Master Pronunciation Of A Foreign Language – How To Learn A Language On Your Own (Part 3)

Master Pronunciation Of A Foreign Language

Why even bother with studying pronunciation?

Well, as always, there are no easy answers. Some say it’s important to master the pronunciation of a foreign language. Some say it’s a waste of time

The question is – why should beginners and semi-advanced learners care?

There are some obvious benefits – the better your pronunciation, the bigger a chance that native speakers will understand you. It means that there is always some minimal amount of work that has to be done in order to talk with native speakers.

Otherwise, each person will soon get discouraged from talking to you and leave or get black-out drunk to match your level of mumbling.

But what comes next after you reach the level, where native speakers have no problems understanding you? Does it make sense to reach for the Holy Grail of learning languages – speaking with no accent?

Considering the amount of time needed, I dare to say no. It’s better to spend this time mastering grammar and vocabulary. I have never seen any point in pronouncing everything perfectly while still mixing up words and butchering grammar.

Many people claim to have achieved the level where there is no difference between them and native speakers. I believe that very often this is simply an exaggeration.

Typically, the longer someone talks to a native speaker, the bigger the chance that “the truth gets revealed”.

Ultimately, I’ll leave that for you to ponder. So what should you do to achieve good pronunciation as quickly as possible?

And to avoid such mistakes:

0. BRIEF (AND NOT SO BORING) THEORETICAL INTRO

 

It won’t take long, I promise. If you’re interested in practical tips, move to point 1.

To speak clearly, we must first understand what the (highly simplified) building blocks of pronunciation are.

  • Phonology – can be seen as “abstract, grammatical characterization of systems of sounds or signs”. Which means – what is the difference between sounds. What makes French language French and English English (and Hodor, Hodor, Hodor)
  • Phonetics – deals with “physiological production, acoustic properties, auditory perception, and neurophysiological status” of sounds. Basically, how to produce sounds.

As you can see, mastering pronunciation requires learning the aforementioned elements of a language of your choice.

Now, how to do it practically…

1. IDENTIFY ALIEN SOUNDS

As children, we have the ability to distinguish different sounds and “assemble” them into words (in other words, we combine phonemes into morphemes/words).

The sad part about learning new languages is that we mostly lose this ability when we grow up.
It means, that without preparation very often we won’t even know that we pronounce something incorrectly.

That’s why the first step to get familiar with pronunciation is to identify the sounds which you might even be not aware of.

How to do it

look it up in a dictionary

Every good dictionary has a description of sounds typical of the given language. What’s more – as I’ve written before, always try to choose a dictionary which includes phonetic transcription of words.

google it

” Language x (e.g. Swedish) phonology” will usually deliver best results.

visit mylanguages.org

It covers 80+ languages. Choose the one you want and click “alphabet”.

Now, after using any of these methods, you’ll end up looking confused at the strange set of characters. They are part of the International Phonetic Alphabet. They look scary but are not so difficult to learn.

To become even more aware of the differences between your native and target language, you should learn the sounds of English language. Here you can find an interactive phonetic chart for English.

2. TRAIN YOUR MOUTH TO PRONOUNCE SOUNDS

Congratulations, by now you should know more or less, what sounds you should pay attention to. To imitate them as precisely as it’s only possible, you need (ideally) combination of a couple of methods.

learn how to produce sounds mechanically

It’s a great starting point – grab a dictionary or some textbook and read a description of how you should pronounce given sounds. If the description is accompanied by a picture – even better.

Usually, the biggest problem is how to pronounce vowels. Since your tongue moves up and down, forward or backward, you have plenty of positions to experiment with.

Once (it seems that) you nail the target sound, try to memorize what the position of your tongue and lips was. And don’t be too quick thinking that it is over. You have to check it first. (see feedback)

start small

Choose only one or two sounds to begin with. Let’s say that you have no idea how to pronounce /æ/.

You check how to produce this sound on Wiki. Then you pick up a word or two and try to pronounce this sound as closely as possible. Say, this word is “tab”.

 

Master Pronunciation Of A Foreign Language

 

Once you are sure that the sound is pronounced decently, you can move on to other words.
Sounds like a lot of work but I assure you it’s not.

When I was a child I suffered from a really bad speech impediment and couldn’t pronounce a truckload of sounds in my native tongue.

Can you imagine how I talked to my parents or friends?
– “mc wohn sdno”
– “Yes honey, of course, we love you”

I used this method to learn how to express myself like a normal human being.

record yourself

Find some interesting text, grab a microphone or use your mobile and start reading aloud using the aforementioned rules.

