English pronunciation: practice makes perfect?

Learning a new accent is physical. In accent reduction, our mouth muscles learn new, unfamiliar positions and movements, so we need to  practice independently between sessions to develop new muscle memory, just like learning to drive, dance, or play a musical instrument.

I can always tell when my clients practise. They come to the next session with the latest learning point more integrated: one step further along the path of confidently producing and ‘owning’ a vowel, consonant or rhythm aspect. Lack of practice can make the next session feel a bit like starting again.

Practise pronunciation little and often

Years of accent coaching have taught me that successful practice is about quality over quantity. More noticeable progress tends to come with 10-15 minutes of focused practice per day than from a rushed hour the night before the next lesson! By focused practice, I mean reflective, gently critical and engaged: noticing and adjusting the mouth positions according to feedback given by me and comparing with the supporting audio and video material.

While I encourage my clients to practise with the material I provide (worksheets, audio and video), there are other fun ways we can slide our new pronunciation habits into our lives! Schedules are busy, lockdown or not, so any habit that can integrate into our routine has the best chance of staying. Some of these may be even easier when working from home…

Tips for accent reduction practice in daily life:

  1. Talk to yourself 

Working at home alone? Or even in a room alone? Narrate to yourself (or your pet) as you go about your daily activities. Exaggerate, correct yourself and have fun. This is a great low-pressure way to build muscle memory.

  1. Articulation exercises in the bathroom

Yes, including the one where you stick your tongue out. It only takes a minute and only your mirror has to know!

  1. Read aloud (alone or with audience)

Similar to #1 but without having to think about what you say. Start with 30 seconds’ reading aloud of a couple of paragraphs from a book or article, a poem…or your own work emails (great for using the words you’re likely to say most often in real life).

  1. Audio diary

Like #1 but recorded – record yourself talking about your day for 30 seconds. This is particularly useful when you listen to and assess yourself afterwards. 

  1. Video diary

As above – great for checking your position of a particular vowel or consonant (compare it with my demo videos).

  1. Get specific

Every day, pick one vowel or consonant to focus on. Let the others slide for that day and be meticulous about that one. Change to another one the next day.

  1. Zoom challenge

In your next online meeting, use one or two words that contain your sound of the day (see #6).

  1. Zoom advantage

Studies show that we need to focus a little harder on video calls than in face to face conversations. Turn this into a practice opportunity by articulating more carefully than you would face to face, as if people had to lip-read you.

  1. Take it outdoors

Go for your walk or run with pronunciation audio files in your earphones for company. Find a quiet corner of the park and repeat in peace!

     10.    Mini-habits

Repeat 3 words, read aloud one sentence, speak in your new accent for 10 seconds. You’ll probably then ‘get into it’ and end up practising for longer…

Finally, enjoy: these new sounds belong to you as much as they do to anyone else 😊 Practice can make perfect. Practice definitely gives results.

If you’re already working with me and have any questions about how you can make the above work for you, send me an email or let’s discuss it in our next session.

If you are not working with me and are thinking of starting accent reduction or voice training, contact me at sonya@vocalchoice.co.uk