Pronunciation is important

Similar to grammar, where one small, seemingly inconspicuous mistake may change the meaning of the whole utterance (e.g. to have a company is quite different from to have company, and What are you doing? is not the same as What do you do?), errors in pronunciation lead to miscommunication and may make us sound funny, meaningless, or even vulgar. In the modern world, where communicating in foreign languages, particularly English has become indispensable, speaking a foreign language well may have a decisive impact on our lives – it may help us find a better job, become a part of a new environment, or even... finding a life partner. In short, the better and more correct our speech is, the more seriously we will be treated by our interlocutors. Recent research shows that speaking incorrectly impedes communication and lowers the speaker's credibility. The Say It Right course includes a plethora of suggestions what to do in order to make our English sound not just “more or less OK” but close to the original.

Problems with mastering the correct English pronunciation are caused by several reasons. One of them is a quite complicated system of grapho-phonemic relations. The English alphabet features 26 letters, but the number of phonemes is way over 40.

Besides that, English has a complex system of word stress, in which the primary stress is not fixed and may fall on any syllable in a word. The occurrence of strongly reduced syllables often makes it very difficult for learners to understand native speakers. We must remember that learning pronunciation is not only meant to make our speech understandable to others, but also make us understand the speech of others.

What exactly is correct pronunciation?

A correct pronunciation is one that does not impede communication and allows the speaker to successfully convey the intended meaning. This criterion, though allowing to communicate, might turn out to be insufficient, however, particularly when one finds oneself in an English-speaking environment. It would be desirable then to not only speak correctly, but also in a native-like manner.

Why is improving your pronunciation worth trying?

Similar to grammar mistakes, where a tiny and seemingly innocent difference may cause an essential change in meaning (e.g. to have a company means something totally different from to have company, while a question What are you doing? is not the same as What do you do?), pronunciation mistakes lead to misunderstandings and may sound funny, nonsensical or even obscene. In today’s ever-changing world of communication, in which foreign languages, especially English, have become a common requirement, pronunciation may contribute to our success or failure – getting a better job, becoming a part of a new environment, making acquaintances, or even… finding a life partner. In short, the more correct our communication is, the more seriously our interlocutors will treat us. This course offers a great number of tips to help make your English sound not only correct but also native-like.

What is the cause of incorrect pronunciation?

Most pronunciation problems do not result from any specific difficulty in learning sounds. They are rather a consequence of insufficient exposure to native-speaker English and relying too much on the written word (which leads to the so-called spelling pronunciation), as well as a strong negative impact of different pronunciation rules of one’s mother tongue. It is not possible to develop the ability to dance or ride a bike by just learning from books. Similarly, mastering foreign pronunciation requires most of all exposure to the sounds of the foreign language we are learning. And so, this textbook is only to supplement the essential part, which is a fully interactive multimedia program with practical sound descriptions, animations, videos and thousands of examples of words, phrases, sentences, and texts for listening and repetition.

Can you learn the correct pronunciation on your own?

The answer to this question is not an easy one. Even children acquiring their mother tongue need a considerable amount of time to master some sounds (5-6 years), although their “learning” is almost continuous. After all, they are constantly being exposed to the language, and can be repeatedly given feedback. However, the success in acquiring a mother tongue has a negative impact on learning a foreign language, as the pronunciation rules in one’s mother tongue are usually not just different, but often quite contradictory to the rules of the language one wants to learn (e.g. the rule of devoicing consonants in the final position in Polish, causing the words kod and kot to sound identical, will lead to miscommunication in English, making the sentence Hey, bud! sound like Hey, butt!). That is why many learners find it hard to switch from their first language to a foreign language, or to stop the rules of a foreign language being substituted by the rules of one’s mother tongue. Those who manage to achieve this to an excellent degree are called bilingual speakers – individuals who have perfect command of two languages. In the case of pronunciation, it is quite difficult and depends on various abilities, e.g. a good ear for music, though it does not necessarily need to be an innate feature. A musical ear can be successfully trained, and those are naturally endowed with a good musical hearing or who have developed it will find mastering pronunciation on their own much easier.

How to be successful?

There are no magic tricks for mastering correct pronunciation. The only way is systematic exposure to authentic spoken English, as well as regular practice. The most important strategies to learn correct pronunciation are presented below:

1. listen to authentic English every day (even 15 minutes will do, but it must be done regularly)

2. repeat, repeat, and repeat again – according to a well-known quote by Thomas Alva Edison, “A genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
3. slow down a bit while reading and speaking in English – you will not lose particular sounds, especially those at the end of a word
4. put more effort into articulation – the exaggerated correctness, especially at the elementary stages of working on pronunciation, is not only recommended, but simply desirable
5. observe mouth movements in native speakers and try to imitate what they do
6. pay attention to certain regularities that occur between spelling and pronunciation
7. when you learn a new word, don't just learn its meaning, but make sure you know how to pronounce and stress it correctly.

What is our method of learning pronunciation all about?

Some people believe that the best way to master a foreign language, including its pronunciation, is by creating an environment in which the learning process takes place somewhat out of the context of one’s mother tongue. Such an approach does not necessarily need to be effective, though. After all, we can find numerous examples of people who have lived for many years in a foreign language environment, but have never erased their foreign accent. Therefore, the environment itself does not suffice, especially if one starts learning a foreign language in adolescence or adulthood. We are convinced that foreign language learners should use references to their mother tongue. We have, therefore, created a language course in which all the sounds of English are described in relation to the learner's native language. Whenever substituting an English sound with a similar one does not lead to miscommunication, we inform about it openly, at the same time pointing to what needs to be done if one wants to speak in a native-like manner. It is important to remember that this course is only one of many learning tools, and it will not relieve the learner at a regular practice and frequent exposure to the sounds of the English language.

Who can benefit from the course?

It is intended for everyone who is studying English, regardless of the level. Moreover, it is intended for those who know English and use it for everyday purposes, but are aware of the fact that their pronunciation is far from perfect. And finally, it is intended for teachers of English at all levels who do not want to neglect teaching pronunciation and have to prepare their own teaching materials or use foreign publications, which do not take into account the specificities of their learners' mother tongue. The course can be covered individually, but it can also be used as a supplement to various teaching materials. Its great advantage is its ease of use, as the chapters have not been arranged in any obligatory order. Studying a chapter takes no more than half an hour. Just remember to do it systematically and revise what has been covered, until the new pronunciation habits become fully automated.