Pronouncing words in English can be frustrating and difficult when English is your second language. You may find your mouth can’t make the right shape and people have trouble understanding what you are saying. This is a common problem because the muscles in your lips and tongue are not accustomed to making the shapes that are found in English.
The shape your mouth, the position of your lips and teeth in your native language is very different from the way your mouth needs work when speaking English. Your muscles don’t know how to move. The key is to train your muscle to move in this new way. It is called muscle memory. Muscle memory is a type of movement with which the muscles become familiar over time. For example, newborns don’t have the muscle memory for movements like walking or crawling.
The only way for the muscles to become accustomed to these movements is for the baby to learn how to do these activities and practice the movements repeatedly and with a great deal of trial and error. Gradually, as the baby becomes a skilled walker or crawler, she falls less, is able to balance, and finally is able to incorporate other activities into her life such as running. It is the same for speaking English; you must train your mouth, lips, teeth and tongue to form the correct sounds. It will take time but with practice your speech muscles will know what to do automatically when you speak in English.
Here are things you can do to create muscle memory for speaking English:
- Record your voice and listen for pronunciation mistakes. While nearly everyone hates to hear their voice on tape it is necessary to hear what your speech sounds like before you can change it. Your will also hear your pronunciation errors and become conscious of these errors.
- Pronounce the consonants and end of words. Pay special attention to T’s, S’s, Th’s, and ed endings For example: T – Cost, Lost, S – Chess, Dress, Th – That, Three, Ed -Decided, Attended
- Slow down your speech. When you speak quickly with the incorrect rhythm and intonation English speakers have a hard time understanding you. So until you learn the correct word stress, intonation and rhythm it is best to speak slowly and be understood. People care more about what you are saying and understanding than they do about the pace.
- Look at the mouth shapes and movements of native speakers and attempt to imitate them. A good time to practice this is when you are watching TV. Observe the way native speakers place their mouth and try to make the same shapes. Repeat what they say and try to maintain the same rhythm, intonation and word stress.
- Make a list of the words that are difficult for you to pronounce. Have a native speaker record the words that are difficult for you to pronounce and listen to these words and practice saying them.
- Read a loud in English 15 minutes a day. Reading aloud will increase your vocabulary and strengthen the muscles needed to make the correct English sounds. Studies have shown () that it takes approximately three months of daily practice to strengthen and develop the muscles need to speak a new language.
- Listen to books on tape. Visit your local library or buy books on tape. Combine this with the book in written form. This will increase your vocabulary and you can listen and read at the same time. You will learn how to correctly pronounce words and irregular verbs. You can also record yourself reading the same passage as the speaker from the book and compare. •Practice with tongue twisters. Tongue twisters are another great way to strengthen the mouth and tongue muscles you use when speaking English.
- Be patient. Change takes time. Your speech will change but not overnight. This is often the problem; people want instant results. It times time, commitment and practice. Don’t be discouraged, your hard work will payoff.
Practice Tongue Twister:
- A box of biscuits, a batch of mixed biscuits – A skunk sat on a stump and thunk the stump stunk, but the stump thunk the skunk stunk.
- Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Did Peter Piper pick a peck of pickled peppers? If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?