It’s undeniable that pronunciation is your business card when you’re attending a job interview, giving a demo class or in your first class to a group.
When I began this career as en English teacher, I’d had doubts about my proficiency in the language, especially my pronunciation. I was concerned since I was a freshman and look up to some of my classmates whose pronunciation seemed, to my untrained ears, to have acquired native-like speaking skills.
One day I made up my mind, when I was around 19, and began to read, listen, practice and work a lot on my pronunciation. In all honesty, I’d begun to learn English when I was 12 by means of songs and did it as a hobby— a very gratifying one in fact—; however, my speaking skills remained weak as I didn’t have anybody to practice with and the only thing I pronounced where lyrics of the songs I liked— and still do!
Eventually, when I finished my major and was hired for different teaching positions along my life, I was gladly surprised when, because of my pronunciation, among other factors, I landed on different jobs. Actually, my pronunciation was something that opened many doors according to a number of employers and students at different levels of the language.
I’ve never had the chance to travel abroad, but I can feel happy that my pronunciation developed as if I’d lived there for some time in my life. What caught my attention, when I was in a meeting with other colleagues, is that many teachers don’t pay attention to this area in the classroom, even though it’s part of the course book, much less to their own performance. I understand that native-like pronunciation is not a must to some people, but teachers shouldn’t be concerned about theirs? I always compare it to the gym instructor who’s a muscle-bound but with a prominent belly.
That’s why I’d like to share some tips to help teachers improve their pronunciation without investing too much money or even time.
1. Imitation. Train your ear to let you imitate as closely as possible anything you run into on TV, the radio, movies and such. This’ll help you especially with your rhythm and intonation of the language.
2. Read pronunciation books to know what muscles take part in your speaking. It’s important to identify how to pronounce things so you can mend or fix your own when it’s necessary or your students’.
3. Listen to yourself; learn to correct yourself. This is the most crucial part in improving your pronunciation. If you can’t single out your weak areas, and you don’t know what’s going wrong, you won’t be able to repair any fossilized error your making. This step may slow down your speaking as you have to be attentive, once you’ve spotted the error and know how to fix it, when a sound or cluster happen so you can sound it out ok.
4. Buy, borrow or get a pronunciation course. There are many good pronunciation courses on the market that are definitely useful so you can perform better when trying to be fluent, especially with phrases that are normally pronounced one way but are written differently, for example: “I got to go now”; “I need to go to the store”; “I’m going to get you a drink”; “Did you eat yet?”.
5. Rehearse your favorite phrases or formulaic expressions you prefer. “What do you mean by that?” “Let’s wrap it all up”; “I’d like to begin with this phrase”: there are phrases that we frequently use and these have to be pronounced perfectly as we commonly use them and, consequently, need to be taken good care of. It’s horrible to have a phrase we frequently resort to being mispronounced as you, honestly, may lose face in front of your audience.
I hope I can come up with another set of tips to give you as they prove to come in handy when we want to leave our comfort zone and push ourself beyond our plateau.