Even if you have already finished learning how to pronounce the words in your learned second language, you will still need to pursue practicing. Pronouncing foreign words often requires you to adopt a new way of speaking, where the positions of your lips and tongue are very different from the way that you are used to.
Take for instance the Spanish “T” or “D”. Spanish language speakers position their tongues next to their teeth whenever they speak these sounds, something that native English speakers would not do for these letters specifically. This is applicable for English speakers when they are saying the “th” sound. Another example is the French “u” which is closest to the German “ü”. To properly say this vowel sound, you shape your lips like as if you are going to whistle, and then attempt to speak the “ee” sound (as in the word “seem”). The appropriate French “u” can be spoken simply if the lips are almost in the closed whistling form, while in English this sound is not present.
Learning how to structure the sounds in the foreign language that you are studying is not enough, however. You must be ready to spontaneously and instantly generate them whenever you speak or read that language. This simply means that you must prepare yourself for the appropriate articulation routinely, with no hesitation in thinking about it. Sometimes, this task is not simple, since when you are speaking another language, you must focus on so many things: subject matter, particular words, accurate grammar, etc. In considering pronunciation as well as all of these aspects of speaking, there is a large chance that one of the other areas mentioned will suffer. Therefore, you should attempt to practice pronunciation daily for the speaking to flow not only naturally but accurately.
The following is an exercise that will assist you highly on how to enhance and maintain your pronunciation. Acquire a book in your aimed language, ideally something that is not far-off from your reading capability, and covers a topic that is interesting for you. If you are a beginner, you could get a native speaker and pay them to record some pages of the reading material for you, so you can learn phonetically how the word should sound. You can also buy an audio book in your aimed language, and acquire the written form as well. Aim to read some paragraphs from that book daily, while following these guidelines:
- Read the paragraphs loudly for 5-10 minutes. Become used to your own voice speaking in an unfamiliar way. In the end, you want to get used to the pronunciation, and that will not be a simple task if you do not practice saying the words.
- Read very gradually, at least three times deliberately than your common manner, speaking in a slower pace and overstating each sound of the word you say. Attempt to speak every syllable of each word as precisely as possible, and as near to the native speaker’s pronunciation as you are able.
At some point in your life, you may have noticed that strange practice that teachers require students to carry out in acting school. They will request you to hold a pen in between your teeth, while at the same time reading a section of text. It is entirely unintelligible to anyone listening what it is that you are actually saying. However, this practice does give a little insight into becoming aware of how your mouth should shift to pronounce a word accurately. That pen in between the mouth drives you to tense the muscles in your mouth, tongue and lips to be able to make the words comprehensible. By carrying out this exercise yourself, you will become aware of which muscles are involved to generate different sounds. After some minutes of doing this, when you remove the pen from your mouth, you will observe that you will eventually say the words better than you did before you performed this exercise.
While this little trick is not necessary to apply when you are reading another language, you should still attempt to say each word with certainty, great accuracy and clarity, and need to be aware of the shape that your mouth is making. Do not hurry anything, instead, speak words slowly, paying close attention to the shape you make when you are at your most accurate. Read for around three minutes worth of words, then say the words or phrases again, aiming to enhance your initial reading. Then, if you are in the more advanced stage, you can increase your time from around 5-7 minutes worth of words with no repetition.
- Practice this daily, without fail, and you will soon see a marked improvement.
Skipping a day might feel necessary, but the slacker you are with your discipline, the more excuses you will start to make for yourself. After some weeks, you will observe that when you are reading a book in your target language, your reading level is faster, and your pronunciation of the language has enhanced considerably. Maintain this practice, ideally making it a regular habit. You will eventually observe the pay off!