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[Speaking-Out-Loud October 2017]On perfecting pronunciation
October 25, 2017

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Graphic highlighting different ways to pronounce

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"OUGH" - There are many ways to say that group of letters!

If you're a non-native speaker of English you'll appreciate how hard it is to get those pesky words containing "ough" pronounced properly. There's rough which sounds like "ruff". And cough which sounds like "coff". In thorough it sounds like "err", and in thought it sounds like "or".

You have my sympathy. Learning to pronounce English words correctly is tough. (That's pronounced "tuff".) They can slip and slide in your mouth and emerge so disguised that very few people understand you.

The frustration of knowing you've got the right words to express what you want to say and, they're coming out wrongly, is huge. If you're asked to repeat yourself several times and you still get blank stares, I completely understand the temptation to give up.

Active listening

Here's a tip I know will help. It won't fix the problem immediately but practiced in conjunction with gaining vocabulary and grammar skills, it will help speed the process up. It's to actively listen. I am aware that may sound too easy and perhaps even patronizing.

Let me explain. If you are actively listening you are listening to and registering the patterning of language. You can hear the underlying musicality, its rhythms and beats, the stresses. All of which combine to carry meaning. A word by itself seldom does that. In context, in a sentence or a paragraph, meaning becomes clear.

Practicing actively listening can take many forms. Here's a couple.

  • Listen to stories/news being read aloud on podcasts.
    A great way to check your understanding is to stop the podcast after a sentence or two and put into your own words what you think you heard and then check with the transcript if there is one.

    Here's a link to the British Council Learn English podcasts. Don't be put off by the accents you'll hear and do allow yourself to explore the site fully. You'll find a full range of activities and supporting material, including transcripts, available for free.

    The British Council also has material especially geared for children.You'll find classic children's stories, tongue twisters and more to listen to.

  • Listen to podcasts of classic English short stories.
    Learn Out Loud has many freely available as well as a vast number covering all sorts of other subjects. You'll be listening to native speakers and absorbing the rhythms of the language. You may not understand everything you hear at first but it's perfect for an immersion experience!
  • Listen to classic children's stories.
    These ones are available with a transcript. They're great for practicing transcribing and delivery to get the flow of language - its pauses, pace and stresses. Once you have the meaning clear you can practice reading the story out loud using the audio as a model.

Speaking practice

Tuning your ears to English is good. When that is combined with training your mouth to produce the sounds you want you're well on the way to being able to communicate clearly in English.

Practice is the only method there is to become a proficient speaker. This is learning by doing which also means being prepared to allow yourself to be a beginner, to make mistakes, and then to learn from them. Making mistakes is an essential part of the process. You need them, I need them. We all need them to help us understand where we need to focus in order to move forward.

Here's two of the speech practice suggestions I use with the people I work with. I hope you find them useful too! Two weeks of ten to twenty minutes a day of focused practice and you'll hear a vast improvement in your speech! If you record yourself over that time you'll have irrefutable proof.

Speaking exercises

  • Tongue twisters - these are guaranteed to give you a thorough work out. I've included ones featuring the trickiest sounds in English to master, as well as an audio clip of myself. Follow the links on the page and you'll find other helpful exercises.
  • The Announcer's Test - an articulation test that was given to would-be announcers in the 1940s. It's a challenge! If you think you're ready for it download a pdf I made of it and get to work.


If you'd like one-to-one assistance, I offer coaching via skype. You can read more about that here: Skype coaching.

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From the there is always something to learn department

Here's a fabulous round-up page of English as a Second Language (ESL) resources - a collection of 43 valuable links.

Here's an example: Common English Errors. This is the website of Washington University Professor Paul Brians, featuring lists, with examples, of frequently made errors. For instance he explains the difference between the words "affect" and "effect".

If you're a teacher, a student, a non-native English speaker, or interested in exploring the language, you'll want to bookmark the page.

Comment, share & connect

If you've got comments, feedback or questions you're most welcome to contact me through my about me page.

If you liked this issue of Speaking-Out-Loud, please feel free to send it on to any friends or family. The site url to forward so they can subscribe is Speaking-Out-Loud.

And I'd love to see you on's face book page too.

Until next time,
Happy speaking,


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