Pronunciation is hard.
Sometimes (I’m looking at you, Chinese …) its really hard.
I am often told by people – monolinguals and language lovers alike – that while you can help your pronunciation a bit, there isn’t that much you can do after a certain point and some people just have the”gift” and others don’t.
They claim this especially if you are older, especially if you picked a “hard” language, and especially if you don’t learn proper pronunciation at the beginning.
This is a big, fat lie.
Your ear and your mouth can be trained, just like anything else. It doesn’t matter if you have an affinity for language learning or not, if you are “old” or “young”, or however long you have already been studying that language.
Pronunciation is a physical exercise. You just need to build muscle memory and invest time and effort.
It is important to note, though, that it is best to work on pronunciation from the very beginning. It can be very difficult to fix any mistakes or bad habits later on.
However, even if you are months or years deep into learning a language – no worries. You can still work on bettering your accent now and get great results!
It is also important to note that having a foreign accent is fine. You do not need to make your accent better, if you don’t want to! As long as people can understand you, you are doing amazing.
If you do want to improve your accent though, then this article will help you!
I’ve got tips, tricks, and links to guides to help you with your pronunciation in any language.
First things first: Train your ear.
I’ll be honest, when I started to learn German, I could not hear the different between certain sounds no matter how hard I tried.
For example ü and u sounded exactly the same to me in most words.
Eventually though, after a LOT of practice, I reached a point where I could not only recognize those different sounds, but also begin imitate them myself.
Getting to the point where you can even hear the differences in sounds is the first step in bettering your pronunciation.
Do not make the mistake of believing that if you cannot hear the difference now, you never will. *This is not true!!*
You can train your ear.
I did and I have seen numerous others do it as well!
Before beginning to work on pronunciation though, it is important to make sure that you do not let your native language spelling and pronunciation rules transfer over here.
Do not read the letter “r” in Spanish and think it will sound anything like a hard, US-American “r”, for example.
Train your brain to see letters or characters in your target language and pair them with the sounds in that target language.
Do not compare or associate these sounds with your native language! Comparing can help in specific cases, perhaps, but it will only harm you in the long-run.
Think of this new language as an entirely new set of sounds you are learning. Sure, some may sound similar (or the same) to sounds you already know, but they are unique to your new language and should always be treated as such.
Once you prepare your brain in this way, it’s time to jump into actually training your ear!
The best and most obvious way is to expose your ear to these different sounds as often as possible.
This is one reason why total immersion and moving to a country where your language is spoken helps you learn that language so quickly.
If you can not pack up and move to a new country for complete immersion though, no worries. You can still do a great job from your living room!
The goal is to imitate being surrounded by this language, as you would if you lived where it is spoken.
Listen to music, the radio, and podcasts in your target language; watch TV shows, documentaries, and movies in your TL; listen to audio-books and audio of articles or any texts; etc.
The options are endless.
Anything you consume in your native language can (and should) be consumed in your target language.
To train your ear, just put the focus on audio content in that language.
It is also best, if possible, to work with a tutor here.
Using a site like italki, for example, even if just for a couple of lessons in the beginning to work on your pronunciation, can really make a big difference. Ask them to work on training your ear to hear the differences between sounds. Have them speak similar sounding words and practice on catching all of the differences.
Next Up: Train your mouth.
Once you can recognize the different sounds in a language, you can begin to try to imitate them.
What really tripped me up in German was that tricky “ch” sound and the “qu” sound. My mouth just did not understand how to move to make these noises.
After a lot of practice, studying, observation, and corrections based on native’s advice, I was able to learn how to correctly form these sounds in my US-American born mouth.
If you are still working with a tutor (like on
Consider also picking one accent within your target language to focus on.
For example, Spanish has so many to choose from. Picking one accent to work on, for now, can help you focus and advance much better. Finding a tutor and resources in this accent will help, most of all!
You can always switch your accent focus later, but picking a focus in the beginning will help a great deal.
