How To Improve Your English Pronunciation

Nov 15, 2019 | IELTS, IELTS Listening, IELTS Speaking, IELTS Test, IELTS Writing

In an episode of our Podcast, we spoke with Tamara Prokofyeva, a renowned Accent Reduction Coach, to provide a range of strategies for independent learners to improve their English Pronunciation. 

With Tamara’s insights and a wealth of practical strategies, this article and the accompanying Podcast episode aim to provide a robust foundation for learners of all levels to improve their pronunciation skills.

The Role of Pronunciation in IELTS Success & Everyday Interaction

Of course, pronunciation is a crucial element of the IELTS exam. There is a Speaking element to navigate, after all! Within IELTS Speaking, pronunciation is one of the four criteria on which you are judged, alongside fluency and coherence, lexical resource, and grammatical range and accuracy. 

Because IELTS is an exam that assesses how candidates will get on in an English-speaking environment, the aim of assessing pronunciation is to ensure those who pass will be ready for everyday life. Clear pronunciation enhances your ability to communicate in everyday situations. It ensures you are understood in social, academic, and professional settings.

English Pronunciation Is More Than Just How You Say a Word: Accent Is Less Important Than You Think

When learning a new language, pronunciation is often seen as a critical challenge to overcome. While accent does play a role, it’s crucial to understand that pronunciation is not solely about how you articulate individual words. Instead, it encompasses a broader set of elements, such as intonation and word stress. This realisation helps in building a more practical and inclusive approach to communication. 

Accent vs. Pronunciation

Accents are a natural part of spoken language and vary significantly based on region, culture, and personal background. An accent reflects a speaker’s identity, and there’s no “correct” or “superior” way to speak. Misjudging someone based on their accent undermines the richness and diversity of global languages.

Pronunciation, on the other hand, includes not just the sounds but also the rhythm and melody of speech. Intonation—the rise and fall of pitch—and word stress—emphasising certain syllables—are crucial components. Even if someone has a distinct accent, clear intonation and appropriate word stress can make communication highly effective.

The Importance of Intonation and Word Stress

  1. Intonation: This refers to the pitch pattern in a sentence or phrase. It can convey emotions, attitudes, and emphasise certain meanings. For instance:
  • A rising intonation at the end of a question: “Are you ready?”
  • Falling intonation at the end of a statement: “I’m leaving now.”
  1. Word Stress: Every English word with more than one syllable has a stress pattern. Correct word stress ensures clarity:
  • “PREsent” (noun) vs. “preSENT” (verb)
  • “CONtract” (noun) vs. “conTRACT” (verb)

Proper intonation and word stress make it easier to understand and convey messages effectively, regardless of one’s accent.

Practical Strategies for Improving English Pronunciation

image showing the pronunciation of different English words

  1. Listen Actively: Pay attention to native speakers’ intonation and stress patterns in conversations, movies, and podcasts.
  2. Record Yourself: Record and listen to your speech to identify areas of improvement.
  3. Practice Intonation and Stress: Repeat sentences with varying intonation and word stress patterns to master rhythm.
  4. Seek Feedback: Work with a language partner or tutor who can provide constructive feedback on your pronunciation.

Embrace Your Accent

It’s important to recognise that an accent is not a flaw but a testament to your linguistic and cultural journey. Instead of striving to completely erase your accent, focus on refining your pronunciation by improving your intonation and stress patterns. This approach will help you communicate more effectively while allowing your unique accent to shine through.

Improving pronunciation is like working out in a gym

However, one significant hurdle in improving pronunciation is overcoming established patterns – our muscle memory. The way we produce sounds is deeply ingrained from a young age, and altering this takes conscious effort and consistent practice. It’s not uncommon to find students struggling to shake off the pronunciation habits of their first language, where certain sounds are not just made.

Improving Your English Pronunciation 

Pronunciation training involves consciously adjusting and refining one’s speech to improve clarity and ensure people understand. Of course, this makes it particularly beneficial for non-native speakers who are aiming to minimise the gap between their native intonation patterns and those of English.

This can involve identifying specific sounds and patterns that result from your native language and may make your English unclear and difficult to understand. From there, you can begin working towards adopting the phonetic differences of English, which include mastering the rhythm, stress, and intonation patterns that give English its distinct sound.

