Tips to feel and sound more fluent in English
How can I do this?
Once you learn how to connect words in spoken English, you will feel more fluent, and you will also sound more fluent and understandable. When you feel more fluent and comfortable with your speech you will also gain confidence, which will boost your motivation to keep practicing and learning.
There are a few tips which can help you to learn how to connect words in spoken English somehow easily. It’s all about making sounds merge together in a certain way, i.e., following certain patterns that make word sounds easier to pronounce when connecting them. For example: Instead of pronouncing “turn off” as two separate words, pronounce these two segments: /tur noff/. This way you will be sure to pronounce the /n/ sound at the end of the word “turn.” This helps those students who tend to drop word endings.
Another pattern example: sounds /d/ + /sh/ = /dch/ as in “red shift” = /redchift/. That is, the ending sound /d/ is barely pronounced, it’s more a “stop” than an actual sound. And the beginning sound /sh/ merges with that /d/ stop and comes out as a /dch/ sound. When you learn how to merge sounds, you will be building “sound bridges” and words will sound naturally connected.
Building sound bridges
Pay attention to the way the letters are connected, so that your tongue and throat can produce those sounds in streams, making them flow as much as possible. More specifically, pay attention to word ending sound and word beginning sounds, then listen to what native speakers do in order to connect those sounds – they change them slightly, combining them in a way that is physically easier to produce them. See how they do it and you will be able to do the same. Or take pronunciation lessons and ask our tutor to teach you how to do it.
Connecting sounds means that your lips, tongue, and throat prepare in advance – get into position – to produce the second sound while you are producing the first sound of a sequence. This results in a mutual influence in the production in which the sounds of words should be of both the first and the second sound, because we don’t actually pronounce single words separately the same way we pronounce them when they are connected in speech. And the way sounds change follow some patterns which, once you learn them, will act like bridges among words, facilitating their pronunciation.
Sound connection patterns
You can learn to link words the way native English speakers do it because word linking follows patterns: For example, if you link the ending sound of a regular verb in the past tense to the beginning sound of the next word you will force yourself to pronounce those -ed ending (that should be pronounced as /t/, /id/, or /d/) that you might be dropping – which confuses your listeners because when they don’t hear that -ed they won’t realize you are talking in the past tense.
Learning how to link words becomes easier once you know those patterns, of course, but it can also be approached with slowed-down recognition exercises that you can do with your teacher in class as well as on your own. It is also helpful to slow down your own speech until you become more comfortable with the linkages.
Should I sound like a native speaker to be understood?
No, you don’t need to sound exactly like a native speaker to be understood. You may always have an accent, but that is perfectly fine. You can still become a proficient speaker of English even if you have a foreign accent. Unless a mistake does not interfere with intelligibility, you don’t need to worry about it. Your teacher or tutor will help you learn which sounds you need to correct and how, and which sounds you can pronounce slightly differently, i.e., with a foreign accent, and still be understood.
How can a teacher help me?
Your teacher can identify your mistakes and difficulties – which will be associated with your mother language – and then tailor your exercises and homework assignments in order to tackle your specific pronunciation problems. Once you know which sounds you are not pronouncing clearly enough to be understood, you can work on the right position of your lips and tongue to produce the right sounds, and little tips or tricks when you can’t. For example, if your “l” gives you trouble, you might get away by pronouncing it almost as an “o” in some specific words (such as “will” or “well”), but other words like “usually” will not sounds understandable at all until you manage to pronounce your “l” clearly enough – a common issue among Chinese students. Likewise, pronouncing the “i” in the word ship as an “ee” sound will throw your listener off, who will think that you are saying the word sheep instead – which is a common issue among Spanish speakers.
Pronunciation skills can only be learned and mastered over a period of time, not instantly, and a teacher can help you learn patterns and tell you what sounds and linkages you need to work on and how; how to merge sounds and how to pronounce the resulting sound of a merge; what sounds you must pronounce and which ones you can skip altogether; and how to use intonation and word stress as a foot-hold to help your pronunciation.
Pronunciation and listening skills are closely related: as you improve one of them, the other one improves too, because both skills are based on learning to discriminate, recognize and produce certain sounds. So, it makes sense to work on both of them – pronunciation and listening – simultaneously, and your teacher can help you.
Working on connected speech is a mental and physical exercise, and it requires practice to be able produce difficult or new sounds “automatically.” Your teacher can coach you so you can practice on your own.
By working on word linking your pronunciation will improve, your speech will flow better, and people will understand you.