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English is not my native language and I'm really proud of being able to write it quite well. I have lots of problems with pronunciation though. In Finnish most words are pronounced the same as they are written and I've made a huge mistake by learning only how the words are written. I've now decided to become at least average speaker.

I'd like hear to better/more enjoyable ways to practice pronunciation than violently forcing my friends to speak English with me.

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If you're "violently forcing [your] friends" to speak English with you, I think pronunciation may not be your biggest problem. –  Robusto Jan 13 '11 at 0:36
    
@Robusto No, I haven't done that. I thought it would have expressed I have tried pretty much all friendlier methods to get them to talk English with me. –  0xHenry Jan 13 '11 at 1:01
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@0xHenry: Just kidding with you. You said "violently forcing" and it sounded funny, so I went for the cheap laugh. –  Robusto Jan 13 '11 at 1:08
    
@Robusto: Did he say or write? –  timur Jan 13 '11 at 7:23
    
@Timur read his last sentence? –  Robusto Jan 13 '11 at 11:16

10 Answers 10

Listening to something that has been narrated can be pretty effective. Like listening to a book on tape while actually following along with the print version. English tends to have an awful lot of nonsensical rules and pronunciations, so the best thing to do is to just plain immerse yourself in the language (listen to it).

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+1 Audiobooks are a great way to concentrate on pronunciation without dying from boredom. –  Cerberus Jan 13 '11 at 1:16

I am Spanish. Almost all my knowledge of the English language comes from:

  1. Listening to BBC radio. Truly good quality programs as well on Radio4 and the World Service.
  2. Watching British TV channels (via sky). During the first year, or maybe two, I had the English subtitles switched on (almost all programs have subtitles, even the news). I think that's a very good way to start.
  3. Reading absolutely everything in English, from IT books for my job, to bestsellers, tin labels or the newspaper. You don't learn pronunciation but you do learn vocabulary of course.

It takes its time, though, I have been learning for 10 years now and I can't say that my spoken English is 100% fluent, although good enough to maintain a decent conversation. I am now so used to my BBC radio and TV that if someday they stop the service I think I will move to the UK !

Also, although I seldom do it myself, I know other fellow Spaniards use the chats (with audio of course, or even webcam) to practice their English. There are some special rooms (at Yahoo at least) for English practicing, but once you have decently fluent English you are better joining a room of anything you like, even if just for listening to "normal" English.

And a final little trick: I have used my smart phone to record my own voice while reading English and then play it. This way you can hear your mistakes much better.

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The hardest but most effective way to learn pronunciation is to first of all learn how to read phonetic notation and master the pronunciation of every symbol (I stick to the International Phonetic Alphabet - IPA). You should keep a dictionary handy, practicing how to pronounce each word as many times as possible, whenever you happen to look up a word in it. The next thing is to get a good book on phonetics/pronunciation. Usually, you will find words grouped according to vowel sounds, etc. Practice, practice, practice! Speak each word with impeccable pronunciation until you sound stupid and begin to make fun of yourself.

Sure, watching movies and TV, and listening to tapes and CDs help. However, the sure-fire way to achieve a solid knowledge of pronunciation is to speak as much as you can, to yourself and to others, using the tried and tested method of mastering phonetic transcriptions of as many words as possible. Enunciate the words slowly and deliberately. If you do this well enough, people should begin to make fun of you. That's when you know you are doing things right. Then go anywhere in the English-speaking world and you will be sure to sound like a native speaker, regardless of the accent.

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Right, speaking with real people is a great help, and it is the only thing that hasn't become very easy to do over the internet yet—not to the extent that writing and reading have. –  Cerberus Jan 13 '11 at 2:35
    
@Cerberus: Agreed! Off-topic, but how do you get than en-dash in your comments?! –  Jimi Oke Jan 13 '11 at 2:36
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@Jimi: Actually I copied a random m-dash from a web page, then made it into an automatic string in my Autohotkey script: now when I type "--qq" it is automatically replaced by —. I also type all my accents this way: e// is é, c,, is ç, a`` is ä, etc. If you'd like my code [it is one line per accented letter, like :*?:--qq::— ], let me know. I recommend AHK for, well, basically anything. It is very powerful and yet very easy to program for a non-programmer such as I. –  Cerberus Jan 13 '11 at 2:49
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@Cerberus: Thanks for taking the time to show me all this... not much of a programmer myself but AHK sounds sweet. I have a mac so I can type all accents from native keyboard shortcuts, using the alt/option key: é, à, ü, etc. Very likely there may be a shortcut for this dash. But if not, I'll look into AHK! Thanks :) –  Jimi Oke Jan 13 '11 at 2:53
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@Cerberus –– I think I found it! alt/option + --. Thanks!! Actually, that's the em-dash. The en-dash is with + _: — Thanks! –  Jimi Oke Jan 13 '11 at 2:53

We all know English words are sometimes not pronounced as they're written, but we should also bear in mind that some words have multiple pronunciations. The right one depends entirely on context.

I have a German friend whose spoken English was excellent. But once, when asked if he was happy, he replied, "Yes, I'm quite *con*tent," with the stress on the first syllable. I said, "you mean con*tent*!" "That's what I said". "Well, not exactly..."

Content (noun) has the stress on the first syllable, Content (adjective) on the second.

Consider a word like "read". Pronounced "red" for past tenses, "reed" for present and future tenses.

