Knowing how to pronounce English words correctly every time is not easy! I commonly hear words like “colleague,” “purchase,” “hippopotamus,” “refrigerator”, and yes, even “pronunciation” mispronounced.
To pronounce English words correctly, you need to take four important factors into consideration:
How many syllables (beats) are in the word? Where are the syllable breaks?
2. Word Stress
After you’ve determined how many syllables a word has, you’ll need to decide which syllable should be emphasized more than the others. Word stress is extremely important in the correct pronunciation of words because improper word stress is one of the main reasons why you’ll be misunderstood.
3. Sound Production
To pronounce words correctly, of course you need to be able to produce the sounds that make up the words! At the same time, you must remember that when individual sounds are put together in words, and words are linked together in sentences, the individual sounds can easily change.
One of the most common changes is call “vowel reduction.” Vowel reduction is what happens to many vowels when they are not part of the stressed syllable of a word. The normal vowel sound changes (is reduce) to something that sounds like “uh.” This sound is called the “schwa” in phonetics and its phonetic symbol is an upside down, lower case letter “E.”
Here are some examples of vowel reduction. Notice how the schwa sound appears in the unstressed syllables:
In the case of pronunciation, practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect. If you pronounce the word incorrectly every time you say it, you’ll only make your incorrect pronunciation more pronounced (no pun intented). Before you begin to practice saying the word, be sure to find out the correct pronunciation. Check online dictionaries, a good pronunciation audio course, or ask a very trusted speaker to say the word for you.
Once you are 100% sure of the correct pronunciation, then it’s time to practice. Try repeating the word while looking in a mirror and audio recording yourself. Watch the way your mouth moves to make the different sounds. Listen to the recording and compare it to the model pronunciation. Then, just keep working at it.
If you put some effort into how you pronounce words, you’ll notice an immediate decrease in the number of misunderstandings you have with others. You’ll also find that your awareness is raised and you’ll pay more attention to the pronunciation of words around you, either by friends and colleagues, or pronunciations you hear on the radio or TV.