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English pronunciation has evolved through the centuries, but its spelling seems to have remained fossilised in the Middle Ages when they started mixing up the letters in the printing press. Whatever the case may be, we still have to suffer the consequences of such carelessness.

‘He thought it was tough though…’


What makes up good pronunciation transcends how individual sounds and words sound. In a nutshell, we must consider how intonation, stress and connected speech affect the overall result. Small little words for big little concepts that shape our perception of the message to be interpreted.

Understand that…

INTONATION is what I like to call the music of the language, how our voice changes during a sentence; how our vocal cords dance up and down the scale to make the unique rhythm of any language.

STRESS means which words or syllables carry the ‘weight’, the ones that carry the most information. After all, content is not the same as content.

CONNECTED SPEECH is what happens in natural speech, due to the speed of delivery, we tend to join and connect words and sounds.

These features are not exclusive to English but rather occur in every language; for which reason people will transfer their native ‘song’ to the target language. However, let us not be confused between pronunciation and accent.




There are about 1.35 billion speakers of English around the globe and let it not be a surprise that the vast majority are non-native speakers. Linguists estimate that the ratio is roughly 3 to 1 (non-natives vs natives). So it should come as no surprise, that only 360 million speak it and acquire it as their mother tongue.

In general terms, accents are determined by factors such as where someone is from, socio-economic background, racial ethnicity, cultural influences, and age. Nonetheless, we accept it to be a fluid concept, this gives room to a certain ‘accent continuum’ which grants us the possibility of using big umbrella terms such ‘American’ or ‘British’ accents. These umbrellas, group a bunch of accents together because they share similar pronunciation features.


Oversimplifying is not only practical but necessary because the sheer variety is reflected by the fact that an accent does not only change from country to country or from city to city but from person to person. Melting pots such as London or New York are clear cut pictures of what an overwhelming task it would be to try narrow down and pinpoint what all these accents are; each with its individual characteristics and linguistic tricks.

Give or take, there are about 160 English dialects; these are divided into 3 big categories: the ones from North America, British Isles and Australasia.

Within each English-speaking country there is a form of language known as ‘Standard English’ but this is only the tip of the iceberg if we were to truly immerse ourselves in the topic. As much as I tempted to tell you about things like the ‘Queen’s English’, the different types of ‘Received pronunciation’, ‘Cockney’ or across the ocean the ‘Jersey/Bronx accent’ or even the failed attempt at a ‘Transatlantic accent’; there is so much to say that it would require writing a whole book about it.




Broadly speaking, British and American English are the reference norm for spoken and written English around the world which is what people understand as the English they want to learn.

Let it be crystal clear, that no one is better than the other.

Once again, beware that what you would like to improve is your pronunciation, not your accent. If we are to look at Cambridge advanced and proficiency speaking exam assessments, they evaluate pronunciation, so the highest band (mark) reads: ‘phonological features are used effectively to convey and enhance meaning’. To put it plainly, stop worrying about your accent and focus on how clearly you are delivering the message through intonation and stress, i.e., pronunciation.


PLAN OF ACTION to improve English from intermediate to advanced



As it has become the lingua franca -the language we use for business and education- of the world, we are constantly surrounded by English even when we are not aware of it. So, wake up, smell the coffee, and actively listen to some authentic English. There are several ways you may achieve this; the internet is your oyster. From watching news on the BBC (or whichever channel/app you like), to watching films or series in their original language to using YouTube, podcasts or talks such as TED talks. The one piece of advice I would give you is: let it be interesting to YOU because that will make all the difference.



You guessed it, this basically means to echo native speakers. Listen and repeat, and you are immediately working on pronunciation; intonation and stress all at once. Take advantage of your teachers as they will provide useful feedback but quite conveniently, it is also an exercise which you might do all on your own. Just turn on your device, choose Netflix/Prime/YouTube, have the subtitles turned on which would be ‘your script’, listen, repeat, and try to keep up the pace.



This is the best self-monitoring tool you will ever find when it comes to language learning.  Once you have developed a feel for the language and what it should sound like, train yourself to spot your weaknesses. Read an article or a book out loud. Do you understand yourself clearly? Are there any words or phrases you mispronounce time and again? As you repeat the drill, you will notice how you improve, pat yourself on the back for the things you did do right.



If you enjoy music, singing along your favourite lyrics may be quite liberating because most of us let ourselves go when singing. It whips away the fear of making mistakes and allows you to feel free of doubt and simply enjoy the moment. This might be more a tool to practice pronunciation of individual words, sounds or chunks of language rather than speech. But, by all means, dust off those mics and enjoy a karaoke night!



As silly as you might feel doing this, check it out and watch what you notice. Stand in front of a mirror, and observe the placement of your lips, tongue and how your mouth moves when you make certain sounds. Exaggerate the sounds, make it physical…try say ‘three’ while putting the palm of your hand in front of your lips to feel your warm breath as you hiss like a snake. Notice the difference with ‘tree’.

Different languages, use different muscles of the mouth so sometimes it feels very unnatural to say certain words. Compare yourself to a native speaker.


Try tongue twisters such as:

Which witch switched the Swiss wristwatches?



These are words which when you hear them sound almost but not quite identical since they have one sound that makes them different. A good example of this is ship vs sheep, the difference would be in the length of the vowel sound.


Other common examples would be:

  • CAT and CUT

  • MATCH and MUCH

  • IT and EAT

  • RUN and RAN

  • VOTE and BOAT

  • BEST and VEST

  • ICE vs EYES



What others can you think of? And if you are feeling particularly bold, would you be able to come up with your own tongue twister using minimal pairs?

English pronunciation is quite tricky, yet to advance your English, in part, means to train your listening skills and strengthening those mouth muscles through relentless practice because there is always room for improvement.

Nevertheless, please do not forget that there is no such thing as the perfect or neutral accent. Remember that, as long as your pronunciation does not get in the way of making yourself understood; you should honour and respect your identity as an English speaker because language belongs to anyone and everyone who speaks it.