Use a mirror. This is by far the simplest way to tell what your mouth is doing while you talk.
Put a finger in front of your lips (like you’re saying “shh”). As you speak, don’t move your finger.
You should feel your lips moving away from or pushing against your finger.
Watch other people and notice the shape their mouth and lips make when they talk. Try following along with your favorite TV show or movie. Can you repeat the faces and sounds that the actors are making?
3. Pay attention to your tongue.
The main difference between rice and lice is in your tongue. When you speak, you move your tongue to make sounds. You probably didn’t even notice that, since you do it without thinking. To improve your English pronunciation, it’s a good idea to check what your tongue is doing.
Some difficult sounds for non-native speakers to make are the letters “L” and “R,” and the sound “TH.” Pronouncing them correctly is all in the tongue!
To make the “L” sound, your tongue should touch the back of your front teeth and the top of your mouth, just behind your teeth. Try it now: Say the word “light.” Say it a few times. Feel where your tongue is in your mouth. Make sure it touches the top of your mouth.
To make the “R” sound, your tongue should not touch the top of your mouth. Pull your tongue back to the middle of your mouth, near where it naturally rests if you weren’t saying anything. As you say the sound, your lips should be a little rounded. Try it now: Say the word “right” a few times.
You should feel air blowing between your tongue and the top of your mouth as you speak. You should also feel your lips get a little rounder when you make the sound.
Now for the “TH” sound. This one may seem strange if you don’t have a similar sound in your native language.
To make this sound, put your tongue between your top and bottom teeth. Your tongue should stick out a little between your teeth, and as you push air out of your mouth, let some air escape between your tongue and teeth—that’s what makes the sound. Try it now: Say the word “think.” Repeat it a few times. Make sure you push your tongue between your teeth.
Now that you know where to put your tongue, can you hear the difference?
4. Break words down into sounds.
Words are made up of syllables, or parts. The word “syllable,” for example, has three syllables: syl-la-ble. Turning words into parts can make them easier to pronounce.
To check how many syllables a word has, place your hand flat just under your chin. Say the word slowly. Each time your chin touches your hand, that’s a syllable.
You can even write the word down in parts. Leave a space or draw a line between each syllable (every syllable should have at least one vowel: a, e, i, o, u, y). Now try saying the word. Say it slowly and pause after each syllable. Isn’t that easier?
5. Add stress to sounds and words.
English is a stressed language. That means some words and sounds are more important than others. You can hear this when you say a word out loud. For example, the word “introduce” is pronounced with a stress at the end, so it sounds like this: “in-tro-DUCE.”
Sometimes where you put the stress in a word can change the word’s meaning. Say this word out loud: “present.” If you said “PREsent,” you are talking about a noun that means either “right this moment” or “a gift.” If you said “preSENT,” you are talking about a verb that means “to give or show.”
There are rules for where the stress goes in each word. Here’s one rule:
Most two-syllable nouns are stressed on the first syllable, and most two-syllable verbs are stressed on the second syllable.
That’s just like the word “present.” Here’s another example: the noun “ADDress” is the place where you live, and the verb “addRESS” is to speak to someone.
If this all sounds too complicated, don’t worry about memorizing all these rules—the best way to learn is by listening and practicing. Remember that most native English speakers don’t know the rules either, they just say what “sounds right.” With enough practice, you can get what sounds right too.
Sentences have stresses too; some words are more important, and are said with more clarity and strength than the rest of the sentence. Try reading this sentence aloud: “I ate some toast with butter in the morning.”
The sentence should have sounded like this (the bold words are the stressed ones): “I ate some toast with butter in the morning.” Notice how you slow down every time you get to an important word, and quickly pass over the less important ones?
Keep practicing by reading out loud, having conversations and listening well to where others place stress when they speak.
6. Use pronunciation podcasts and videos.
There are some excellent video and audio guides on English pronunciations that you can use to improve.
7. Record yourself.
One way to tell if all your practice is working is to record yourself with a camera. Use a camera and not just a sound recorder because it’s important to see how you speak, not only hear it.
8. Practice with a buddy.