, when it comes to actually learning the language, where do you start? So here you have the long route and the short route. And by the way, you can also say ‘ruwt’. The long route is to basically learn all the sounds of English. Okay? So you can go to a certain channel and start watching all the lessons about the sounds of English. And then you can learn all the elements of speech, like intonation, rhythm and stress, connected speech, reductions.
That would take you longer and would make this work a little less focused. It’s not bad. For some people, it makes more sense. And then you can just work in a chronological order or to create a plan for yourself, or you line up a lot of videos that teach different sounds and also all the different elements of English. Now, I have a lot of playlists that includes a lot of the sounds and the elements of prosody. And again, I’m going to link to it in the description if you want to learn more.
The shorter route is to work with priorities. When it comes to pronunciation, you actually want to identify your highest priorities – the challenges that actually impact your clarity. For example, if you tend to drop consonants at the end of words: so, you might say something like ‘may’ instead of “make”, or ‘slep’ instead of “slept”, or ‘tek’ instead of “texts”. You will experience challenges in communication because people may not understand what it is that you’re saying.
Same thing with primary stress. If you say passioNATE instead of PASSionate, then it will take longer for people to understand what it is that you’re saying. So these things are high priority. If you face challenges with these things, you will be unclear. And it’s not about the other person not understanding you, it’s about you feeling frustrated and feeling like you’re not understood, not being able to communicate your message.
And of course it affects your confidence and overall fluency. So these are the things that you would want to focus first, I call it the 20%, right? So you focus on the 20% to get 80% of the results, which means more clarity and more confidence in your English. That’s what happens when you deal with high priority challenges.
Another example is low priority challenges, and why it’s less important to focus on that. For example, the flap T in English. The flap T is when the T appears between two vowels, as in the word “activity”. It sounds like a really light D – ‘actividy’. better. about it. You can also pronounce it as a flap T between two words when you connect them together.
When my students know and understand the sound, it helps them become more confident. But it’s not critical for their clarity. It’s nice to have. Because if they were to say ‘abouT it’ or ‘beTTer’, they will still be perfectly understood.
So if you have a limited practice time, I would wholeheartedly encourage you to focus on high priority challenges, rather than low priority challenges, so that you get results for the time that you invest. Okay?
Now, how do you know what high priorities are? So in general, when you drop a consonant, when you add a vowel, when you change a consonant – one consonant that changes to another consonant that exists in English, for example, if you confuse L’s and R’s, and you say “light” when you mean to say “right”, that’s a high priority challenge. You will notice that people have a harder time understanding you. And like I said, misplacing the primary stress or not stressing any word in a sentence, that would also affect your overall clarity and how you deliver your message.
Now, medium priority challenges could be merging vowels together. For example, pronouncing the ‘sheep-ship’ vowel pair the same, or the ‘bed-bad’ vowel pair, and even reducing words and using intonation in a better way – it’s important, but it’s not critical. Okay? So I would focus on the critical and the important ones, like the ones that I’ve mentioned.
First, I would recommend that it’s good to start observing. What happens when you speak? So notice the following things. First, notice if there are specific words or sounds that when you pronounce them, people have a harder time understanding you. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing, do you have sounds that you avoid, or you are not sure about how to pronounce them? And as a result, you either mispronounce them, or you feel self conscious about those sounds. So, even if they’re not high priority, the fact that you are distracted by these sounds mean that they should be high priority for you. So focus on those.
And of course, you can follow my list of high priority and medium priority, and I’m going to share that on my website, so definitely go and check it out. And I’m also going to talk about it in my Live Intensive Pronunciation Training.
Now, once you have a plan for what you need to work on, for example, if you do substitute the R’s and L’s, then you need to focus on that. And then you want to follow certain steps when it comes to your pronunciation training. And here are the steps.
The first is perception. I always say to my students, if you can’t hear it, you cannot make it. So you have to clearly understand the difference between the sound that you usually make and the sound that you want to make.
So let’s go back to the example of the R and L. Speakers who replace those sounds, they don’t understand that there is a difference in pronunciation. Because in their first language, those two sounds are perceived as the same sound. You first need to hear a clear difference between [r] and [l]. [r] and [l]. Now, for some of you, it’s probably obvious: “Of course, it’s different. I hear the difference.”
But for others, those who struggle with substituting those sounds, this may not be easy to distinguish. Okay? So, recognize your challenge and see if you can hear the difference. Can you hear the difference between ‘sheep’ and ‘ship’? So, to be able to pronounce new sounds, you first have to hear the difference, and that is perception. And this is mostly about awareness and close listening, which is something that you can totally do on your own.
