If a conversation is like a jam session, then having good pronunciation is like staying in rhythm. If you don’t have it, the whole conversation ceases to flow as your listeners strain to understand what you’re saying.
Ask yourself why you’re learning a language. If it has anything to do with talking to people, then you definitely don’t want to be the one throwing off the conversation.
Beyond having fluent dialogues, having good pronunciation also shows native speakers that you care enough about their language to accurately learn the sounds. Even if you’re just a beginner, speaking with a good accent immediately creates a bond with native speakers.
How do I know if my pronunciation is good enough?
No one expects you to have perfect pronunciation in a language you’re still learning. That said, if native speakers often have trouble understanding you, your pronunciation probably needs some more work.
Another way to tell: just ask. Find a native speaker you trust, make it clear that you take pronunciation seriously, and ask them for their feedback. They can point out specific errors you’re making and help you find your problem areas.
How do I improve my pronunciation?
If you do have bad pronunciation, don’t lose hope! Pronunciation problems are easier to fix than you think. Language learning itself can take years, but you can correct your pronunciation relatively quickly if you have the right tools.
- IPA, or the international phonetic alphabet, is a universal alphabet for writing all the sounds in every language. Every sound is described in terms of the shape of your mouth, the position of your tongue, timing, and voicing. Getting familiar with the concepts in IPA can help you figure out where your pronunciation needs work, and can help explain the difference between the sounds you’re making and the sounds you should be making.
- YouTube has tons of videos explaining how to pronounce sounds in almost any language. Once you figure where your problems are, find videos showing native speakers pronouncing these sounds. Pay special attention to the speakers’ mouths.
- Italki, Speaky, HelloTalk, and Tandem are all good places to find native speakers who can help you. Let’s say you have trouble distinguishing between sounds A and B. When you practice with a language partner, you can ask them to hold up one finger when you say A, and two fingers when you say B. This kind of immediate feedback is often the key to solving the toughest pronunciation problems.