Pronunciation is all about ‘how’ you say things. When you are learning a new language, it is difficult to make yourself sound just like a native speaker. It is a good goal to have, but is that really necessary?
I ‘still’ sound fairly British when I speak German, sometimes it drives me crazy! I have a good friend who has been in Germany just a few years longer than me and she doesn’t sound English at all when she speaks German. Naturally I could get upset about this or better still, DO something about it. For me though being self employed, the bottom line is that for my purposes my German pronunciation is actually fine.
Call me lazy if you will or smart for knowing where to draw the line and focus my attention on something else.
Aussprache ist zwar wichtig, aber mach dich nicht verruckt!
Es ist besser was falsches zu sagen
als gar nicht es erst mal zu wagen!
Pronunciation is important to make yourself understood but if someone is interested enough to hear what you have to say, they will make the effort to tune into your accent. Your accent is also a part of who you are. People actually quite like my English accent.
Cheat with online dictionaries
It’s natural to want to get it right though. There are lots of online dictionaries to use if you don’t know how a word should sound. With online dictionaries you are just a click away from pronunciation clarification. I often link to the more reliable dictionaries in my blog posts. This lets you familarise yourself with the pronunciation or clarify the meaning of any unfamiliar vocabulary as you read. It’s like an optional extra if you like for ‘deep readers’, depending on your schedule and language learning energy levels.
Now with the exception of beginners, I would always recommend a single language dictionary. It might seem like hard work to start with, but longer term, it accelerates and intensifies your language learning. It also gives you the skills to explain yourself if you have a memory block and cannot remember the word. It happens to us all!
For beginners though I appreciate that having a translation is helpful, to get you up and running in a language.
Favourite Online Dictionaries.
Try to use them at least once every day. Treat yourself to a notebook and write it down too for extra learning power.
Leo Great for giving you context and some abbreviations, colloquial uses of the word
MacMillan UK/US pronunciations
Cambridge (great for giving you grammatical reference and UK/US)
Urban Dictionary (some swearing)
Take a business term or verb that you struggle with, to try it each of the dictionaries with your own word, for yourself. In just 20 minutes you will get a feel for the different dictionaries. It is purely a matter of personal preference and purpose. Saving this blog post in your favourites would give you instant access to the list of links.
You will see that some tend to focus more on translation, whereas others help you to see how the word is used in context. By experimenting with each, you’ll soon get to know which dictionary will suit your needs. Some dictionaries will let you down from time to time, which is why it is good to have 3-5 dictionaries that you prefer using for you to be able to check meanings and pronunciation quickly.
Active versus Visual Learning Styles
I do think personally, that the kinesthetic (hands on) energy involved in looking up a word in a paper based dictionary helps you remember the words. The very movement of turning the pages causes your fingers to cross your midline, which is how the different parts of our brains are nudged into action.
There is an increasing amount of research in favour of offscreen learning retention but sadly a hard copy dictionary in isolation simply cannot help you with pronunciation or listening to the word.
Using a Kindle is great for looking up the meanings of words but as far as I am aware doesn’t help with pronunciation, feel free to let me know if you have found a kindle workaround. Fortunately most of us have smart phones within easy reach.
If you find it difficult to remember where the emphasis (Betönung) is on a word, you can simply devise your own special marking, mine for on screen (online learning) looks like this:
The business terms, strategic, career and colleague are are difficult for a lot of German speakers. So in addition to nudging my clients with voice recordings of the words to their smart phone via whats app or imessage, I encourage them to make notes similar to the ones above so that they ‘see’ how the word is said.
My handwritten pronunciation notes are a lot messier (mess – messy -messier) but they really have helped me learn four languages with relative precision. Nobody sees your notes! So use whatever your brain needs to help you remember. Find a form of secret shorthand that helps you, if it sticks, use it!
Visual learners will love these visual dictionaries:
http://www.visuwords.com/ no pronunciation but helps you work out how it fits into the language and what part of speech it is or can be.
Seeing how something is said …
….might sound quirky to you, but if you are a visual learner, as many of my clients are, you will totally get this. If you need to see how the word is written to be able to process it, then these pronunication notes will help you. I strongly suggest that you come up with your own approach, but be consistent and if colour coding works for you then go for it but keep to the same colours. Maximise on your learning style!
