Sometimes it is because you don't have "local experience," or aren't the "right fit." Other times it is because you make too many grammar mistakes such as using the wrong verb tense when you speak. But often the problem is people simply can't understand you because of your poor pronunciation.
No one in an English speaking country expects you to sound like a native speaker. That would be both impossible and ridiculous in a multicultural country where so many people have accents.
As a teacher, I have found that even in a "safe" classroom environment students from different countries don't tell their own classmates that they don't understand them. This results in a lose lose situation for both parties. The listener doesn't find out what the speaker wants to say. The speaker doesn't realize that he or she has a pronunciation problem, and continues speaking just as badly.
Improving the way you speak is difficult, but unless you do so you will continue to find yourself missing out on opportunities that you are qualified for.
Here are a few strategies that will help you to improve your pronunciation and other people's ability to understand you.
If you want to improve, you need to be aware of what kind of problems you have. Although some people have a good ear, most people need to focus on specific areas of their speech. Otherwise they will continue to have the same problems no matter how long they live in an English speaking country. This means you need to analyze your specific pronunciation problems, and work on improving them by doing a lot of practice.
Open Your Mouth
Open and move your mouth when you speak. Show your teeth. Let your tongue both your teeth and the roof of your mouth.
Click here and watch Barak Obama speaking. He has excellent clear speech and pronunciation. Notice the way he opens his mouth when he speaks. You can even see his tongue.
How much do YOU open YOUR mouth? Analyze yourself in a mirror. Then, decide to officially start opening and using your mouth much more. Watch as many native speakers as you can. Imitate them.
Also, try to speak up loudly enough to be clearly heard. Help your listeners to absorb what you are saying, instead of struggling to understand. If you have problems controlling your speed, try to
- pause more, especially between phrases and sentences.
- use more stress to highlight the key words in your message
- use gestures to help slow you down.
Unlike other languages that stress every syllable equally, every English word has its own stress and intonation. As well, although many languages stress each word in a sentence, in English we only stress "information" words such as nouns and verbs. All the little words like pronouns, articles, adjectives and adverbs become shortened, and can sound completely different .
LISTEN to English speakers and focus on the way they STRESS syllables and words in sentences. Pay attention to the way their voice goes UP and DOWN. The rise and fall of our voice makes our speech clear and easy to understand. So, instead of just listening to WHAT people are saying, listen to HOW they are saying it. Try to imitate them, and put a lot of your effort on working on stress and intonation.
Work on difficult sounds
Make a list of words that you find it hard to pronounce. Analyze which specific sounds are making these words difficult. Don't worry too much about sounds like "th", and r or l. Do, however focus on all your vowels, word endings and consonants that often get confused such as P and D, or K and H.
Learn the phonetic alphabet
Become familiar with the phonetic symbols or International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) in your dictionary. Keep it handy so that you can understand what new words should sound like when you use your dictionary.
Most people don't like listening to the sound of their own voice but recording your speech is an excellent way of learning about your trouble spots, not only with specific sounds and words, but with stress, rhythm and intonation. Once you hear the parts that are incorrect or unclear, you can start working on improving them. You may find this uncomfortable at first, but you can't improve unless you know where to start.
Keep working with a recorder. This could be your cell phone or any other device including your computer, but don't give up just because you don't like the sound. Focus on practicing and improving. Keep the old recordings so that you can compare and listen to your own improvement.
Imitate Native Speakers
A parrot is a bird that copies the words of humans. It learns to imitate human sounds by repeating the sounds or phrases over and over. This is an excellent way for you to practice rhythm and stress. When you are listening to the news, watching a short video, or listening to a reading or a story on the radio or the computer, try to copy the exact rhythm of the speaker as he or she speaks. Does the voice go up and down? Does it sound happy, angry, surprised or sarcastic? Is it asking a YES NO or an information question or making a statement. Copying native speakers will help you sound more natural and doing this a lot will make the process faster.
Listen to music and sing along
Here are two short sets of pronunciation exercises that you can every day to help yourself. At least it will force you to open your mouth - THE single most important thing you can do to speak English more clearly.
Daily Pronunciation Exercise from John Keith Communications
Daily Pronunciation Exercise from Many Things
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