Stop “Bon-Jer”? Improve Pronunciation

French Language

Stop “Bon-Jer”? Improve Pronunciation

Accents Are Fine

When a Brazilian can not comprehend my Portuguese, I feel humiliated. I have even heard “I do not understand… can you say it in English?” and improve it.

These moments make you want to give up.

Do not. Deep breath.

Then recall:

Accents are usual.
You’re studying and traveling.
Improve your pronunciation by practicing. 

To reduce your anxiety, I will help you contextualize having an accent in this post. I will next show you how to improve foreign language pronunciation so native speakers can understand you.

Accents are fine.

First, accents are fine. Even fluent speakers have accents.

English has hundreds—maybe thousands—of accents. These are “correct” language usages. A Southern drawl is no better or worse than an Irish lilt or a Glaswegian twang. English fluency is unrelated to accent.

Like your second language. European, Brazilian, and Mozambican Portuguese are distinct. Quebec’s French differs from Senegal’s and France’s twenty-plus accents. Latin American Spanish accents differ from Castilian. So on.

All English speakers will have a second language accent. Let us discard the assumption that there is a “correct” accent for second language learners.
Target “good enough.”

To be understood, you must pronounce words near to how the listener expects them.

Languages exist to connect and communicate. Your language partner must understand you to communicate.

That means your pronunciation must be clear enough for your companion to understand.

Though challenging, do not give up. Pronunciation improves with practice. So practice

Listen to Native Speakers

Listening is the best technique to learn second language pronunciation. A lot.

Naturally, Pimsleur emphasizes audio. Native speaker audio samples help learners understand language pronunciation. Listening is vital to speaking successfully, especially if your second language has distinct sounds and phonemes than your mother tongue.

For language class supplementation, the Internet has many fantastic resources. Netflix, Spotify, Youtube, and podcasts have thousands of foreign-language films and shows. The alternatives are endless.

Find listening resources with:

Quality sound
Articulate speech—not mumbling. 
Clear, background-noise-free sound
A suitable speech rhythm for you to understand. For beginners, YouTube and Spotify allow you to slow down the music.

Listening to natives will help you replicate their pronunciation.

  1. Shadows

Shadowing enhances pronunciation.

Shadowing involves listening and repeating what you hear. You mimic the speaker instantly. You echo the voice you are listening to.

Shadowing helps you pronounce words and listen carefully. It strengthens muscles, improves prosody, rhythm, and tones. These are crucial to sounding native.

I appreciate this technique for numerous reasons:

Do it yourself.
Numerous studies prove its efficacy. 
No cost.
In the vehicle, on the bus, while walking—anywhere you can listen to audio.

Then how?

Native-speaker audio is best. Start with 2-minute clips. Pimsleur audio snippets work well. Find a podcast or YouTube video in your target language.
Read and comprehend the chosen portion. Beginners can find subtitles or copy the audio to read along.
Listen and copy. Imitate the speaker. Try the same clip several times.

This vigorous activity is surprising challenging and tiring. In your home language immersion program, try it for a few minutes each week.

  1. Record and Play Yourself on Your Phone

Listening to a recording of yourself can help you hear your pronunciation. It is surprising effective at revealing and changing our speech patterns.

It is awkward to talk to yourself and hear yourself speak another language, but it works.

If you are stuck for words, try these:

Consider a bakery, library, or café and talk to the cashier, librarian, or barista.
Pretend you are being interviewed about your life and respond.
Read aloud.

Record yourself, listen, and identify your weaknesses.

This strategy also lets you track language improvement. In 3–6 months, you will hear how much you have improved.

  1. Rehearse Sounds

The Pimsleur Method’s “back chaining” of new vocabulary helps improve pronunciation. A native speaker pronounces the last syllable of a new word, the learner repeats it, and the speaker continues, working backward.

Individual sounds need tongue, lip, teeth, and other movements. Our second language mouth movements are often unfamiliar.

Practice them. This improves speech and pronunciation physically. Feel it. After studying French, my mouth would sometimes hurt. Muscle development is good.

Practice each sound:

Imitate how indigenous make sounds. Watch your mouth with a mirror. Check your tongue and lips.
Learn difficult sounds on YouTube, like this French "r" video.

Practice more. You will develop native-speaker muscle memory over time.

  1. Native-Speaker Conversation

Talking to a native speaker improves your practice. You can meet with a practice partner or chat online. Free communication apps abound. My favorites:

HiTalk Tandem
Idyoma Talk 
Language exchange
Speaky HiNative Polyglot Club

Facebook language study groups, YouTube comments, and Reddit forums also have speakers. Here are some more online language exchange tips.
Employ a Tutor

As a language tutor, I do not recommend in-person classes or tutors. A tutor may be worth it if you wish to develop specific pronunciation skills.

Professional tutors can improve your pronunciation and help you spot problems. They provide frequent feedback and mimic better pronunciation.

Improve your pronunciation on your own or with your favorite online language study resources. However, a tutor may help if you need it.

  1. Forget English

We generally learn another language pronunciation using English, which makes it harder.

The Brazilian Real, for instance. Like me, native English speakers pronounce that word as “teal” or “seal”. North Americans say “rat” with a harsh “r”.

Portuguese isn’t English. For appropriate pronunciation, I must forget English. Portuguese “r” sounds like English “h”. Portuguese pronounces “–al” as “w”.

“Real” sounds more like “heow,” like a cat’s “meow.”

That is odd if you think in English. Don’t. Learn the language’s rules. Forget English.
Again, Do not Be Perfect

Language learning can bring out our insecurities. When we can not say what we want or someone does not understand us, we may worry about looking stupid.

I recommend changing your mindset to improve pronunciation. You are learning. Make mistakes. Practice will help you improve.

Do not aim for native-like pronunciation. If you arrive, amazing! do not worry. Learners should aim to be understood. And you can get there with deliberate practice.

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