Over the past years that I have been working as an online teacher with students around the world, I have often been asked one question: “You speak like an American. Your accent is great. How did you do that?” My initial reaction and response was: “Well, practice makes it perfect.” Of course, practice makes it perfect, yet, is there anything else that my students need to know in order to improve their pronunciation?
Learning about speech organs
Speech organs or articulators, produce the sounds of language. Organs used for speech include the lips, teeth, alveolar ridge, hard palate, velum (soft palate), uvula, glottis and various parts of the tongue. They can be divided into two types: passive articulators and active articulators. All of those organs have their function and are used to speak a language. With the right instructions, everyone can learn how to shape, modify and exercise their speech organs and produce sounds close to that of natives.
Learning about phonetic symbols
The next thing that I find important are the phonetic symbols in English. It is
important to learn and read all of the phonetic symbols properly since each word
in English dictionary is followed by a phonetic transcription and is read
property /ˈprɒpəti/ - noun- a thing or things belonging to someone; possessions collectively.
“She wanted Oliver and his property out of her flat”
Each sound and phonetic symbol is or can be pronounced differently depending on the word, its etymology, sounds that precede or follow etc.
honesty /ˈɒnɪsti/ the quality of being honest.
“They spoke with convincing honesty about their fears”
As we can see in this example, the word starts with H, however, the pronunciation does not involve the sound itself. It is a so called: silent H. Therefore, have a handy dictionary next to you and the phonetic symbols on your mind.
Learning about listening and hearing skills
I am sure that all of you will agree that learning to shape our speech organs as well as knowing the phonetic symbols is crucial, however, what do you think about listening and hearing skills?
I think there is a difference between them. We can listen to a speech but what do we actually hear? Let’s have a look at those two skills. Merriam-Webster defines hearing as the “process, function, or power of perceiving sound; specifically: the special sense by which noises and tones are received as stimuli.” Listening, on the other hand, means “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention; and to give consideration.” Dec 15, 2020
Therefore, hearing is closely related to physiological act of hearing and not with making connection and sense with what is being said. Hearing by itself cannot be consciously improved whereas listening is a different story. Listening can be active or passive. Active listening is a process where you listen to understand. Passive one is a phenomenon when a person does not show any interest to be contribute to a conversation.
Having all this in mind, let’s not strive towards perfection. Let’s strive towards connections and communication. Let’s listen to each other, share and be involved, rather than just observe. At the end of the day, a language is a tool of communication, so the most logical way to learn it is through communication.