How can you tell if you produce new sounds effectively?

It won’t be difficult – assuming that you did everything right, your mouth will hurt.
It means that you use muscles which haven’t been used before.

Of course, If you’re learning a language with a different alphabet, you should learn how to read it first.

3. LEARN HOW TO HEAR THE SOUNDS

 

Now, you can start practicing your hearing. You’ve successfully identified the sounds which are new to you. It’s time you started noticing them in sentences!

Such knowledge gives you immediate head-start when it comes to listening to and communicating with foreigners.

Remember, however, that grammar rules concerning your target language might alter your understanding of speech. Some sounds blend, others are silent or reduced.

For example, in French “à” followed by “le” combine to form “au.”

4. BE AWARE OF MISTAKES

It’s always safe to assume that you pronounce sounds at least partially incorrectly until you receive some kind of feedback. Such assumption can save you hours and hours of tears and frustration.

5. FEEDBACK

You need final confirmation of how awesome your pronunciation is. And who’s better to do it than native speakers?

If you have a tutor or friends who can help you – then great. Ask them all the questions you have and to correct you if there’s something wrong.

If you are on your own, try www.rhinospike.com
You can ask native speakers there to record some text for you and then you can use it to compare it with how you speak.

You can also use Google Translate or http://www.forvo.com/ to compare pronunciation of single words. But how will you know that you sound good enough?

You will sound in unison with the recording. Simple as that!

FINAL WORDS

As you can see, learning how to pronounce sounds can be turned into a relatively easy to execute the process. However, as always when it comes to mastering such complex task, the better you try to be, the more time-consuming it is.

And don’t beat yourself down, if it doesn’t work right away. Good things take time.

A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him David Brinkley

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to share it with your friends and join our community!

Do’s and Dont’s of Learning Languages – How to learn a language on your own (Part 2)

Dos and donts of learning languages

By now you should know clearly why you want to learn a language.

And don’t you ever forget about it. Let it be your guiding light. Now it’s time to learn how to organize your learning.

1. GET READY

Describing what it means to be ready is always quite tricky. The reason is simple – there won’t be many situations in your life when you feel really ready and the conditions are conducive. However, in the perfect sugar-coated world your readiness should involve three elements:

Being ready physically

Comfort is important. Before you start learning, make sure that you’re not hungry, tired or sick.
Get some snack or a nap if you have to. Otherwise a few minutes deep into the learning you will start having dirty fantasies about rubbing a chocolate on your chest while being wrapped up in sheets.

Being ready mentally

“Never despair, but if you do, work on in despair.”
Edmund Burke

Do your best to clear your head before you get down to learning. Stress is probably the worst enemy of effective studying. It dumbs you down drastically. Meditate, take a walk – do what it takes to unwind.
Anything is better than suddenly realizing that instead of being focused on learning you catch yourself plotting against your boss.

And come to terms with the fact that you’ll probably never be able to speak a language like a native speaker. Let go of the ideal you nurture. I know it all too well. I combat my anxieties and fears on a daily basis.

Being ready emotionally

Incite emotions and get excited. Think about all the things you’ll be able to do with your newly acquired language! Imagine the world of possibilities! Make it vivid, so vivid that you almost feel that it’s real. Get yourself pumped.

Watch some motivational videos (like this one – Rise and Shine) or read an inspiring article.
Or maybe create a set list which gets you in the mood. Survivor’s “Eye of the tiger” seems like a natural choice here!

2. CREATE A SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT

Each one of us should have a safe haven. A place which immediately can be associated with learning.
The place which immediately triggers the willingness to learn in you.

But it’s hard. It’s hard to draw a distinct line between your working and play space and the one for learning.
Still, try to find yourself a nook you can call your own. Go to cafe or library if you can’t find it under your roof.

Once you have it, get rid of all the potential distractions. Turn off the music*, put aside anything that may distract you.
And don’t get too comfy. If you sink into an armchair it will smell your weakness and lure you into the oppressive clutches of sleep!

A supportive environment means also one more thing. Tell your beloved ones to give you some space and keep everything relatively down.

3. FOCUS AND HAVE A REMINDER

Now you have a place where you can learn! Congratulations! There shouldn’t be many things left which may distract you.

