Episode Transcript

Welcome to the InFluency Podcast. I’m Hadar, and this is episode 21. And in this episode we’re going to talk about how to practice pronunciation effectively.

Hey, hey! Welcome, welcome. How to practice pronunciation effectively. I think if you were just to say that sentence like 10 times a day, you would be practicing your pronunciation effectively. That’s such a tongue twister – “practice pronunciation effectively”.

Anyway, why am I even talking about effective practice here? Because a lot of times when I teach a certain sound, or when I introduce a challenging word to my students or my followers, then I get these responses where they are able to pronounce the sound or to pronounce the word correctly, as they practice with me. And then it’s really easy.

But then, when they speak or when they go into a conversation, they forget about it and they go back to old habits. Has that ever happened to you? If it has, you are human. Because practicing something and using it spontaneously is two different things.

And the fact that you are able to make a certain sound doesn’t make it possible for you to use it immediately, spontaneously without practicing, without thinking about it.

Now, you may say to me, “Hey, Hadar, but I do practice. I practice the sound. I watch the video over and over again”. Maybe you may even be drilling word lists and still, you find it hard to use it spontaneously.

So this episode is all about that. I’m going to share with you why that happens and how to overcome it. How to practice in a way that you will actually see results. And what is the one step that you might be missing out on that is preventing you from using spontaneously the words and the sounds that you so diligently practice. Okay. So let’s get started.

Before we begin, I want to share with you something from my experience, actually two things. One: when I was a kid, I used to play the piano, so I have the experience of training on the piano, right. Playing the piano day in, day out. Actually, no, I was a really, really terrible student, and I would only practice 30 minutes before class, before my piano lesson.

But there was one piece that I loved. And I was supposed to play it at the final concert, the final recital. And I really worked my buns off to get this one right, and to learn by heart and to play it flawlessly.

And I really tried to go back, I mean, it’s been 30 years ago or 20, 20 something years ago, and I still remember this piece. My fingers remember this piece. Because something that I did there really stuck in my system.

So every time I teach pronunciation or every time I try to think of new ways to teach something, I always go back to that experience. Like, what was it that I did there that I was able to train myself so effectively? That like, 25 years later, I still remember how to play it without looking at the music sheet. Actually, if I were to look at the music sheet now, I would get totally confused I think.

So I think I know that what has worked for me back then is the repetition of the most challenging parts over and over again. So I wasn’t repeating the whole piece over and over again. I was taking one part that was challenging and I would do it over and over and over and over and over again until I was able to master it. And then I would play a larger piece, and then I would play the whole thing.

I’m going to come back to this in just a sec. And I’m going to talk about something that I did recently, which is I tried to teach myself how to touch type. So, right now I know where all the letters are on the keyboard, but I always make stupid typos when I type, way too many.

Some of them is because I don’t know how to spell, but some of them are just because my fingers do this weird thing when I type. AndI was trying to think about why that happens because, you know, I type so much. Like, I have thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of practice, yet I still make those stupid typos when I type. Like you speaking English has nothing to do with the fact that you have hours and hours and hours of experience in speaking, right?

Because practicing effectively to change something requires more than just the actual speaking practice. If that makes sense. Like me typing is not the solution for me typing without errors or mistakes or stupid typos.

So I was going online to look for a software to type and then I would do these exercises, that are a lot of fun. And I would try to observe myself and see what are my tendencies, like what are my fingers trying to do every time I want them to do something else.

And how, it’s so funny, like I know I need to do one thing and then my fingers go elsewhere. It’s like they have their own consciousness and they’re not associated with with me and my brain and what my brain wants them to do, which is kind of funny. So it was really interesting to observe this as I was practicing and of course, to think about how can I relate that to pronunciation practice.

So why am I telling you all of this? Because both of these examples are examples of why just trying to make a sound or learning how to make a sound with a video or with my podcast, for example, is not enough. Like it’s impossible for you to know how to do it once and expect yourself to use it consistently, spontaneously. Because it has to do with your muscles.

