How to learn pronunciation in a foreign language
Start with Minimal Pair Training to train your ears
Your target language is going to have a number of new sounds that are subtly different from the sounds you grew up hearing. The easiest, most effective way to learn to hear these new sounds is through Minimal Pair Training: You take pairs of similar words (in English, you’d want pairs like niece and knees, rock and lock, beat and bit), listen to one of them at random (“rock”), guess which one you think you hear (“lock?”), and get feedback as to whether you got it right or not (bzzt. It was “rock”). Every time you go through this cycle, your brain gets better at hearing the new sounds of your target language. I’m making it a mission of mine to provide minimal pair trainers in as many languages as I can, because they work so much better than anything else I’ve seen. I made a Hungarian trainer for myself and learned all of the sounds of Hungarian in 10 days (at ~20 minutes a day. It was stupidly fast.)
Then train your mouth with the International Phonetic Alphabet (in English)
You can’t work on another language’s pronunciation until you understand your own. I’ve made a series of video tutorials on English pronunciation and the IPA. Watch them, and if you need a reference, play around with these two charts:
Many of the letters are the same, and a few are different. Do you need to memorize the IPA? Not really, but memorizing it can help simplify your studies, particularly if you want to learn multiple languages. Once you know the IPA, it becomes a lot easier to read the pronunciation entries in most dictionaries, and compare what’s going on in your mouth in English (and any other languages you speak) to what should be going on in your mouth in your target language. It’s also very easy to learn. Just put each IPA symbol you need into Anki and learn them; it can take you less than a week to memorize them. If you want to save time, I’ve made an English IPA deck with audio files.
Your goal is to understand:
- The location of each sound (lips (b,p,m) vs teeth (th), for example)
- The method of making each sound (with an explosion of air, like “t” or with a rushing, turbulent sound like “s”, for example), and
- The concept of voicing (the difference between “t” and “d”, for example).