Most IELTS students want to improve their pronunciation skills. In fact, many of them want to speak English like a native. It is certainly worth improving your pronunciation, but “speaking like a native” might be an unrealistic goal. The most important thing is to make your pronunciation clear enough that others can understand you. Besides, English is an international language. People in the UK sound very different to people in America, and they both sound different to people from Australia or South Africa. So an accent is not the most important thing. Just work on improving your pronunciation until you can speak clearly and precisely.
How to Practice Pronunciation
There are so many ways to practice pronunciation. Of course, just speaking often is useful to some extent. However, you do need some sort of feedback. You can speak with a language partner, if possible. If you must practice alone, then try recording your voice on your phone or computer, and then listening back. Perhaps listen to a recording of a native speaker and try imitating them. A great tool for this is a podcast or BBC news report.
You must pay attention to others as they speak in order to learn from them. Don’t be a passive listener – focus on the sounds and ask yourself, “Do I sound like that?” Be honest. Work towards eliminating any flaws from your pronunciation through practice. Anyone can speak English clearly given enough practice.
Be a Keen Observer
Language can be like learning a new sport. It’s a physical process sometimes. If you are really working hard to master the new sounds, it will hurt your face! It is likely that your native language and English employ slightly different muscles in the face to make sounds, so when learning English you should be focused on exercising these muscles. Look at native speakers as they speak and copy the movements. One of the biggest problems for English learners is that they don’t shape their mouths correctly for the right sounds.
Many English learners have trouble making the “th” sounds in English because your tongue has to come out from your mouth. It seems weird or even rude to many learners! However, it is perfectly normal in English. If you don’t stick your tongue out a little and blow in the right way, you simply can’t make the right sound. Many Chinese say “sank you!” instead of “thank you!” and many French say “zer!” instead of “there!” for this reason.
You can practice by watching your own mouth in a mirror to see if it’s making the right shapes, or by sticking your finger in front of your mouth to test if the tongue is in the right place.
Mind your Intonation
English is not a tonal language in the traditional sense (like Chinese or Vietnamese) but intonation makes all the difference. Students are often concerned with getting the correct sounds for each word as well as getting the words in the right place. This is all very well, but if you focus too much on those areas, you will forget the music of the language and sound like a robot. This is where it is really useful to listen to native speakers read full sentences and to copy them. After a while you’ll get the hang of it.
For practice, put some emphasis on the wrong syllable and see how weird it sounds! Then try the right syllable and you’ll get a feeling for how the language should be spoken.