In his book Visual Impact Visual Teaching, Timothy Gangwer claims that 90% of all data that the brain processes is visual. Furthermore it is believed that 65 percent of people are visual learners, and the human brain purportedly processes visualization 60,000 times faster that it does written content.
Use the voice recorder on your phone
The reason why I send language feedback by Whats App voice message, is that you have access to it anywhere and you literally only need a second to give yourself a pronunciation workout. In just a few moments, you can send me as your trainer, your own voice recording so that I can hear whether you are getting it right. Language Feedback to go.
It’s not rocket science, but it works because it is tailor made! That’s the kind of language training that really sparks my fire! I love helping women with very individual language learning needs and soon I will be introducing a membership club where every member gets a taste of that special treatment.
My personal clients love this support and very rarely get those words wrong afterwards. Result!
Be warned! I often use the steps on a walk during my #languagenergy programmes to work on pronunciation drills too.
The Parrot Principle
I used to go out with a fella (boyfriend) whose Mum kept parrots, my favourite was an African Grey, not a colourful one but it was REALLY vocal (talked a lot). I soon learned that pulling off his cover first thing in the morning, was NOT the best way to make friends and influence people. Oops!
The moment you took his cover, he was off! He recited every single thing in his repetoire and the interesting thing for me, was that you could hear exactly who had taught him something, because he had exactly the same voice. It was uncanny. He was taught “Pete’s been shot!” by the youngest brother who was once shot in the US and got away with a party trick shot wound.
Anyway I digress…so repetition, just like you would teach a parrot to say something is not to be sniggered at. When I learn a new word or name actually in German, I try to say it either in my head or out loud in conversation at least three times in the next 20 minutes. The trick is … not to sound like a parrot!
Sometimes if it was something important I would ask mid sentence if it was ok if I wrote it down (often work based vocabulary) which very few people take offence to. Actually most are quite impressed, it is a clear indicator that you are genuinely keen to learn the language. This has the knock on effect of your friends and colleagues being more supportive of your language learning efforts with corrections etc.
Your Memory is Motivated by Importance
I once did some walk & talk coaching with Jesta Phoenix who said that actually if something is genuinely important, you are unlikely to forget it. She prompted me in the accountability phase but actually I hadn’t forgotten at all, because we had found the solution together.
It depends on the situation of course, but if I can repeat the word or name at least three times, I’ve normally got it. Now this isn’t because I am a linguistic diva or anything, it is just a matter of practice. If you do this for a new word up to three times a day your brain will get the workout it needs to help you remember. Your brain is a muscle. Use it or lose it.
When you are mingling over coffee with strangers, you can easily learn their names. Just use their name in the conversation with comments like “So Sylvia, where are you based?” or “Where are you based Jörg?” rather than “So where are you based?”. It doesn’t sound unnatural if you don’t over do it. Ultimately, we all like to be remembered by name – even if there are a lot of new faces.
If you learned to read using the phonics you will automatically know what I mean about creating and practicing pronunciation patterns or rhyming lists of words.
Tongue Twisters are a great way of doing this and please don’t ask me where I get these from, I make them up for my clients depending on which words are causing problems. I quite enjoy this part of my work, I think it is a throw back to my poem writing childhood.
Rinse and Repeat is definetly a strategy worth experimenting with:
Compare these words, they all have an ‘….ician’ ending and they trip up a lot of non native speakers. The trick is to put the emphasis in the middle
politician … poliTIcian
magician … magIcian
electrician … electRICian
So pronunciation is a relatively easy language learning challenge to overcome because there are LOTS of resources out there to help you. I have one last vital tip to help you and it is a passive learning approach that you can do literally anywhere on the device of your choice. Listen to native speakers, through the news.
Podcasts are like niche/specific topic radio shows. You can find them via Itunes, Mixlr, Overcast. You are in control here, which is great, you can change the speed setting of a podcast or listen to a section again.
Vlogs (video blogs) are great for this too & you tube channels. As your English improves the better it gets. If you listen every day, you will soon have more freedom to listen to shows about things that you are interested in on a personal or professional level. Podcasts are very specific and hence more relevant than commercial radio.
Insider Tip. Choose the dullest job you have to do that requires little to no brain power, then listen to podcasts in that time, mine is ironing.
Of course if you have a digital radio you have no excuses at all and should be tuning in regularly to hear something that you are interested in. This is a great way to get the rest of the family learning English by osmosis too 😉
Include English into your routine for a self made immersion course of your own without having to take time away from your job or family.