And in order for you to integrate it into your speech and to get it in your system and develop the muscle memory, you’ve got to practice it and practice it effectively. So like, I would repeat the same musical phrase over and over and over again to train my fingers. Or how I would just type in the same sequence of letters over and over again to train my fingers.

You need to train your tongue to do the same thing over and over and over again. And not just speak and expect yourself to use a certain sound. Let me be more specific. Let’s say you want to practice the ‘a’ in cat, and you watch a video and you learn how to do that. Great.

And then you say it in a few words and it works great. Like you always say ‘a’, ‘hat’, ‘happy’, ‘last’, ‘passion’, ‘Africa’. But then when you go into speaking, you find yourself saying, “hepi”, “lest”, “ket”, instead of “happy”, “last” and “cat”.

Why is that? Because your tongue is on autopilot when you go into speaking. When you don’t think about your mouth or your tongue or your pronunciation, you will automatically go into your old pronunciation habits because your brain is focused on other things. Thankfully, because you don’t want to always be thinking about pronunciation.

But in order for you to make it your own, you got to develop that muscle memory through repetition. But there are two pitfalls here. One is that you may be practicing the sound and repeating it, but not enough. And then you are angry at yourself for not being able to integrate it into your speech just yet.

Or two: you may be practicing it, but you’re practicing it all wrong. And then you are practicing the mistake, and as a result, you’re not really changing anything. So you’re spending a lot of time practicing, thinking that you’re advancing yourself, whereas you’re actually going backwards because you’re practicing your old pronunciation habits.

So what can you do? First of all, let’s understand how this thing works, how changing a sound works. And I’ve talked about it a lot in a lot of my videos, but now it’s about the actual practice.

So first of all, you need to be able to hear the sound, right? And I bet that if your struggle is integrating it into your speech and making it your own, you’re probably past that step. You probably already know how the sound sounds, you recognize it, you’re able to perceive it. Great.

Then you need to be able to know how to pronounce it, right. What to do exactly with your lips, your tongue, your mouth, what the jaw needs to do, where your sound, your voice needs to resonate. So that’s the next step.

And let’s say you’ve already got that down, too, right. Like you’ve already figured out how to do that successfully. Once. When you have instructions in front of you or when you’re hyper concentrated and you know what you need to do. Good. What’s next? How do you make it a part of your speech day in and day out?

So now it’s time for practice. So, understanding that just being able to make the sound will not help you use it spontaneously is important. I hope I made that clear. So you need to practice. But speaking and thinking about it will not help you practice either. So, drilling sounds is important. You got to repeat the sound over and over again and it’s going to be boring.

Let me tell you this. It’s freaking boring – to repeat a sound over and over again. ‘Cat, happy, last, apple, Africa, staff, casual’, on and on and on with that. Okay, so it’s not going to be interesting, but it’s important. Because that’s what gets your muscles to get use of that sound.

It’s like lifting weights – no one likes it, but then you learn how to live with it if you work out. And then you start loving it, maybe. And then your body needs, it in a way. Okay? So that’s the process. It’s all about the muscles.

So you train yourself. It’s like, you know, finding the same letter sequence or doing the same musical pattern on the piano over and over and over again until your fingers know where to go without thinking about it. You can do it when they wake you up in the middle of the night. Okay.

You, your body knows how to do it. It’s not attached to your brain. You don’t need to get the directions from your brain to do that. Your muscles know how to do it because your tongue has its own consciousness, right? We agreed on that.

And when you train your tongue to keep on making that particular sound, then you won’t have to instruct it to do it anymore. But the pitfall here, and I mentioned that, is doing it all wrong, right? Like just keep on doing the same old pronunciation habits, like previous pronunciation habits.

And this is where you need to give yourself feedback. If you don’t have a coach around you, then you need to either record yourself and listen to it – you’ll be able to recognize if you’ve got it right or not, you will – if it sounds different than how you, you’re used to hearing yourself, then you’re probably on the right track. If it just sounds the same, you’re probably repeating your pronunciation patterns. And that’s one way of doing it.

Another way is to use the pronunciation tool on Google. I made a video about it. I’m going to link to it in the show notes. And this is where you can use the Google search bar to record yourself and get feedback if you got it right or not. Not everyone has access to it and sometimes it doesn’t work.

