Skip to main content

How to Speak English With Confidence: my story and advice

Why my English wasn't improving 

Welcome! Korean is my mother tongue, and I started to speak English only after I came to America to pursue a PhD degree in philosophy. Naturally, my spoken English was not good, and frankly, was horrendous even to my ear. But I was optimistic. I thought that I should be able to speak English like a native naturally at some point, since, after all, if one lived in the US, one would acquire the language of the land without even trying: my case in point -- the language acquisition of infants. Time went on and my getting-by skills improved, but I still had to repeat some words to be understood by natives, which translated into losing confidence in my spoken English skills. When I thought my spoken English couldn't be helped came the realization that I should start from the beginning: learn pronunciation. When I learned the production mechanism of English vowels and consonants, I started to gain confidence in my English since natives understood me easily and I sounded better even to my own ears. 

Learn pronunciation

What is the moral of my story here for you? If you are struggling with your spoken English, above all, learn pronunciation. There are two reasons which explain why you cannot say some English words correctly even after a native would pronounce the words multiple times for you. One is that some of their constituents, vowels or consonants, don’t exist in your language, so you do not know how to produce them. Since you don’t know how, you will approximate the sound based on your own language, thus pronouncing the words incorrectly. To remedy this problem, you need to learn the production mechanism of the challenging vowels and consonants.  The other reason that you cannot say words correctly is that you cannot hear the difference between sounds that are clearly two different sounds to native ears. Your mouth cannot produce the sounds unless the brain registers them as different sounds. To hear the difference, you need to hear pairs of words that are the same except one phoneme. These pairs of words are called minimal pairs. 

Learn pronunciation correctly

Now that you know that you should work on your pronunciation, how or where should you learn it? While there are many books and YouTube channels on English pronunciation, most of them will not make much difference even after you finish them. These are some of the salient problems. One is that most of the lessons are not based on the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), the alphabet symbols created by linguists to transcribe the sound of language in a manner of one (sound)-to-one (symbol) correspondence. For this reason, their instructions can be confusing at times and even inconsistent. Secondly, they do not provide enough examples to make the lesson stick in the brain. Third, the lessons are done in a hodge-podge style, but what you need is a systematic, consistent and comprehensive approach to pronunciation such that once you finish the course, you should be able to say all words correctly. 

Learn pronunciation correctly from "English Pronunciation, the American way"

The course “English Pronunciation, the American way” is created to make a real difference to your pronunciation. In this course, you will learn the production mechanisms of American phonemes, the vowels and consonants of American English using the IPA symbols. You will learn all the phonemes occurring in the vowel chart and the consonant chart of American English. To be effective, each lesson covers a pair of phonemes that occur in adjacent places in the mouth, which can make it difficult for you to distinguish between them. To train your ear, this course provides an abundant number of minimal pairs of words that are based on similar sounding phonemes. When your ear can hear the difference, your mouth can make the difference. To help you practice all the target sounds, this course provides example words and sentences that have the target phoneme sounds.  

Learn connected speech

Learning pronunciation is not the end, but, actually, is the beginning of sounding native-like. There is still so much more to learn to sound natural.  Once you learn all the phonemes and individual word sounds, you should learn the sound of connected speech, that is, the sound of natural native speech. So in the last part of the "English Pronunciation, the American way" course, you will also learn the features of connected speech. 

Learn the rhythm and melody of English

When you master pronunciation, you should move on to learn the stress and intonation of English, that is, the musical aspects of English. Each language has its own rhythm and melody, which is called prosody in linguistics. The Korean rhythm, for instance, is dadadadada (called syllable timed). But the English rhythm is dadaTA, dadaTA (called stress-timed). If we don’t consciously learn the musical aspects of English, we will fall back to the tune of our own native language, which makes us speak English out of tune. This way of speaking English out of tune is the reason that non-native speech is intrinsically unpleasant. Learning the prosody of English will truly make you sound like a native. You will learn everything you need to know about the musical aspects of English in the "English Prosody" course,