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Learn Pronunciation by Equating English Sounds to Your Native Language!

Hello everyone! 😉

Today let’s touch upon some English pronunciation related topic, namely – how you learn pronunciation of new English words and how to mimic the original pronunciation to the best of your benefit when you are trying to speak them out loud.

And here’s a very interesting situation I encountered a few days ago at work.

There’s a Polish girl in my workplace who’s only learning to speak English and she asks me questions through her friend whose English is much better and every day I have to answer a few questions in relation to how you say this or that particular thing in English or how you pronounce a certain word or phrase.

The other day, she asked me through her friend how to pronounce the word “drank” and then, to my big surprise, she repeated in perfect English “drank” and guess what happened?

I tried to think of why she didn’t make the typical mistake that so many foreign English speakers do when they read an English word letter by letter and then they would most likely say something like “drrrank” in case that particular language has the rolling ‘R’, as in my language.

In Latvian, we roll the ‘R’s and many native counterparts of mine would have said “drrrank” with a rolled ‘R’ sound!

So in this particular case Polish is a Slavic language, which is quite close to Russian. And it happens so that I speak Russian too and I know for a fact that all these languages have the rolling ‘R’s – so why did she not say, “drrrank”?

Why’d she say “drank” in perfect English?

Here’s why: she equated the English sounds to her native Polish sounds because she wasn’t looking at a written word but was simply trying to MIMIC what she heard!

LISTEN Instead of READING!

If she’d tried to READ the word “drank” she’d most likely pronounce it the wrong way simply because she’d read the letter ‘R’ the way it’s pronounced in her language.

Even if she went by the phonetic transcription /dræŋk/, it wouldn’t guarantee proper pronunciation of the letter ‘R’ simply because the ‘R’ sound is described using the same letter ‘r’ and it’s hard to change your perception of a sound if you look at the symbol representing it and your brain just wants to think it’s the same sound you’re used to produce when speaking in your native language ❗

Now, what happened when she tried to mimic what she was hearing was the following – she resembled the sound created by the first two letters – ‘d’ and ‘r’ – mixing together and she was very good at it because the resulting sound (which is actually quite hard to describe just using symbols – you have to watch the video above to hear it!) exists in the Polish language.

So when she pronounced the English word, “drank”, she did it with perfect pronunciation.

I was amazed at it, and it got me thinking – “This is the perfect way that any foreigner should learn to pronounce English words”!

Don’t read the word.

Don’t try to pronounce individual letters as such.

Just listen to how the word sounds, and try and mimic those sounds by equating them to your native language sounds!

Another example: the word “hamburger”.

I’ve heard on so many occasions that my native Latvian counterparts go by the letter by letter transcription. They read the word as if it were written in Latvian and the pronunciation they get is totally wrong (watch the video above to hear the exact way they pronounce it!)

Proper pronunciation of the word “hamburger” is more phonetic – not transcriptional – you don’t read the letters one by one and don’t read it out as if the actual word would be “hahmbuhrgehr”.

In reality it’s pronounced /ˈhæmˌbərɡər/ (American) or /ˈhæmˌbɜː(r)ɡə(r)/ (British), right? If my native counterparts would have observed the same principle as the Polish girl did at my work, they would have listened to the word without reading it and then they would find it so much easier to mimic that word because, surely, all those sounds exist in Latvian language anyway – “hembége”.

Well, the letter ‘R’ can be a little bit tricky, because such a sound doesn’t really exist in Latvian but then again you can imagine that that ‘R’ letter is omitted totally and it’s just a long “ehh”. “Hem-behhh-geh” or something like that.

The tongue would have to be adjusted a little bit – no doubt about it – but it’s not as hard as most people imagine ❗

And that’s the take home lesson today, my friends.

If you’re trying to improve your pronunciation or you’re learning new English vocabulary words, please don’t try to read them letter by letter and then pronounce those words by reading them out loud.

Instead, listen attentively and make yourself hear what sounds that word is comprised of!

Also Pay Attention to English Words Blending Together!

Let’s take this simple word combination: “last year”.

When you speak out loud in conversational language, you say: “lastcheer”, as if there’s a “t-c-h” sound in between – “Lastcheer”. But the thing is, I haven’t heard any Latvians here in Ireland who would say “lastcheer”!

Well, not that there’s anything wrong with pronouncing each word separately, but it just goes to show that the average foreigner is quite slow on picking up on how native English speakers pronounce certain word combinations.

Another example – “What you have to do”. Again, the words blend together and “what you” becomes “whatchu”.

So basically you have LISTEN to how native English speakers pronounce certain things and then don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to repeat it the exact same way you hear it.

“Whatchu’ve gotta do”.

“Lastcheer”.

Just close your eyes and try to just listen to sounds.

Don’t try to see the words written in front of you and don’t try to read them out loud because the English language is not a phonetic language (it doesn’t necessarily correspond to the actual letters that words are made up of).

More often than not, you have to listen to it and just hear sounds and try and mimic those sounds by equating them to your native language sounds and, if you don’t have those sounds in your native language, such as the ‘R’ sound, for example, then you just have to learn how to pronounce them.

You will be surprised, however, at how few such sounds there are – with a little bit of practice you can get most of them right within a matter of hours:

Sure, you may not be able to get them perfectly correctly, but that’s not the point.

You don’t have to aim for perfection; instead do your best to resemble native speakers and then cheat a little bit on those sounds you find it very hard to master!

For example, if you really can’t pronounce the ‘TH’ the ideal way with the tip of your tongue squeezed between your teeth, there are other ways to achieve that. Instead of saying “this” you can say “dis” and there’s nothing wrong with that!

So many native English speakers do that and it’s much, much better than saying “zis”, which is a typical mistake of so many Eastern Europeans who are trying to get pronunciation perfect and they end up saying “zis” just because their English teachers have probably forced them into this wrong habit!

Anyway, thanks for reading this article and watching this video!

If you have any questions, please feel free to publish them in the comment section below! 😉

Robby

P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • zako ikay

    robby thank you so much for the precious advice !,am highly grateful

  • Well, the only thing I can suggest is – keep mimicking native speakers. It doesn’t matter that you can’t focus on your comprehension at that particular moment in time. And if you think about it, just because you SAY IT OUT LOUD will definitely make you understand what you’re saying, right? I mean – it’s just impossible that you wouldn’t be able to understand what you’re saying! 😉

  • zako ikay

    yes i follow cnn , cuz l like news and the reporters stress on syllables .

  • Well, usually it would be somewhat more difficult to try an mimic the pronunciation AND maintain your own fluency; as far as not being able to mimic AND understand – well… That’s a bit unusual. My guess is that you’re trying to listen to something that’s maybe too difficult to understand?…

  • zako ikay

    ROBBY when i lisent to an English channel i get confused whether i focus on the understanding or pay intention to the pronunciation and try to mimic it , i cant manage to concentrate my mind on both
    arigato robby !

  • zakoiakapa

    ok.thanx

  • The bold sentences in black are just important points I’m making in the article, they’re not speech patterns or collocations, sorry for the confusion!

  • zakoiakapa

    one thing ,robby ,are the expressions colored by thick black also collocations or what ..cuz i want to beautify my speech naturally..thanks