“Am I actually speaking English or Chinese!?!”.
This is what I used to think every time some native English speaker asked me to repeat what I had just said.
This happened to me quite often when I first came to England. It seemed that despite I was using the right words, people didn’t understand me.
The truth was this: I was saying the right words BUT…
I was pronouncing them wrongly.
Embarrassing? A bit.
Did I learn from my mistake? You bet!
Although, I wish I had focused more on my pronunciation whilst studying English back in Italy, I quickly got back on track and put into practice useful strategies that helped me to improve my pronunciation.
Pronunciation is key to communication. You need to get it right to get your message across.
Today I’d like to share with you some of the strategies I use to help my learners (as well as myself) to master their pronunciation in Spanish, Italian, French or any language you’re learning. So you can sound more native too!
Here they are!
1. GET COMFORTABLE IN YOUR BODY
When you are learning a new language, you need to accept that you’re going to make some “weird” sounds!
You need to get used to producing sounds you’ve never produced before and your body may feel uncomfortable. You may experience some resistance that prevents you from producing the correct sound and pronouncing well. Well, my friend! It’s time you let this feeling of embarrassment go!
Yes, you may feel a bit stupid at the beginning when pronouncing the French or Spanish “R”. You may feel incredibly self conscious, if trying to pronounce a difficult word in front of other people or your teacher. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Every language learner has started there, everyone has faced (and overcomed) your same obstacle.
It’s normal to feel uncomfortable at the beginning, accept this and remind yourself that learning a foreign language requires you to get out of your comfort zone by experimenting and making sounds that are uncommon to you.
We are wired to produce all the sounds of all the languages in the world. It’s just a matter of training until you get the sound you need right and, eventually, it’ll come out of your mouth naturally and effortlessly. Pinky promise! 😉
2.Learn the foreign language’s sounds system
This is especially true for language like Italian and Spanish which are phonetic languages and have very fixed pronunciation for each group of letters. French too has fixed pronunciation for particular group of letters although its pronunciation is less predictable than Italian and Spanish.
There are lots of online resources that explain the sound system of the most common languages and, currently, I am also working on a pronunciation course that uncovers all the secrets of Italian pronunciation. You can sign up for free to the Language Rose Learning Club, to show your interest and support my project! So I can keep you posted!
3. Find twin sounds
Many Italian learners, at the beginning, find challenging to prounounce the sound represented by the letters “gl”, as in words like “famiglia” (family), “fogli” (sheets) or “gli” (the plural masculine).
The truth is that English has the sound “gl” as well, it is just written differently: take the beginning of the word “you”, for example. Pronounce just the “y” sound at the beginning and add the vowel “i” next to it; you’ll get the sound “yi” which is pronounced like “gli”.
This is one example on how you can find sounds in your native language that recalls the foreign sounds you need to learn. Finding similarities between the two phonetics system of your native and foreign language helps you to learn and pronounce better these foreign sounds, especially when you’re just starting out!
4. Listen and repeat (without reading)!
Some words can be fairly challenging to pronounce and this is because of the way they are written, which can be misleading. For example: the word “idea” in Spanish is spelled the same in Spanish and in English, but its pronunciation is completely different.
When we read the word “idea” in Spanish, our brain associates it straightaway to the English word and it is tempted to read it with its English pronunciation. The trick is to eliminate the visual input, just listen to the pronunciation of the word and repeat it. In this way, your brain will memorise the right pronunciation first and, once you go back to the written word, you’ll be able to pronounce it right.
5. Have some karaoke time!
Who doesn’t like music? I love music and singing!
Singing is a great way to improve your pronunciation and get used to the rhythm and pronunciation patterns of a language. Listen to songs in the foreign language that are singable (meaning they are not too fast and has a clear pronunciation).
Here are some examples of Italian, Spanish an French songs you can to try to sing along (which I also used when I was first learning Spanish and French).
ITALIAN: Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu by Domenico Modugno (there’s also a lovely version by Il Volo), Come Un Pittore by Modá, Essere umani by Marco Mengoni
SPANISH: Manos al Aire by Nelly Furtado, A Dios le Pido by Juanes, Vivir Mi Vida by Marc Anthony
FRENCH: 1 Jour by Louane, Champs Ellysée by Joe Dessin, Le bonheure du monde by Sinsemilia (also a lovely version by Kids United) ,
6. Have fun with tongue twisters!
If you’re up for a challenge, you should try tongue twisters in your foreign language. I sometimes use this as a warm up to a study session to get into the mood.
Here are my favorite tongue twisters in Italian, Spanish and French. Can you say them fast?
ITALIAN – Sul tagliere l’aglio taglia, non tagliare la tovaglia, la tovaglia non è aglio, se la tagli fai uno sbaglio.
SPANISH – No me mires, que miran que nos miramos, y verán en tus ojos que nos amamos. No nos miremos, que cuando no nos miren nos miraremos.
FRENCH- Cinq chiens chassent six chats.
7. Practice shadowing
When you have studied the language for a while and you want to bring your pronunciation to the next level, you can start to practice shadowing.
Developed by polyglot Alexander Arguelles, the shadowing technique involves talking over a track and trying to match your speech as closely as possible to the native speaker voice underneath.
Grab an audiobook or even a film in the foreign language with subtitles and start to develop your listening as well as your pronunciation skills right now!
8. Read aloud (and mean it!)
Reading a text aloud is an excellent practice to practice your pronunciation. This is even more successful if there’s a teacher or another more expert learner who guides you whilst you’re reading.
When you read aloud, try to understand and interpret what you read and add the right intonation to conjure the emotions that the text suggests. It’s a fun exercise to do, especially if you love acting (I DO!).
9. Get over your accent!
If you practice pronunciation consistently and relentlessly you’ll be able to get as close as you can to a native pronunciation. However, your accent sometimes may still come out, and that’s ok!
Here’s what you must remember: your accent is nothing to be ashamed of, your accent makes you unique, be proud of it! Plus, native speakers speak with their own regional accents too, so why should you be ashamed of something that is so common among native and non-native language speakers?
As long as you are fulfilling the main goal of the language, which is communicating, there is no need to worry about your accent. Speak up and let the words flow. You’re doing a great job!
Now, I’d love to hear from you: which one of this pronunciation tips is your favourite? Do you have any other one that you’d like to share with us? Post it in the comment below!
Have fun learning,