Saturday, 25 September 2010

beyond motivation

This is a continuation of my blog of the 22nd of September:
Learning the pronunciation of English as a foreign language is not just a matter of motivating yourself properly. You've got to know what to do to produce a particular English sound or sound sequence. Explaining, giving examples and providing exercises is all a teacher can do besides motivating you.
A piano teacher can explain to you the fingering of a chromatic scale, the teacher can demonstrate it and she or he will then ask you to practise playing the scale until you can perform it flawlessly. But it's you who has to practise, and you have to practise hard. If you've ever tried to play an instrument you will know from experience what a long and winding road it is to be able to play a chromatic scale in, say, C major impeccably not only adagio but also presto.

From fingering to articulation (not far off, is it?):
Here are some hints and tips:
  1. Practise on a daily basis (make sure you understand the meaning of 'daily').
  2. Practising a sound problem for 10-15 mins per day is more efficient than one hour twice a week.
  3. Use the technique of soliloquy in case nobody is present who can monitor you; talk to yourself loudly repeating one or two of the problem sounds embedded in words or short phrases.
  4. Speak slowly – don’t rush! Give your articulators and your brain time to learn these rapid movements and delicate co-ordinations – you are a human being, not a robot.
  5. Make transitions between sounds smoothly. When you practise sound combinations that you have difficulties with, start at such a slow speed that allows you to articulate this combination smoothly, without any pause between the sounds; if you mess it up, produce it even more slowly.
  6. Have someone competent monitor your attempts. In all probability, your self-discrimination is very poor at the beginning. Mistrust your ears! 
  7. The person monitoring you has to combine in him- or herself three faculties:
    1. The person must have a good pronunciation and
    2. the person must be able to spot every mistake you make and
    3. the person must kick you in the shins whenever you make a mistake.
  8. Try backward-chaining complicated phrases, i.e. piece a complicated phrase together backwards. Here's an example:
    • thread
    • and thread
    • needle and thread
    • a needle and thread
    • for a needle and thread
    • looking for a needle and thread
    • I'm looking for a needle and thread
  9. Make and audio or video recording and evaluate your pronunciation critically - very critically.
  10. Shadow a native speaker of English, i.e. try to repeat what the speaker says while she or he is speaking.
  11. Don't trust a native speaker who says: "Oh, your English is so good!" He or she is simply being polite.


  1. Fine! But one hopes that it's understood by all readers that it's recordings that are recommended for that shadowing and not live speakers!

  2. @Anonymous:
    Shadowing a live native speaker will certainly provoke some interesting reactions in him/her