Next thing on the checklist – stop multitasking. Decrease your cognitive load. Regardless of what you’ve heard – that’s another thing which dumbs you down. If you do two things at once, divide your attention and intelligence by two. It basically makes you equivalent of a retarded shrimp. And I can tell you they’re not very good at learning languages.

Get yourself a reminder of why you want to learn. It can be a piece of jewelry given to you by your ancestors/wife/husband. A picture of your dream house. Anything which gets you going is just fine.

If you’re single, hang a picture of some person who inspires you.

Dos and donts of learning languages

Whenever you find yourself distracted let your reminder work its magic.

4. BE REGULAR

The chance is that if you’ve ever stuck to some routine I don’t have to convince you why it’s so extremely important to be regular.

If not, let me tell you what has been told thousands of time – it’s better to learn 10 minutes per day than to do it once per week for 2 hours.
But why? The numbers don’t add up. Well, math is a cruel mistress.

There are dozens of rules which govern learning. One which is (probably) the most important for you is:

Spacing effect – you remember things better if they are distributed over a long time span and the bigger the number of repetitions

If learning each day is not a habit for you, you should do all in your power to develop it.
Set some time aside every day for learning – e.g. 25 min at 19:00 .

5. LEARN IN SMALL DOSES

You might have heard this saying before – learning is a marathon, not a sprint. Truer words have never been said. But …

When it comes to regular learning, try to slice your learning time into pieces if you plan to learn for more than 1 hour.

We’re only human. Our attention span is anything between 20 -40 min. After that time your thoughts start wandering into unknown directions. That’s perfectly ok. Just be aware of this fact and prepare beforehand.

Take a 10-minute break every 30 minutes. This is, of course, a mere suggestion.
You have to experiment a bit to see what works for you.

Also, don’t forget about the Serial Position Effect. We tend to remember the most items from the beginning and from the end of our studying It means that the more breaks you have the better you take advantage of this phenomenon.

6. CREATE SYSTEMS (and why they beat goals)

I believe that goals are a great starting point. But it’s only a first station in your journey.
They won’t carry you very far. However, as great as they are, they have their limitations.

Let’s assume that your initial goal was to learn 10 words per day or 15 min per day. If you fail to stick to this goal, you’ll start feeling bad. “I can’t even do this one thing right”. Every time you fail, the chance that you’ll return to your learning schedule decreases. After some time, caught in despair, you stop learning.

What if you manage to actually follow through? You might be so content with yourself that you’ll stop there.

And this is a gist of problems with goals. They limit you in one way or another.

So why are systems better?

A good system is characterized by two things. It facilitates wanted behavior and makes it difficult to yield to unwanted one.

Who needs strong will when you have systems?!

Example:

I know that I have a very strong inclination to browse various websites after a few minutes of working on my computer. That’s why I downloaded the app which blocked these websites for better part of the day (here you can find other blocking apps)

Leechblock – for Mozilla
StayFocusd – for Chrome

Thus I increased my chance to stay focused while learning. What’s more, the only objects which I keep on my desk are books and dictionaries. It considerably decreases the risk of getting distracted.

So go ahead. Think about how you can create the system to facilitate your learning.

7. (LEARN HOW TO) LOVE THE GRIND

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”Stephen King

Discover an appreciation for what you have to do. Anybody could learn in perfect conditions. But as I said, it rarely happens. Grit is born out of pain. Every time you force yourself to learn you build your habit. Brick by brick.

And don’t compare yourself to others and their progress. Everyone has his own fight to do.
And we all start with different gear and skills.

Just show up. Day by day. That’s the secret.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”Martin Luther King Jr.

Laying the Foundation For Learning a Language – How to learn a language on your own (Part 1)

learn a language on your own

You probably have felt this burning need inside to learn a new language once or twice in your life. But there’s a good chance that you didn’t know where to start.

It’s like standing in front of the dark forest. You know that you have to get through it in order to get what you want.

But it’s scary and lonely, and you’re hungry, and… look! What a mess! I must clean my room and do some other … stuff. The point is – not knowing the way is probably one of the biggest obstacles on the way to master the language.

And that’s the ultimate goal of this series of articles – to show you where to start, what to do and what to avoid. Each part of the series is devoted to a different issue.

You will learn how to tackle every component of learning a language – including notoriously gruesome grammar and vocabulary.

I really do hope that it will help you get started.

I’ve learned 8 languages so far and I know one thing – if you can’t create the system which emulated what you do, there is a good chance you have no idea what you’re doing.

Without further ado:

0. CHOOSE THE LANGUAGE

I assume that you already have a pretty good idea which language you would like to learn.

