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Journal on Improving English Pronunciation

Learning a new language can be very overwhelming at first, but as you begin to understand words, these form a scaffold upon which you can understand in context. This then begins a cycle that helps towards achieving fluency in the target language. For Spanish people who have achieved a level of fluency in English, the next step is to improve pronunciation. While literacy is easy to achieve because most Spanish people are familiar with English, the problem is with the accent, which can make some English words unintelligible to the listener.

Knowing how to speak English will not be of much value if you cannot be understood because of how you say it. Pronunciation can be a barrier in communication, so being able to say words correctly is crucial. The good thing is that accent is very easy to neutralize. Speech production is universal and the mechanism is the same for all of us. As such, we can learn to produce old sounds in new ways, such as when we attempt to pronounce a word differently.

When we study a new language, it is important to pay careful attention to the phonetic variations which occur to prompt our speech articulators to make the appropriate adjustments (Heward, 1987). For example, the “r” is pronounced differently between the two languages. The “r” in Spanish is more forceful and stressed while the “r” in English has a more gliding, fluid quality to it. It is also equally important to take note of the presence of sounds in the target language that does not exist in the mother tongue.

For example, the short /i/ sound, as in the English words bit and kid, does not exist in Spanish (Mora, 2002), and therefore has to be learned from scratch. This conscious production is necessary so that we can train the articulators to change its speech production habits. After knowing how the target sound is produced, the key is to constantly apply it until the body remembers it on its own without any conscious control on our part. Initially feedback is necessary; we need to listen to how we make the sounds so that we can make the mechanical adaptations necessary to achieve the change.

To address this, we can record ourselves and monitor our progress as we continue to practice. Hearing how we improve over time is inspiring and encouraging. It is very much similar to learning the guitar, at first our fingers are stiff, but with constant practice our hands retain a memory of its own and we can play beautiful music without having to look at where our fingers are placed in the fret board.

REFERENCES:

Crystal, D. (1987). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. P. 161 Mora, J. (2002) Metalinguistic Transfer in Spanish/English Biliteracy. San Diego State http://go.sdsu.edu/education/

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