- How do I improve my Pronunciation?
When asked 3 things they would like to improve in their English communication, 9 people out of 10 will include pronunciation. However, sometimes improving your pronunciation isn’t easy and this is because while most people know their pronunciation needs improving, they can’t identify the specific problems they have.
And….you can’t fix what you can’t identify.
So, the first step towards fixing your pronunciation is to begin IDENTYFING areas that need improvement. It’s nearly impossible to hear yourself while you are speaking, so read your mini speeches and record yourself. Play the recording back and listen carefully for the following things.
Phonemes are the sound that make up words. A word like ‘because’, for example, has 7 letters but only 4 phonemes or sounds – b k au s. When we have difficulty pronouncing a word, it’s not usually with the entire word, but a specific phoneme or phonemes in the word. The key to improving your pronunciation of specific words is to identify the problematic phoneme. If you aren’t sure, access an online dictionary. Online dictionaries usually have pronunciation models, so you can listen to the way the word is pronounced.
A word is broken up into parts according to how many vowel sounds it has.
The word ‘speak’ has two vowels but only 1 vowel sound /ea/.
1 vowel sound = 1 part = 1 syllable
The word ‘present’ has two vowel sounds. 1 first in ‘pre’ the second in ‘sent’.
2 vowel sounds = two parts = two syllables.
When a word has more than one syllable, a certain syllable will be stressed. A stressed syllable sounds stronger and a little louder than the other syllables in the word.
Sometimes placing stress on different syllables can change the meaning of a word. In the word ‘present’ if we place the stress on the first syllable it will become a noun meaning ‘gift’, as in ‘birthday present’ or an adjective meaning to be ‘physically there’. However, if we place the stress on the second syllable it will become a verb as in ‘you need to present your ideas clearly’.
Try stressing these words as nouns, and then as verbs. The first syllable will normally be stressed for nouns and adjectives, and the second for verbs.
PREsent preSENT PROduce proDUCE DESert desERT
It can be tricky to work out which syllable to stress and sometime the rules change. The best way to check is with a dictionary. All dictionaries give the phonetic spelling of a word. This is where they show which syllable is stressed, usually with an apostrophe (‘) just before or just after the stressed syllable.
There are lots of free online dictionaries which you can access. Make the most of technology and resources
This kind of stress is different from word stress. While word stress stresses syllables, sentence stress stresses whole words. We can’t choose where to put word stress, it has rules. However, we can choose where to use sentence stress.
Sentence stress shows our listeners which parts of our sentences are the most important. It signals to the listener that certain information is important.
Look at this simple example:
Sentence stress is very important for a number of reasons.
In this example the speaker has chosen to stress two content words: very and number.
When stress is not used, or used incorrectly, the listener may misinterpret the meaning, or have difficulty identifying important concepts.
Try experimenting with sentence stress in this sentence. Which words would you stress?
I used to be terrified of public speaking, but now I love it!
Now listen. Which words does the speaker stress (listening icon)
Remember that with sentence stress, we choose which words to stress depending on our message and it importance.
If your voice is flat and lifeless, your audience will either fall asleep or find something far more interesting to do on their smart phone. Your voice should rise and fall at different moments during your delivery. It should be like the waves of the ocean. Intonation involves the pitch and the tone of your voice. When you are angry your voice deepens, when you are happy or excited your voice rises. This is what is known as intonation.
An easy way to improve your intonation is by practicing with some simple sentences.
This is what I sound like when I am angry.
This is what I sound like when I am excited.
This is what I sound like when I am scared.
And so on…
Put your emotion and feeling into the sentences as you say them. Record yourself and listen to the playback. How convincing are you?
Intonation also indicates important difference between sentence and statements.
You will hear the same sentence twice. Which is a question and which is a statement?
Intonation and Stress go hand in hand. They are important tools that every public speaker should learn to control and master.
Do you have a soft voice or a loud voice? If you have a loud voice, then consider yourself lucky. You are equipped with a natural public speaking skill. All you will need to do is practice volume control.
However, if you have softer voice then you will need to practice volume control AND projection.
Just like a speaker, your volume can be turned up and down. We can adjust our volume during our presentation for a number of reasons.
The distance between us and the farthest member of our audience. This will change if you’re are in amongst your audience and ‘working’ the room.
The emotion you want to convey. Are you serious? Are you excited? Are you shocked? Etc.
The type of audience you have. Are they young and energetic or an older audience?
Volume as a Tool
A great speaker doesn’t just use their voice to be heard, they use it as a tool, a gimmick. With their voice they can control the audience.
A keynote speaker walked up onto a stage in front of a large audience. The audience was a bustling group, who were chatting and joking loudly. They were making a lot of noise. As the speaker positioned herself to begin her presentation, most of the audience ignored her and keep chatting away. The speaker had a choice. She could start to yell and try to talk above her large boisterous audience, or she could try another tactic.
She left the stage briefly, retrieved a chair which she placed in the middle of the stage and sat down facing her audience. This began to attract the attention of some of the people in the room. They were curious. What was she doing with a chair? Why was she sitting down? She then began to speak softly and gesture with her hands. She spoke so softly that the few members of the audience who were paying attention had to strain to hear her. Her hand movements and facial expression was animated but they could hardly hear her voice. They began to shoosh the other members of the audience telling them to be quiet. Soon the room was full of shooshing sounds as more and more people tried to hear what the speaker was saying. It wasn’t long before the entire audience were straining to hear the speaker. Once she had the attention, she got up from the chair abruptly, projected her voice, and strode across the stage. She had captured her audience.
Do you speak naturally slowly or quickly in your first language? Do you need to slow down or speed up? Do you speak faster when you get nervous or excited? These are all questions you should ask yourself.
So, what is too fast or too slow?
A slow speaker speaks less than 110 words per minute
Average speaker 120 – 150 words per minute (conversational speed)
A moderately fast speaker 160 – 200 words per minute (news reader)
A very fast speaker 250 – 400 words per minute (a sports commentator or auctioneer)
A speaker who always speaks at the same pace is boring. The presentation becomes monotonous and the audience will lose interest and disengage. A good public speaker is aware of the speed they speak and can control it to suit their purposes.
There are a number of reasons you might want to alter the speed at which you speak during your presentation.
The audience is listening in their foreign language.
The speaker wants to develop an emotional mood
The content becomes more difficult to understand
The presenter notices the audience is straining to understand
Record yourself speaking for just a minute. Do you speak fast or slow? Is there a variety of speed in your delivery? If you are a naturally fast speaker you will need to practice ‘chunking’ your message and including pauses and breaths in the right places. If you speak too slowly, then practice speeding up. Watch out for excessive use of hesitation devices like ummm…er…. Etc. These can also slow you do
More articles about English Presentations
ESL Professional Ms. Sally
ILP ( International Language Programs)
EF ( English First)
- Academic Coordinator
- International Teacher Recruiter
- Teacher Trainer
- Production Manager
- Centre Manager
- A Qualified Cambridge YLE Speaking Examiner
- IELTS Instructor
- Communicative Language Teaching’ methodology Practitioner
- Business English Instructor