Descriptions of British and American sounds and their correct articulation

When learning the correct English pronunciation, we need to focus on two things. The first one is bad news: many sounds of English may not have equivalents in your native language, while others will be (to a varied degree) somehow different than the sounds in your native language. The second one is good news: despite the differences, there are many similarities between the sounds of English and those of your native tongue, while learning those unique English sounds does not have to be mission impossible. Like every new skill that we want to acquire – riding a bike, playing the piano, etc., mastering the correct pronunciation takes time and systematic practice. It is difficult to say how much time one needs to spend to achieve satisfactory effects, or how quick the progress will be made, because it all depends on our skills, motivation, and involvement.

If we are endowed with good musical hearing (yes, there is a scientifically proven correlation between good musical hearing and learning foreign languages!), it will be easier to learn pronunciation by imitating that of a native speaker. If our musical hearing is not that good, it still does not mean that our efforts will be fruitless. However, in that case we need to back the imitation of a native speaker with some basic knowledge on the ways different sounds are made.

Therefore, each chapter of Say It Right begins with a description of the sound, which focuses on the manner in which this sound is pronounced as compared to the closest sound in the learner's native language. These descriptions are clear and practical – we specify how particular speech organs behave during the production of that sound, how a given sound changes in the environment of other sounds, and what is the relation between the way the sound is pronounced and various, often numerous ways it is spelled.

It is advised that you spend a few moments reading these descriptions, because even if you are endowed with good musical hearing, the imitation of the native speaker's pronunciation may often not be enough. Sometimes, we need to KNOW what it is exactly that we have to do in order to pronounce a sound or its variants correctly. For example, in General American, it is customary to pronounce the consonant /t/ in certain contexts as a ‘tap’ or ‘flap’. The learner will usually recognize the sound /t/ in the native American pronunciation of such words as better or letter (especially, if they know these words), but they will also notice that it is pronounced quite differently than the /t/ in their native language. In such situations, the description of the sound is indispensable, for not knowing what a native speaker does when pronouncing a particular sound, the learner may find it impossible to imitate that pronunciation correctly.