Accent Reduction: Improving Your Pronunciation Skills

Many ESL learners are concerned about eliminating their accents, but before you run out and spend hundreds of dollars on the latest pronunciation course, let me give you some things to think about.

First, the main goal of any pronunciation course should be to focus on accent reduction, not accent elimination, which is virtually impossible. Rather, students should work on reducing areas of their pronunciation that affect comprehensibility, that is, areas of their accents that make it difficult for native speakers to understand them.

Second, with this goal in mind, students need to be able to identify which specific areas of pronunciation give them the most trouble. Of course, there are universal areas of pronunciation that affect specific language groups, and reading up on these commonalities will help you. Furthermore, if you take a class on pronunciation, the teacher probably will ask you to record a speech sample which can be analyzed to check which specific areas you need to work on, for example, vowel and consonant sounds, word and sentence stress, and word reductions, and linking, and intonation.

Finally, you need to practice these features in different situations, from very structured exercises to extemporaneous speech. In other words, let’s say you are focusing on past tense, -ed endings (e.g., worked, played, constructed, learned, etc.). The first step would be able to recognize and produce the corrected pronunciation of the endings of each word in isolation by repeating them; however, this does not guarantee that you will be able to use them in natural conversation. Thus, you might want to record yourself talking about the past weekend and what you did—again, using past tenses. Rewind the recording and check to see how well you formed the verbs and if you pronounced them correctly.

Just remember that improving your pronunciation will take a lot of patience and commitment.

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