English Pronunciation: Prepare to Speak
Meaning and Sound
English pronunciation is about sound, and sound is physical. In private classes and with English evaluations, most pronunciation tips involve the physical body, i.e. open the mouth more for the vowels, take deeper breaths and send the words across the room, or move the lips more to make the sound clear. Use the exercises below to improve your sounds generally.
Prepare to Speak
1) Posture–Make sure that you sit or stand with good posture. Place your shoulders back a little bit and let your back settle into its “natural” good posture–do not create posture with tension. There is an ideal place for your spine–find that, and you find your posture.
2) Breath–Breathe in and out deeply several times. Use your diaphragm muscle if you can. Imagine all your lungs fill with air–especially the bottom-most lungs (as these are most difficult to access). Use this time to remember your breath and loosen your whole body–let go of tension. You can also breathe out with a “huh” sound.
3) Face–Move your face around. Scrunch it into funny faces. Remove all tension from your face. After this, think about the sides of your face hanging loose, relaxed. Also, think about a small space between your teeth in order to release tension from your jaw.
4) The Lips–Sounds that use the lips are B, P, M, J, CH, SH, QU, W, the long E, the long O, the long U and OU/OW. Speak these sounds: bu, pu, mu, ju, chu, shu, qu, wu, ee, oh, ooh, ouch several times. As you do this, think about your lips moving. The “u” is the simple sound in “up.”
5) The Jaw–Sounds that use the jaw are the short A, short O, and the long I. Speak the sounds only or use simple words such as cat, cot, kite, bat, bought, bite, fat, fought, fight. Concentrate on moving your jaw a lot and without tension. Imagine it is a door hinge that is well-oiled.
6. The Tongue–We use the tongue several different ways. Back of the tongue sounds are: G, K, NG, NK. Front of the tongue sounds are: D, S, Z, L, N, T and TH. Middle of the tongue sounds (in which the entire tongue is tense) are: Y and R. Practice each of these: gu, ku, ing, ink, du, su, zu, lu, nu, tu, thu, yu, ru. Do this several times. Be aware of your tongue and what it does to make each of these sounds.
7. The Teeth–We make two sounds using the teeth and the lips: F and V. You can practice these as well by repeating fu, vu.
Now you are ready to speak–or practice pronunciation. The physical parts of your body that contribute to sound are loose. You have also given your body a short review class in how each sound is made–just as an athlete trains the body for an activity with repetitive motions.
American English has the point of resonance in the middle of the mouth. Removing tension also helps the sound to come from this place. Other languages have different points of resonance, i.e. in British English, it is the forward part of the mouth. If an American goes to Britain and chooses to speak with a British accent for a day, the mouth feels tired from the slightly forward positioning of the face. You may need to consider the point of resonance in your own language.