Do you sometimes find English pronunciation difficult? Do you feel like you’re often listening to English and practising your pronunciation, but are unsure of how to improve even more? Well, there might be another way to help you improve your pronunciation that you haven’t considered before. You can use your own language, or other languages you know.
Using your own language for English pronunciation practice
One way to improve your English pronunciation using your own language is to:
- listen to English-speaking foreigners or tourists speaking your native language.
By doing this, you can hear what sounds in your language are similar or different from English sounds. This can help you identify areas where you may be struggling with pronunciation and work to improve them using what you already know.
Another way to improve your pronunciation of English sounds using your native language is to:
- watch videos or listen to podcasts of people speaking your language.
This can help you identify similarities that you may not have realised before.
You can also:
- listen for cognates.
Cognates are words that have a similar sound, spelling or meaning in a variety of languages. For example, ‘amigo’ means ‘friend’ in both Portuguese and Spanish. In Italian it’s ‘amico’ and in French, ‘ami’. Similarly, in Japanese, ‘naifu’ (ナイフ) and ‘fōku’ (フォーク) are similar to the English ‘knife’ and ‘fork’.
Recognising cognates can help you improve your English pronunciation by using the sounds you are already familiar with in your own language.
So, if you want to improve your English pronunciation using your own language, what exactly should you be listening for?
Focus on patterns
When you listen to or speak your own language, think about any patterns between English and your native language. These could be things such as similar grammar rules. In Spanish, for example, sentences are often formed in the same way as in English – subject, verb, object.
Focus on vocabulary
You could also focus on individual words which sound similar. For example, ‘water’ in English is ‘water’ in Dutch, and ‘wasser’ in German. This can help you with both pronunciation and also learning new vocabulary.
However, be careful to look out for false friends. These are words which sound the same or similar in your language, but have a completely different meaning in English. For example, the French word carte (card/menu) sounds the same as the English cart (a vehicle with two or four wheels), or embarazada (pregnant) in Spanish, sounds very similar to embarrassed in English (a feeling of shame or awkwardness).
Focus on phonemes
You can listen to individual sounds that exist in both English and your own language. For instance, in Mandarin, the sh and ch sounds are very similar in pronunciation to how they sound in English.
Focus on rhythm
Different languages use different timings. So, if your language is timed differently to English, pay attention to how an English speaker’s intonation differs. Do they go up at the end of a question or down? Do they have weaker and stronger sounds in words?
Listening to the rhythm of sentences can help you think about how English is different to your language, and what you can do differently to improve your English pronunciation.
Get practising to improve your English pronunciation
Improving your English pronunciation doesn’t need just involve listening to English and practising English sounds. By using your own language or languages you know, you can identify words, sounds or patterns that can help you improve your English pronunciation.
The more you listen to English, the more you’ll realise that the English language probably has some similarities to your own language in ways you hadn’t even considered.
Match the words or phrases to the correct explanation from the text.
- False friends
- Patterns in language
- Native language
- Words that have a similar, or the same, meaning in your own language as in English.
- The rise and fall of the voice when you speak.
- Words that sound similar or the same to your language but have a completely different meaning in English.
- The different sounds in words, e.g. sh, ch, d, t etc.
- The first language a person uses when they communicate.
- Grammar rules, such as sentence order.
Billie Jago is an ELT writer and teacher trainer, specialising in digital & assessments. She is the founder of the professional development podcast ELTcpd and co-founder of the digital ELT content agency, otterelt.