Improving Your Speaking Skills Posted by Sean Young on Mar 19, 2012 in Archived Posts
Human speech organs can produce almost 800 different sounds. Babies and small children can hear all these possible phonemes, but soon develop a preference for the sounds they hear in their native language. Children also tend to be very good mimics which enables them to learn foreign languages faster and with native sounding accents. When learning foreign languages in later life, most people are used to hearing the sounds of their native language and find it difficult to recognize and pronounce phonemes not present in their native language. This is why most adult language learners have a foreign accent.
Learning how to pronounce a foreign language like a native speaker may be difficult at first, but not impossible. The more you listen to a language, the easier you will find it to understand a native speaker. Then, with your ears tuned to the sounds and rhythms of your new language, you’ll find learning how to pronounce the language gets easier and easier too.
Despite all the things you’ve heard, and the scary looking pronunciation charts and descriptions in your lesson book, pronouncing the sounds of a new language is not all that difficult. Yes, there are sounds that you may think are impossible to make, but that just means you need to practice those sounds a little more than the others. There’s also a good chance you’ll find sounds you already know – in fact, I’ve researched over 250 languages and found that the sounds represented by the letters B, D, F, H, K, L, M, N, P, S, T, V, Y and Z are pronounced the same in almost 175 languages.
If your language course comes with an audio recording, be it on CD or MP3, do not to let the recording get ahead of you. Always make good use of the pause and rewind buttons to listen to the sounds of the word or phrase you’re trying to learn. Listen as many times as you need to be comfortable with it. When you feel ready, say the word or phrase aloud and repeat it until you feel confident of your pronunciation.
When you come across a sounds that you find difficult, practice them until you get as close as you can to the proper pronunciation – you don’t have to be 100% perfect. If you can’t roll your ‘r’ no matter how much you try, that’s okay as long as you can still get your message understood. As you go through the lessons of the book or language course, you’ll find that these difficult sounds become easier and easier to make. And if you find any words that have a special pronunciation rule (e.g. the -ough- combination in English: rough, through, tough, bough, cough) make note of these words in your notebook and practice them, noticing the spellings and the sounds needed to make them work. You can always come back to them in the future if needed.
Go Out and Speak
Of course, the best way to improve your pronunciation is to use your new language at every opportunity. Try to meet someone who speaks your new language or join a class to practice talking with others. Do you have any Facebook friends in other countries? See if you can connect with them through Skype and talk with them in their language. Transparent Language has their new Connect program so you can practice speaking with their skilled instructors. There are many opportunities out there to speak in your new language. All you need to do is open your mouth and start speaking.
In order to speak a new language, you need to learn new words, and those words need to be put together into sentences. When you’re learning a language, memorizing the words for the lesson or language course you’re using is pretty easy. But putting them into your permanent memory is what takes practice.
When learning vocabulary, do not get into the habit of just looking at it, saying it aloud or writing it on paper a few times, then thinking you’re done. It won’t stick that way. You need to find a way that will lock that word into your memory and let your brain file it away. The best thing to do is to try different methods to see which one works best for you. Below, I have outlined a basic method of learning new vocabulary. Go ahead and use it, or expand on it to fit your needs.
Look at the written form of the word and listen to the audio several times. This will require heavy use of the pause and rewind buttons on your CD or MP3 player, but it will help you to focus on the pronunciation and get used to the native speaker’s sounds.
Along with the audio exercise, try saying the word or phrase several times aloud. Listen a few times to how the speaker says the word and repeat it a few times. Then, without the audio, say the word again and again and again and again until it’s easy to pronounce – but don’t rush it. This process will not only help you hear the word as you speak it, but will help your tongue and mouth get used to the new movements of the word and improve your speaking skills.
Look at the word letter-by-letter and see if you can say it. Again, it’s not a race – don’t rush to say the word over and over so fast that you’re get confused and distort the pronunciation. Just repeat it slowly and naturally, pronouncing it the best you can (you don’t have to say it perfectly like a native). Looking at the word as you say it allows you to use two senses at the same time – hearing and sight – which puts the word into your memory quicker.
There’s a phrase I always like to use in language learning and it is always true no matter what – “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” So get out there and speak no matter how you sound. After all, practice makes perfect.
Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.
I am curious to find out what blog system you have been using? I’m experiencing some minor security problems with my latest site and I’d like to find something more risk-free. Do you have any recommendations?
@Katharina Kastning We use WordPress for our blogs. It’s very nice and works well.