So what does this mean for a person who wants to speak "correctly"?
It means developing the understanding that what might be acceptable
in one setting may not be in another and having the flexibility, knowledge, willingness, and motivation to
The impact of sounding "wrong"
Offending your listener's ears is hardly a grievous crime, but it is
one that can boomerang. The real victim of your perceived lack of "proper"
pronunciation is not your audience but potentially yourself.
For some people, mispronunciation is an irritation that detracts from
whatever you are speaking about. Instead of hearing your message, your
listeners hear what they interpret as sloppy or poor English. On the
basis of that impression they judge you.
Did you know the quality of your voice helps determine what people think about you?
First impressions are not only formed and by looking good; dressing well and walking tall, but sounding good too.
In some settings how you pronounce your words matters. Think about a job
interview or giving a formal speech and you'll realize the impression
you create counts. How you pronounce your words can make a positive
difference. So aside from making sure you are saying names and any
specialist vocabulary correctly, listen to yourself and really hear how
you habitually speak.
Frequently mispronounced words and phrases
Here's a list of commonly mispronounced words and phrases that
can quickly close off ears, hearts and minds. Mostly they are the
result of habitual speed. Slow down while trying their proper
pronunciation (sounding the syllables clearly) out loud.
anything, everything, nothing, something The 'ing' is replaced with 'ink'
I am going The words are abbreviated to 'I'm gunna'
I have got to The words are abbreviated to 'I gotta'
I want to The words are abbreviated to 'I wanna'
Let me The words are abbreviated to 'Lemme'
I am not The words are abbreviated to 'I ain't'
matter, flutter, butter, splatter, stutter... Words with 'tt' which are pronounced as 'dd' so they become 'madder', 'fludder', 'budder' ...
ask The 'k' gets left off. The word becomes 'ax' as in 'I wanna ax a question.'
to Its two letters are abbreviated to one; 't' as in 'I'm gonna go t town.'
Don't you? The phrase is abbreviated to 'Doncha?'
How did you...?, Where did you...?, What did you...?
These three are commonly abbreviated to 'howdja', 'wheredja' and 'whadja'
Examples: 'Howdja get here?', 'Wheredja come from?', 'Whadja do last night?'
Proper pronunciation training
The ability to speak "proper" English doesn't necessarily mean that
you're going to lose your accent or turn into a snob - a person who
considers themselves better than others purely because they pronounce
their words carefully.
What it will do is give you choice, more control. You can choose your
pronunciation and words to fit the setting and that's got to be a good
Here are 3 options for those of you who want to take it further.
Check this list of100 Beastly Mispronunciations from The Big Book Of Beastly Mispronunciations: The Complete Opinionated Guide For The Careful Speaker by Charles Harrington Elster.
You'll find less common examples than the ones I listed above. If you
or somebody you know habitually mispronounces words like "newspaper" or "with" or "diagnosis", then this is essential.
These are weekly lessons in pronunciation from Seattle Learning
Academy especially for non-native English speakers that provide
practical specialist professional advice. You can also read my interview with Mandy Egle, founder of the Seattle Learning Academy, and producer of the popular podcasts (above) talking about American English pronunciation training.
This is a free self-paced course from Natalie
Baker-Shirer (in collaboration with Renee Fisher) who teaches speech and phonetics
at the Carnegie Mellon University.
From the course description:
"The purpose is not to increase your vocabulary, nor to improve your
grammar, but to deal with the sounds of the words that you speak. Your
message is of primary importance, but it may not be understood if your
pronunciation is imprecise, inconsistent, or regional."