So another way to do that is to use any type of voice-to-text app. So sometimes you can just record the word and then see if it detected it correctly. And that could be a good indication if you got it right or not.

But I truly believe that just listening to the recording is good enough. So again, once you established how to pronounce it, you got to drill it over and over again to develop the muscle memory.

But then you got to give yourself feedback or be able to listen to yourself, to zoom out and listen to make sure that you are doing it right. Okay. And you need to do it for a while. I mean, an hour after having learned the sound and that’s it is not enough. Okay.

So, again, if you are surprised that you are not yet using it spontaneously because you’ve practiced it for one hour and that’s it, then you can’t complain. Because it’s impossible to change habits, and in particular pronunciation habits, in one hour. We all know that. Habits are the hardest to change, and when it comes to pronunciation, it really is all about habits.

Now, the next step, and this is the step that people tend to skip, is that you need to start using this sound consciously and deliberately in a conversation.

Now, I keep saying ‘using that sound’, but it’s relevant for new words, right? The pronunciation of new words and words that you know that you mispronounced, but you want to pronounce accurately, or international patterns, right. Like everything new that you want to integrate into your speech.

So, practice is the first stage, but then you need to use it consciously in a conversation, and deliberately. What does that mean? That means that you need to speak freely, but only focusing on that one sound.

So going back to the ‘a’ as in cat – only focusing on pronouncing it correctly every time you get to that sound. Or at least being aware of that sound as you’re speaking. So if you mispronounce it, then you need to say it again with the right pronunciation.

And you want to do that as you’re recording yourself again, so you can listen back to it and then pay attention that you actually did it correctly. And if you didn’t, then you need to do it again, or at least that part. Remember playing that, the same part over and over again on the piano?

So it’s the same thing, like saying that one sentence with the accurate pronunciation over and over again. That’s how you start making all those connections in your brain. Okay? So, practice, then use it consciously as you’re speaking.

And then you want to kind of test yourself. So you want to take a very challenging conversation topic and, let’s say a question, and answer it and record it. And don’t think about the sounds. And you want to answer it, and then listen back to it and see if you used the sound. Right.

So you can give yourself feedback whether or not you’re starting to integrate it into your speech. Now, you don’t really have to do this, what I’m suggesting here. But if you are one of those people who need to make sure that you got it right, then you can try and do that.

But I think that once you start practicing it effectively, and then you start using it consciously in a conversation, you’re already 80% there. And 80% is good enough for most people I know.

So it should be pretty good for you, pretty incredible. I mean, 50% is already better than nothing, right? We are not striving for perfection. Because being clear is more important than not having an accent. Being clear is you being able to communicate your message.

Okay. To wrap it up, let’s talk again about why it is important. It is important for you to understand that there is nothing wrong with you. If, on one hand, you know how to pronounce a certain word correctly in English, but when you speak without thinking about it, you always go back to old pronunciation.

There is nothing wrong with you. It just means that you haven’t integrated it into your speech. And to do that, you need to do something a little different than just knowing how the word should sound. Then you need to go through this practice system that I outlined. Okay.

And also, there is nothing wrong with you if you know how to make a certain sound, but you keep going back to your native sound when you speak in English. That makes sense if you haven’t integrated it into your speech, and that can only happen if you go through the practice I outlined in this episode. Does that make sense?

So stop being harsh on yourself or stop being surprised why you are unable to speak clearly if you haven’t done the work required.

And this is a good time to remind you that if you need my help with it, then Accent Makeover is about to open really soon in March of 2020. So if you want to go on the list, you can click on the link in the show notes.

And you can find out, you can also just go to my website and see it – theaccentsway.com – and you can find out more about the course that I’m about to open. I only open it twice a year and it’s a lot of fun. A bunch of people practicing together. You get feedback, you get all the instructions that you need and a plan for every single day.

So you know exactly what you need to do, no questions asked, and if you have any questions, you get answers. And basically, what I promise you is to start seeing results. And I definitely talk about effective practice techniques there.

Okay. That’s it. I hope you enjoyed it and I will catch you next time in the next episode. Bye.