Proper Pronunciation ...

What will speaking "proper" English do for you?

Do you say "I wanna " or "I want to" ?
Is it "gunna" or "going to" ?

English union jack
How many "proper" interpretations of English are there?

The proper pronunciation debate is ancient and not confined to English speakers. It's universal.

All over the world as soon as anyone is old enough to speak, there will be someone guiding their pronunciation in an attempt to make it "right". 

The interpretation of "right" or "proper" varies depending on where, who you are, and what is common or accepted practice in your community.

The study of those language preferences, their differences and effects is called sociolinguistics.

Speaking correctly

sociolinguistics

-the study of language in relation to social factors, including differences of regional, class, & occupational dialect, gender differences, & bilingualism.

For an overview see this Wikipedia page.

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 change.

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.

Find out about voice image.

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.

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 thing.

Here are 3 options for those of you who want to take it further.

1. Check this list of 100 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.

2. American English Podcasts

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.

3. American English Online

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." 





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