This kind of training requires a tailored approach that considers the unique challenges of different language backgrounds. For example, a person native to India will pronounce English words very differently to a person native to China. This is why our podcast guest Tamara Prokofyeva provides much more personalised training to her students to help them reduce the impact that their native accent is having on their English pronunciation. 

She’s a renowned and incredibly experienced Accent Reduction Coach based in London; she guides her clients through the intricate layers of English pronunciation, offering strategies that target their specific needs.

In our podcast conversation with Tamara, she explores the different strategies that can be used both in self-study and with the guidance of a tutor like ourselves or herself. She highlights the importance of active listening, consistent practice, and the value of feedback in recognising and correcting pronunciation errors. 

The video below showcases our insightful discussion with Tamara Prokofyeva. Her expertise illuminates the great benefits non-native English speakers can get from Accent Reduction Coaching, not only for acing tests like the IELTS but also for enhancing everyday communication.

Tools & Tips On to Improve English Pronunciation 

Though it can seem a million miles away from where you may currently be, achieving clear English pronunciation is an attainable goal with the right set of tools and through lots of practice. Fortunately, given that English is such a global language, there are so many different resources at your fingertips, providing interactive and engaging methods to sharpen your speech from anywhere in the world.

Self Practice

Every English student should start with self-practice. Smartphones have made this process much easier in the last twenty years, with a range of different apps dedicated to language, offering personalised feedback on pronunciation and using speech recognition technology to assess your efforts. Many of these apps feature interactive exercises that mimic real-life conversations, helping you practise pronunciation and improve listening comprehension and vocabulary.

Tamara Prokofyeva’s Recommended Resources

In the podcast episode with Tamara, she recommends a few different resources for learners who are looking to improve their pronunciation. The first is aimed to help provide a comprehensive understanding of English sounds and articulation. For this, Tamara suggests exploring the book “English Phonetics and Pronunciation Practice” by Paul Carley. It’s a great starting point for people who want to improve their pronunciation of spoken English, as it breaks down the phonetic components of the language into more digestible and understandable segments.

In addition to his book, Tamara also recommends using Paul Carley’s YouTube channel. Essentially this a practical extension of his book, offering visual demonstrations that can help clarify pronunciation patterns and techniques that he has outlined in the book. Through these videos, learners can gain access to expert advice and see first-hand the mechanics of producing native-like English sounds.

Finally, in terms of a more immersive learning approach, Tamara recommends the film My Fair Lady as an engaging way of improving your English pronunciation. The transformation of the film’s protagonist through dedicated phonetic training provides learners with a narrative framework to contextualise pronunciation patterns, particularly in Received Pronunciation. Replicating the dialogue and songs from the film can serve as an enjoyable and effective mimicry exercise, further enhancing the learner’s grasp of rhythm and stress.

Seeking Professional Help In Improving English Pronunciation

There does come a point when self-study aimed at improving your English pronunciation may reach its limits. At this stage, professional guidance can make a substantial difference. Pronunciation coaches or accent reduction specialists, like Tamara Prokofyeva, bring expertise that can tailor your learning to your specific needs.

Finding a qualified teacher should be approached with care. Look for professionals with credible qualifications in linguistics, phonetics, or a related field, and ideally, those with experience teaching English pronunciation intricacies. Testimonials from former students can be a good indicator of a teacher’s effectiveness. Moreover, ensure that the teacher’s approach aligns with your learning style and goals.

Improve Your Pronunciation With Our IELTS Coaching     

When it comes to improving your English pronunciation specifically for the IELTS exam, getting focused preparation and tailored coaching from an IELTS tutor can provide the specialised support needed to excel. 

Our IELTS coaching services offer one-to-one sessions, and if pronunciation is where you are struggling the most, then our tutors can help you work towards improved clarity and understandability. Our sessions provide live, interactive feedback and strategies that are specific to your linguistic background and learning needs. This individualised approach ensures that your pronunciation weaknesses are addressed efficiently, giving you the best chance to improve your band score.

Visit this page to book an IELTS Demo Lesson.

The With An Expert Podcast: How to improve your pronunciation with Tamara Prokofyeva by Andrew Turner @

About Tamara Prokofyeva

Tamara is a London-based Accent Reduction Coach and Founder and Director of Pronunciation First.

If you have any more questions for Tamara Prokofyeva, feel free to contact her on:

Tamara’s official coaching website – you can find her blog and book a free consultation there too

Tamara’s LinkedIn account.

Her Twitter account.

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