If you are learning a new language, one of your many concerns is pronunciation. While many language influencers advocate the importance of grammar and vocabulary over that of accent, no language guru would dare to claim that pronunciation is of no importance at all.
Why is Pronunciation Important?
Pronunciation is fundamental to being understood in a foreign language. If you do not know how to produce the basic sounds of the language you risk the chance of not being understood by the person you are talking to. You can't assume that a language is made up of the same basic sounds as the languages you are familiar with, or that the letters or characters are pronounced in a similar way. Moreover, a great near-native accent in a foreign language is sure to gain you points when interacting with native speakers. Accurate pronunciation builds trust and confidence in your language capabilities.
What are the Traditional ways for Improving Pronunciation?
Before we reveal our secret method let's first give a brief overview of how pronunciation is traditionally practiced and improved. These techniques are still a valuable and necessary part of an overall approach to pronunciation improvement.
This is the basis of most language learning skills and the same goes for pronunciation. You need to tune your ears to the sounds, rhythm, and tone of a language before trying to produce it yourself. Listen to the pronunciation of individual words, phrases, and sentence sentences to pick up different layers of sound. Use tools like Forvo to listen to recordings of actual native speakers and sharpen your ears to pick out different accents and local varieties.
2. Build Muscle Memory
Repeat what you hear. Repeat. Repeat. Then repeat again. Speaking is an activity that uses muscles and you need to train your mouth to produce new sounds. Muscle memory is a key to fluency as seen in this Youtube Video where you can see how focused repetition improves speech over time.
3. Start Slow, get Faster
Don't start by trying to speak sentences at native speed. Take it one word at a time pronouncing it slowly and accurately. As you build confidence and muscle memory you will naturally be able to speed up and start creating sentences.
4. Record Yourself
We are very bad judges of our own speech. The sound of our own voice gets distorted as it travels to our ears and it is hard for us to focus on analyzing and speaking simultaneously. To effectively practice pronunciation try recording yourself and comparing the recording to a native pronunciation. The differences will be much more evident and show you the direction you need to improve. You can also try using special Recording Apps made just for this purpose, or try testing yourself using Text to Speach software.
The Key to Improving Pronunciation (The Secret Revealed!)
The key to improving pronunciation is organ position! You must understand the shape of your lips, the placement of your tongue, the feeling in your throat, etc. in order to pronounce sounds correctly! (AKA Articulation).
Learners who have been trying the traditional methods without taking this first initial step are often astounded by how fast they improve after understanding this basic step. Since the new language we are learning has sounds that don't exist in our native language, just listening and trying to mimic sounds using our existing skillset will make you sound unnatural. The only way to learn completely new phonetic sounds is by understanding how your mouth should look and feel when making it.
Before starting your pronunciation exercise you want to find sources that explain mouth structure like this Chinese Pronunciation Video. When you are practicing with native speakers in a Language Exchange, if they say you are pronouncing something incorrectly, make sure to ask them - where is your tongue? and also look at the shape of their lips. Then try mimicking them. You will be amazed at the results!