If you’re still on the fence – check this article. it should help you make a right decision.

1. MOTIVATION

This is where it all starts. Sure, other things are important as well. But ask yourself this – why do I want to learn this language?

There are no wrong answers. The reason should be valid for you, not for others.

Do you want to get a new job? Impress your wife? Visit some country? Be able to read Manga?

Remember – if your motivation is flimsy there’s a good chance that you’ll drop your project as soon as some obstacles get in your way. You definitely don’t want that to happen! Can you imagine the surge of anger after you realize that you put hundreds of hours into the project which is a flop?!

You’ll probably punch some nice, old lady to vent! That’s why you should make sure that your motivation is strong enough to pull you through your darkest hours.

Your desire to learn is a foundation – cherish it.

Let it be a constant reminder of why you do what you do. Reinforce right motives as often as you can – they will be your shield against all the distractions and temptations

 

Learn a language on your own

 

Your initial momentum will help you break down all the barricades.

But can you increase your motivation or is it something constant? Well, great news everyone! You can. If there is something I’ve learned about learning, in general, it’s that: the faster your progress is the more and harder you’re willing to work to see even more impressive results.

So how can I increase my progress? Read on. We will get to that. My personal favorite to boost my motivation is betting.

How does it work?

Bet with someone that you’ll learn, let’s say, 300 words in 2 weeks (set a deadline. If you lose you have to suffer consequences – e.g. pay your friend 200$. If you win – great, you’ve achieved your goal. It’s worked wonders for me!

What are other great ways to keep yourself motivated? Read the Forbes article.

2. CHANGE ATTITUDE OR DIE

Another pivotal part of laying the foundations is getting rid of the mental barriers you’ve been cherishing up to this day.

One of the most widespread (and harmful) beliefs concerning languages are:

I believe that that they are terribly destructive (and obviously not true) and seriously impair your learning ability if you do not become aware of them.

That’s why you need to become more mindful and learn how to overpower your inner demons of procrastination and laziness.

So go ahead – slap yourself every time when you catch yourself having these thoughts. The words which you use to describe yourself shape your reality. That’s why you should remove all the negative terms from your vocabulary, as well as the word “can’t”.

Way too many people are stifled by their own preconceived beliefs about what they can and can’t do. Don’t be one of those people.

3. SET A GOAL

But why? Do I have to? Nope, you don’t have to do anything. But if you’re vague about what you want to achieve, you ‘ll probably never do it.

You have to see the target to be able to shoot it! Remember, your goals should be SMART.

So what is a good goal?

  • I want to learn Spanish at a communicative level to be able to get by in Mexico in 2 months
  • I want to learn Russian only to read the works of Dostoevsky in original in 4 months
  • I want to speak German fluently to get the job in the company XYZ in 7 months

I believe that determining an initial level of language which you want to achieve is essential. It has a great impact on the learning methods you should choose and as well on the scope of material.

Be as specific as you only can. You can, of course, learn a given language without purpose if you’re passionate about it but most people will simply give up after some time.

 

4. GET THE RIGHT RESOURCES (and not too many of them)

Let’s start with basics and explain why you shouldn’t use too many learning materials. The reason is simple – having too many options paralyze our ability to make decisions.

That’s why I typically provide myself with the three following things:

A pocket dictionary.

Why is it indispensable? Think about it…that’s right! The smaller the dictionary the more useful words are included there.

Don’t waste your time and money on any big dictionary at the beginning (or at all).  The good dictionary should include the most important meanings of a given word.

If you can see only one meaning for each word – skip this dictionary and look for another one. Another quality of the great dictionaries is that they always contain the most popular phrases including given words.

And finally! Pronunciation! Always check if a dictionary has a phonetic transcription of words. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to read these strangers symbols right now. It’s not that difficult.

A good grammar book.

Usually, any which is not dedicated to advanced learners is just fine.

A phrase book.

It shows in a very neat way frequently used phrases and sentences.

That means you can memorize them and use them right away!

5. SET A DEADLINE

If you think you shouldn’t set one then you’re not serious about your project. Even if you don’t achieve exactly what you wanted in the given period of time – that’s ok. The world hasn’t ended. Draw conclusions and move on.

Read Six things about deadlines by Seth Godin

GET TO WORK!

If you have any questions or comments regarding this article, or maybe some other burning problem, drop me a message. And don’t forget to subscribe if you enjoyed reading this guide.

1 3 4 5