June 28, 2016

If You Want to Perfect Your English Pronunciation, Watch My Lips!

2 minute read

Learning new vocabulary is only the beginning. To make yourself understood in a conversation, you need to get the pronunciation right, too.

Every language is unique. That is the case for how we sound out each vowel and consonant, as well as the actual words we use.

It sounds a little strange, but if you really want to get the sounds of English words right, you have to pay close attention to how a native English speaker makes those sounds!

When you’re speaking to a native English speaker or your teacher, or if you’re watching a film or TV show in English, watch their mouth very carefully. Exactly how do they move their lips to make that sound? Where is their tongue? Are the teeth together or apart?

Many languages, for instance, do not use the English “w” sound. Instead, they pronounce a written “w” as “v”.

If you’ve never tried to make the “w” sound, you can’t just guess! You have to be shown the technique, or see for yourself how it’s done.

When you make a “v” sound, you gently place your top lip on your bottom front teeth and push air between the (very small) gap. But when you make a “w” sound, you push your lips together and push air very gently between the (bigger) gap.

Similarly, if your native language is Spanish, which replaces a “v” sound with “b”, you will have to teach yourself to make the English “b”. Instead of pressing your lips together to make the sound, you will have to practise moving your top lip back a little bit onto your bottom front teeth when you say a word like “violin”.

Remember, too, that not all words in English are pronounced exactly as they look on paper. Often, a word you assumed you knew how to say can surprise you when you hear it spoken out loud!

For example, words like “money”, “some”, “brother” and “love” are all spelled with an “o” but are actually pronounced like the “u” in “cup”, not the “o” in “hot”.

If you were to say these words as they look on paper, you would bring your lips forward as you make the sound, push the air down over the front part of your tongue to make a short “o”. However, when the word is pronounced correctly, you would make the “u” sound with your mouth open, pushing the air over your tongue at the back of your mouth.

If you’re not watching and listening closely, you might not notice this difference in pronunciation as English people are speaking. If so, you could find it hard to get the word exactly right.

By concentrating on the little details and copying how the sounds are made, you’ll be on the right track to pronouncing words just like a native English speaker.

Which words, consonants or vowel sounds do you find most difficult to say and why? Let us know in the comments section below!