  1. Yesterday, I read a short book. (red - imperfect)
  2. An tough day lies ahead. Today I read War and Peace (reed - present / implied future)
  3. I'm exhausted. Today I read War and Peace (red!! - imperfect, but denoted by previous sentence)
  4. Tomorrow I will read the second half (reed - future)
  5. By tomorrow I will have read the whole book (future perfect, so red)

We know the pronunciation only by discerning the meaning of the passage. Sometimes not even the whole sentence can betray the meaning without the wider context as in examples 2 and 3.

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"An tough day" ??? –  ErikE Mar 30 '12 at 19:03

A quick tip: if you need to look up the pronunciation of a word in actual sound, you can use howjsay.com: it has a very large database with decent pronunciations, including many inflected forms and compounds.

For a quick way to look up words in Howjsay, you could use the Firefox extension Easy Drag To Go: with it, you can select a word on a web page, simply drag it to the left (or any direction you choose), and it will automatically be looked up in Howjsay in a new tab. You need to install Howjsay as a search engine for that to work, then assign it to a direction in the options menu of Easy Drag To Go. Note that you can find search engines for many, many sites if you just Google for them ("firefox search engine howjsay" is how I found this one).

If you want to create your own menu to look up anything in any search website you like, starting from any program in your computer all over Windows, just by selecting a word and typing a hotkey, I recommend Clever Keys. When you select a word and type, say, alt+m, a menu will pop up with a choice of your customized search websites (you can add any URL you like), and your word will automatically be looked up in a new tab in your default internet browser.

You need a mouse-gestures program like the marvellous StrokeIt if you want to use gestures instead of hotkeys. Should anyone need help with any of this, let me know.

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+1 Just checked this out. Nice tool! –  Jimi Oke Jan 13 '11 at 2:37
    
@Jimi: Good, I like spreading the faith. Which tool exactly, Howjsay? –  Cerberus Jan 13 '11 at 2:51
    
yes, that's the one I was referring to! –  Jimi Oke Jan 13 '11 at 2:58

I'm German and to practice pronunciation I listen to the following podcasts:

  1. the Economist itunes link: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-economist/id151230264
  2. a lot of BBC podcasts http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts
  3. some Guardian podcasts http://www.guardian.co.uk/audio

Just pick what you like, so far, I did not encounter one that wasn't good, considering the English. However, I cannot really judge, as I'm not a native speaker ;)

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There have been some good answers here, particularly that of AJweb.

However, there is one other point, worth making about pronunciation. There is not one, particular way of pronouncing English. This is because of the big differences in the forms of English that are spoken around the world. They involve different accents, as well. Accents have a very big effect on pronunciation.

As with learning English generally, it is best to decide before you even start which form you want to learn. In terms of pronunciation, this means deciding if you want to learn a particular accent of the English-speaking world — or not.

If you do, you should look for resources that will expose you to it. For example, if you want to learn an American accent, look for American resources. Listen to American films and television programmes, or practice with Americans.

If you don't want to learn a particular accent, but want to pronounce British English neutrally, you should look for resources that will expose you to English English. That is, the pronunciation of English people without a particular regional accent. What is also called "British English". For example, listen to BBC radio, watch British television or, speak to British people.

Although there are plenty of regional, British accents they are generally not as different from each other as they are from non-British accents of the English-speaking world. This is of good quality, is neutral (without an accent), and can generally be understood around the world.

Decide who your audience will be.

If you mainly or only want to speak English to people who speak in a particular accent (for example, American English or Australian English), you can learn that accent. Even then, it is not always necessary.

If you mainly want to speak to English speakers generally (whichever form they speak), you don't have to learn an accent. You can learn neutral pronunciation, which will be sufficient.

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Most of what you say is sensible, but I take objection to the idea that British English is neutral pronunciation. How do you figure that? Some statistic about number of speakers of each "flavor" of English in the world might be convincing, otherwise it seems mere provincialism to say so (assuming you are yourself such a speaker from your spelling of "programme"). The folks who seceded from England in America spoke at the time the exact same English as in England. Since then, pronunciation in both places has changed. Neither can be said to define neutral, "England" notwithstanding. –  ErikE Mar 30 '12 at 22:33
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Americans own the English language as much as England does. –  ErikE Mar 30 '12 at 22:34
    
Not all British English is spoken in regional or RP accents, ErikE. I realise that this is not well known, among many people around the world. Even among speakers of American English, which is all in accents. –  Tristan Mar 30 '12 at 23:47
    
Again I ask you, by what standard? Even after being called on it you still persist in calling some particular variety "unaccented" Atrocious. You have no statistics to back this up at all, do you? –  ErikE Mar 31 '12 at 3:01
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You're a nut case! –  ErikE Apr 9 '12 at 5:51

My daughter is learning French, and she's found the Duolingo app to be quite entertaining. It seems that they have an English version, too.

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I found that the best way is to listen to audiobooks. What I do:

  1. listen to phrase, may be several times
  2. try to understand it, look into text if I can't understand
  3. repeat it aloud
  4. move to next phrase

But ideally you need an MP3 player that can repeat phrases easily. I recommend you to try WorkAudioBook player — there are Windows and Android version of it. Workaudiobook player with support of subtitles

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How about while jogging on the beach with a mouth full of marbles? Could be fun. Or a choking hazard. Accepting this advice constitutes a legal agreement that neither you nor your surviving kin will sue.

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