The most important task here is to watch native speakers and, in particular (as odd it is may be and feel), watch their lips/tongues/overall mouths very closely. See how each part moves with each sound.
You may choose do watch this via a video on YouTube or a movie, rather than starting intently at a strangers lips in public as they talk to you, but either way: zero in on this!
Try to imitate what you are seeing. You can then even try to imitate in front of a mirror as well, to see how your own lips/tongue/mouth moves in comparison!
A great tip is to watch YouTube videos of native speakers and watch it on full speed at first, then go to 75% or even 50% speed the second time. This will help you easily and effectively see their mouth movements and hear the sounds as they should be (full speed) and then see and hear the fine details (slower speed).
Learning IPA (the international phonetic alphabet) can also help you here! Here is a link to a great article talking about what it is, how it works, and why you should learn it to help you learn a language.
Basically IPA can help you know how to pronounce a word without hearing it, through phonetics. It can also help you learn how to move your mouth to make certain sounds which is very helpful!
There are also a LOT of other ways to practice the sounds of a language. It is best to pick a method that works with your life and schedule and interests you!
– Sing along to songs, even slowing them down (on YouTube or other apps with this capability) to fully hear and repeat each sound.
– Read aloud, especially if you read aloud along with an audio-book! (check out this list of places to find foreign language books – with specific recommendations too!)
– Watch TV shows, movies, documentaries, videos, etc., and repeat specific words and phrases you hear.
– Post videos or audio of yourself talking to language sites, communities, or language exchanges (Like YouTube, Tumblr, or a language exchange app like HelloTalk)
– Attend meet-ups for that language (online or in-person – Meetup is a great site to try out!)
The options are endless!
Mimicry and constant speaking are key here.
Try to mimic and repeat every single sound you hear and you will grow by leaps and bounds.
And don’t worry about only speaking if you think you are speaking perfectly. I often have this issue and it only hinders us in our learning.
Babies certainly don’t have perfect pronunciation or grammar at first, but they babble all day long. They eventually reach a point where they can hear and properly imitate all of the sounds, but they get to this place by babbling and using that language frequently!
Although the learning style of adults and babies are quite different, we can still learn a lot about learning from babies.
Just speak, regardless of your level, and you will get there in the end. One day, you will master hearing and speaking the various sounds. You just need to practice!
Extra Pronunciation Tips and Tricks:
– Use audio dictionaries like Forvo to help you know exactly how to pronounce any word you come across!
– Take advantage of tongue twisters! Find some in your target language and try to master them.
– If you want to learn with reading aloud/listening to audio-books, check out this article on how to find great options!
– Record yourself! I often think I sound pretty good until I hear myself on a recording, haha. It is easy to think you have nailed a certain or sound or word and recording yourself will certainly help open your eyes if you have not! (Better yet, send that recording to a native via a language exchange and see what they think!)
– Speaking of language exchanges, take advantage of this! Help a learner of your language and have them help you in their language! There are lots of sites and apps to achieve this. Send them audio often (or meet in person) and ask them to be direct and firm in helping you with your pronunciation.
– Make good use of speed controls on videos! Slow things down on YouTube or Netflix to better understand the sounds and see the movements.
– Check out this article for some great listening resources (like poetry that is read aloud, a world radio, global music hits, games, and more!).
– Use or create games! Quiz yourself on minimal pairs (sounds that are very similar!) and make a game of it, or look up games online. There are lots of creative teachers with some fun games to help train your pronunciation!
Pronunciation Guides in Various Languages:
Below are some guides that can help you with the specific pronunciation of a specific language.
I will continue to add more, when I, my friends, or my readers let me know of new resources!
- How To Study Korean’s Guide
- 90 Day Korean’s Guide
- Story Learning’s Korean Pronunciation Guide
- Talk To Me In Korean’s Guide (only for paid members!)
- Korean Class 101’s Ultimate Guide
How important is training pronunciation to you? What do you find most challenging? Let me know in the comments below!
Don’t forget to check out my language learning printables on the website shop here for even more language learning help and resources! 🙂
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Let’s be friends! 🙂