Center for Teaching and Learning

Strategies for enhancing English language fluency: Pronunciation

Below are principles and self-study strategies that TAs can use to enhance their pronunciation.

Principles for enhancing pronunciation

Choose particular aspects of your pronunciation to focus on first. One way to prioritize is to choose the pronunciation areas that most frequently lead to misunderstanding when you talk to people. If you’re not sure where to begin, friends or colleagues may also be able to help you identify what causes most misunderstandings.

Practice one aspect of pronunciation at a time. As you practice, “target” just one aspect of pronunciation. You may want to focus on one pronunciation feature for a week whenever you practice and then change to a different focus the following week. As you begin to feel more confident and comfortable, you may want to try focusing on several aspects together.

There are at least three aspects to developing good pronunciation:

  • The ability to recognize the sound or pronunciation feature when native speakers produce it.
  • The ability to recognize by yourself whether you are pronouncing something clearly (“self-monitoring”).
  • The ability to produce the sound or desired pronunciation feature in your speech.

Focusing on all three of these areas can help you improve your pronunciation overall.

Practice target areas of pronunciation in a variety of contexts:

  • practice specific words
  • practice with sentences which include the target aspect of pronunciation
  • practice with paragraphs
  • practice in free conversation

Activities for pronunciation practice

TAs use many different strategies for improving pronunciation.  See what works for you!

Keep a small notebook with you

When you notice that someone has particular trouble understanding a word or expression you have used, write down the word or expression. Keep a list of such words and expressions and practice pronouncing them. Ask an American English speaker to help you practice the words on the list. You might even ask a friend, instructor or colleague to record a list of these words for you from time to time.

Practice listening for your target sound or aspect of pronunciation

  • Use some of the audio resources available through the UW Language Learning Center
  • Listen for your target area as you listen to native speakers, radio or television.

Practice production and self-monitoring

Practice your target sound or aspect of pronunciation by using audio recordings and taking part in conversations.

Create audio recordings on your smartphone or another device

1.  Record yourself:

  • Record yourself practicing words, sentences, or paragraphs (perhaps focusing on those used most often in your field).
  • Listen to the recording. Compare your pronunciations of certain words or phrases with American friends’ or colleagues’ pronunciations of these words or phrases.
  • Identify areas where you hear major differences.
  • Practice different pronunciations and re-record yourself. Repeat the process above.
  • If you are not sure you are pronouncing your target sounds or pronunciation features appropriately, give your recording to an American friend, instructor or tutor to listen to and assess.

2.  Record American friends, instructors, or colleagues:

  • Ask them to read a list of words or phrases (perhaps focusing on those used most often in your field), and record them on your smartphone or other device.
  • Listen to the recording. Practice following the pronunciations while focusing on your target sound or pronunciation feature.

Practice reading paragraphs aloud

Practice until you are pronouncing the target sounds or features in the paragraph clearly. Then try to summarize the ideas in the paragraph without reading it, and record your summary on your smartphone or another device. Listen to the recording of your summary and check to see if you are pronouncing the target sounds clearly. If you’re not sure, you can ask an American friend or colleague. Practice summarizing the paragraph in your own words until you are satisfied with your pronunciation of the target sound or feature.

Record a short talk

Record yourself as you focus on the target sound or feature and listen to it. Identify places where you mispronounced. Then, record a second short talk on the same topic using approximately the same vocabulary and listen again. Continue to record and listen until you are satisfied with your recording.

Find an American friend, tutor, or conversation partner

Find someone who is willing to do some focused conversation with you once a week or more. Tell this person the sound(s) or feature(s) you are focusing on and ask him/her to stop you and help you whenever you make this sound incorrectly.

Make a “sound-of-the-week” focus 

Whenever you speak OR hear English during the week, focus on one particular sound or aspect of pronunciation for that week. Rotate the focus week by week.

When your focus of the week is on an aspect of pronunciation that requires a lot of concentration (e.g., rhythm or vowel length), it may be difficult to concentrate on all the time. Try to designate special times during the week for focusing on English (maybe when you’re having lunch with friends, or during a certain hour in your day). This should be a time when you’re actually communicating with American speakers and not just a time to practice by yourself.