English Pronunciation – Nailed It!
Pronunciation is important when speaking English, it may be the first thing that native speakers notice when talking with you. As a study abroad student to the US you spent countless hours learning English grammar, sentence structure, and vocabulary words. That time wasn’t wasted, not by a long shot… but, I’m also sure there was a point in your English language studies where you couldn’t get native speakers to understand your perfectly formed, grammatically exact, vocabulary rich sentences! “What?” was the response you most often heard. The problem was your pronunciation.
It takes about a hundred muscles to produce speech. It’s not only your tongue, lips, and jaws doing the heavy lifting; the chest, neck, even your brain play critical roles in speech production. The facial muscles are important not just to help pucker the lips, or stretch and contract the cheeks, but also for transmission of emotions. Think emotion isn’t an important factor in being understood? Try saying anything without it.
Tone of Voice and Pronunciation
Emotion affects the muscles of the diaphragm, the intercostals, and the larynx, or voice box. All of these muscles create “tone of voice”. Your tone of voice alone can communicate a wealth of information. Perhaps part of why your perfect English wasn’t understood was because your pronunciation was affected by your tone of voice, and your tone of voice was affected by a lack of confidence speaking English aloud outside of a classroom. That lack of confidence tightened your chest, squeezing your voice to a higher register, and allowed anxiety to be communicated through the expression on your face. Not to mention that tighter chest, neck, and facial muscles make creating certain vowel and consonant sounds difficult.
Every language requires speakers to train their muscles to produce the correct sounds. The English language has 44 phonemes, distinct sounds that make up individual words. It can feel strange to non-native English speakers to make some of the sounds because they require muscle combinations that may not be familiar. The most common English sounds that give people trouble are the “th”, “r”, “h”, and “l” sounds.
Studying English in the US gave you a leg up in your pronunciation skills. Speaking daily with native English speakers allowed you to correct and perfect the word sounds that most challenged you, making you more confident in your spoken English. Back home when you’re doing business with American partners your excellent pronunciation of commonly mispronounced English words will give your American coworkers confidence that you understand them.