Once you can hear the differences clearly, the next step is pronunciation or production. How do you actually produce it with your mouth? What do you need to do with your lips, with your tongue, with your jaw to be able to produce the sound?
So if you focus on the L sound, you want to make sure the tip of the tongue touches the upper palate, and you teach yourself how to do it again and again. And by the way, the same happens with prosody, you know, knowing how to use your pitch or how to pronounce a word a little longer.
So once you know how to pronounce the new form, then you have to make it a habit. And the only way to make it a habit is by repetition. You have to repeat the sound again and again and again. Just know that you have to repeat the sound again and again and again to be able to make it a habit so you don’t have to plan it, so you don’t have to think about it every time you use it. So that is repetition.
After repetition comes the part where you know how to pronounce it in practice, but it’s hard for you to use it in real life. This is where you want to be intentional about using the sound. For this, you can do shadowing exercises focusing on that specific sound, or just free speaking practice where you consciously think about those sounds. And making sure that you are going to the new way of pronunciation and not the old way, right? The new habit that you have just acquired.
So, to wrap up, first you have to prioritize and you have to create a plan for you for what you want to focus, if you want to take the short route. Then you have to work on your perception, making sure that you actually hear the difference between how it’s pronounced in English and how it’s pronounced in your first language.
Then it’s about the production. You have to work on the pronunciation and how you actually produce the sound, and learn how to do it if it’s challenging. And for that, there are a lot of videos, including my own, that you can work with and learn how to pronounce the different sounds in English.
Then it’s all about repetition. This is where you make a commitment – a time commitment, an energy commitment – to do this work, ideally, daily, to build new habits and learn how to pronounce those sounds spontaneously, without planning or thinking about it. And then to be able to use it in free speaking, you want to practice using the sound intentionally when speaking or when shadowing.
I hope this gives you a little bit more clarity on how to get started with pronunciation. Remember, there is no wrong way. The most important thing is that you have clarity around your process, what you’re trying to achieve, and most importantly, it has to be joyful and fun. Pronunciation work can be very, very empowering and helpful. So, the only thing you need to commit to is to enjoy this process.
And I hope that you can enjoy this process with my resources. I’m going to link all the resources below this video, and of course, with the live training that I have planned for you. Again, the link is in the description, you can join us for a free Intensive Pronunciation Training that is going to happen in September for five days.
What other tips do you have for people getting started with pronunciation? Let me know in the comments below, and let’s start a conversation. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about me, go to my website hadarshemesh.com. And you can also follow me on social media, wherever you like to hang out.
Have a beautiful, beautiful rest of the day. I hope you enjoyed this, and I hope to see you in our Intensive Pronunciation Training. Bye.
How Does the Language Work?
The first step in pronunciation practice is to understand that each language has its unique set of sounds and prosody, the rhythm and intonation patterns of speech.
These aspects are significantly different from how things sound in English.
It’s important to acknowledge that English operates differently in your mouth compared to your native language!
Comparing Your First Language to English
To start effectively, compare the sounds and prosody (stress, intonation, rhythm) of your native language with English.
For example, let’s say your language has a trilled R sound, and English doesn’t have that sound. Probably, you’ll need to practice the R sound, since your language’s R sound is very different.
This comparison will be like your roadmap, highlighting areas where you need to focus on the most.
Choosing Your Path: The Long Route vs. The Short Route
When you get started, there are two main paths you can take: the long route or the short route.
The Long Route: Learn ALL the Sounds of English and Elements of Speech
The long route is where you spend time learning to pronounce every single sound in the English language and understanding all the elements of speech, such as stress, rhythm, and intonation.
While there’s nothing wrong with that at all, it will definitely take you much longer!
The Short Route: Prioritize the 20%
Here’s where I like to introduce the concept of the 20%. This 20% means focusing on only the HIGH priorities that significantly impact your clarity in English pronunciation.
When you tackle these challenges first, you can achieve faster and more noticeable results with the time and effort you invest.
Identifying Your High-Priority Challenges
So how exactly can you identify what a high priority is for you?
To save you time, I’ve prepared a Priority Chart for you – check it out here!
Also, I have a Pronunciation Challenge by Language guide where I’ve outlined the top pronunciation challenges for the following languages:
Whether you choose the long or short route, remember that consistency is the most important!
So, embrace the journey, be patient with yourself, and celebrate every milestone along the way.
You’ve got this 🙂