Here are 5 easy steps to start improving your English Speaking and Pronunciation skills right now.
1. Open and move your mouth when you speak English
Many non-native speakers don’t move their mouths enough when they speak English. Be aware that the mouth position you use for your first language is probably quite different to the mouth position we use when we speak English. Yes that’s you – Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, Polish, German and Japanese speakers! Move your mouth more when you speak English than you do when you speak your first language. Not moving and opening your mouth enough will make your English unclear (in English we call it mumbling). English has many open sounds like ‘ou’ in phone, ‘a’ in ‘start’, ‘a’ in ‘hat’. You need to open and move your mouth to make these sounds and others clearly and correctly.
How much do you move your mouth when you speak English? Start to pay attention to your mouth and other people’s mouths when speaking.
2. Slow down and speak up
Do people ask you to slow down or do they often ask you to repeat? If yes you need to slow down…. now!
As a non-native speaker it is likely that you pronounce some sounds incorrectly and use different stress and rhythms to native speakers. This gives you an accent and can make your English more challenging for people to understand. Slowing down helps as it gives your listeners time to process what you are saying. Don’t leave your listeners struggling to understand you. Instantly improve the clarity of your English by slowing down.
If you have difficulty controlling the speed of your speech try to:
- pause more, especially between phrases and sentences.
- emphasise the key words in your message.
- use more gesture. Moving your hands to emphasise words can help you slow down.
If you speak too quietly, you need to speak with a louder voice. Practice reading out loud with a louder voice to get used to how it sounds. We need to hear you! Open your mouth and speak more loudly.
3. Listen more carefully to yourself
The first step is to become more aware of your pronunciation. Become aware of how your mouth moves and the sounds you make when you speak. Once you are aware of these things then you can change them. If you are not aware, then you won’t have the control that’s needed to make change! Pay careful attention to the positions you make with your mouth when you speak or read out loud. Listen carefully to the sounds you are making. Listen to the rhythms you make – is your English flat or does it go up and down? Are you making the consonant sounds at the ends of words?
Recording your speech helps you become more aware of how you sound. When they listen to a recording of their speech, many people find they sound different to how they thought! Listen carefully and try to identify sounds and words that are difficult or that sound different to a native speaker.
The first step is awareness, once you are aware then you can start to change and improve your speech.
4. Listen more carefully to others
Listen to HOW people are speaking English, not just what they are saying. Listen to the rhythm of their speech. Pay attention to the way that the pitch of their voice goes UP and DOWN. English is not flat. The rise and fall of our voice when we talk actually makes our speech clear and easy for our listener to understand. Many non-native speakers have difficulty learning the correct stress patterns and this makes their speech more difficult to understand. So instead of just listening to ‘what’ people are saying, start to listen to ‘ HOW’ they are saying it. Listen to the ‘music’, the UP and DOWN of the pitch of their voice.
5. Spend some time on pronunciation
For most people, their speech and accent doesn’t change a lot without work. This explains why many people have been in an English speaking country for many years but still have a very strong accent. Some people wrongly assume that their speech will improve at the same rate as their language and listening skills.
People that have a “good ear” for language have a better chance at improving their speech without help. But for many people, unless they focus specifically on particular areas of their pronunciation and work directly on changing sounds and speech patterns, their accent will stay pretty much the same.
So, even if it’s just for 5 minutes a day, start to open your ears to speech sounds and the ‘music’ of English. Focus on pronunciation – the way people move their mouths and the sounds that they make. The way you move your own mouth and the sounds that you make.
Before you take the real IELTS Test, you should learn things you need be aware of in the IELTS Speaking Test and another useful lesson about what to expect at IELTS Speaking Test.