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Pronunciation Problems?

Do you know which sounds are difficult for YOU to make when you speak English?

I often asked this question to my students over the years when I was teaching in a classroom.

At first, I was surprised to hear this answer:

'No, teacher, please tell me!'

Now, I realize the reason why they did not know:

Most people do not listen to themselves carefully when they speak in their FIRST language and this is also true in a second language.

In fact, it is physically impossible for us to hear our voice the way other people hear our voice. This is why many people are surprised the first time they hear their own voice on a recording or in a video.

However, it IS possible to train ourselves to pronounce another language correctly.

Not all languages have the same sounds.

Some languages have similar sounds in them and others have sounds which are quite different.

Both Japanese and Spanish for example have 5 basic, similar vowel sounds. Therefore, it is easy for Spanish people to pronounce the vowels when learning Japanese, and vice-versa.

In English, however, each vowel symbol in the alphabet (a,e, i, o, u and sometimes y) has at least TWO sounds and can combine with other vowels to make more sounds. We also commonly use the unvoiced schwa sound, which is not common in many languages.

Check out the following table:

This table shows that there are many vowel sounds in English, which are not common to Spanish or Japanese.

In any case, the most common sounds in English which do not appear in many other languages are:

th, r and l

Can you pronounce these correctly in English?

Are there any other sounds you have difficulty pronouncing?

If you know what sounds you have trouble with, you can try this online resource:

If you would like me to assess your pronunciation problems during an IELTS speaking exam simulation:


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