Pronunciation is a physical exercise

If you’re learning a foreign language it helps to understand that pronunciation is a physical process, and that dealing with the way speech sounds are created makes you aware of how to improve your diction and accent.

Learning about how articulators (speech organs) interact in the sounds of foreign language can greatly improve the pronunciation. The underlying idea is that learners imitate (acquire) the pronunciation of the target language; for some people this acquisition is simple and easy, while other need to put more effort into it. However, this does not mean learners with difficulties cannot improve pronunciation. They only need to take a different approach. The speech organs are controlled by our brain, and we are unaware of this automated process when speaking our first language. It helps to reverse the flow: learn how sounds are spoken in foreign language, and make their correct pronunciation almost reflexive.

IPA Chart and Human Brain
IPA Chart and Human Brain

What’s so physical about pronunciation? Pronunciation is a complex synchronization of many muscles, primarily of those in the process of expiration and inspiration (lungs and diaphragm), muscles of jaw, face, larynx, and of course – tongue. The sound is produced when all speech organs are in correct position and when air from lungs makes vocal cords produce the sound which then resonates.

The conclusion is that you need to know how to position your lips, teeth and tongue, and how to control your breath while saying a sound. You should read the instructions, stand in front of a mirror, focus your attention on position of speech organs and try uttering the sound – and you repeat this time after time, hour after hour. In this way you exercise the pronunciation. Constant and vigorous practice is very important, but it is also important not to make the pronunciation improvement too “physical”, that is: you must listen how the sounds are vocalized by native speakers.

It is just like in any other form of exercise which includes precise movements and concentration; this also means that whole process will become automatic and easier to perform, and you will permanently improve your pronunciation.

For further reading and references visit Phonetics on Wikipedia, or browse some of the books about pronunciation.

3 responses to “Pronunciation is a physical exercise”

  1. I appreciate your summation of the complexities of pronunciation, and the way you present the learner’s challenge in an encouraging manner.

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