June 10

Why is English pronunciation hard to learn?

By Dr Julian Northbrook

learn english pronunciation
Why is English pronunciation hard to learn?

English pronunciation: why is it hard to master? In this article, I cover the three main reasons and give you the best exercise for fixing these problems.


First, we need to make a distinction between “pronunciation” and “accent”. People tend to mix this up, but of the time this isn’t helpful.

The way an American says, “at the end of the day”, for example, is different to the way a British person will say it.

But have perfect English pronunciation.

It’s just a different sound because of their accents.

Personally, I recommend focusing on pronunciation and worrying less about speaking with a native speaker accent (just try to be clear and easy to understand – see my book Awesome Accent for how to do this).

Want a free guide that shows you how to use the shadowing exercise to improve pronunciation? – Go Here.

So what are the main reasons why you might struggle with pronunciation?

Let’s look at them in turn.

1. There are sounds not part of your own native palette

Different languages are different, and they have different sounds. If your language as a lot of sounds the same as English (like, say Swedish) you’ll find it easier than if your language has fewer sounds (Japanese English).

Your mouth is used to moving in a certain way, and you have to make it move in a new way.

When I was a kid I held my pen in a really weird way. When I wanted to learn to hold the pen properly later in life, it was really hard to do because my hand didn’t want to move in that way.

Pronunciation is the same.

2. You were taught an idealised version of English

The way most textbooks and language schools teach English isn’t very good. You get taught individual words, and learn to pronounce them like this. The problem is, though, is that native speakers don’t speak like this and one of the BIG things that shows your a non-native English speaker is that you over pronounce.

3. You didn’t learn to ‘chunk’ English well

This is where the natural ‘crushing’ of sounds, rhythm and intonation comes in. And getting this right will make you sound much, much smoother in English than speaking in an overly correct way.

A great exercise for learning to do this well is Shadowing.

Many people use exercise wrong, and so don’t improve. That’s why I wrote the free Good Shadowing Guide – it’ll show you the five steps you need to take to make shadowing work for you and speak with excellent pronunciation (download it here).

That’s it for today.

Best,
Julian Northbrook

Getting Help Mastering Spoken English

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