When we talk, we want people to understand what we are saying. So pronunciation is VERY important.
Listen to this conversation between a Vietnamese person and an American:
What happened? The American could not understand the Vietnamese speaker because her pronunciation was unclear.
In my experience, both as a language learner and a language teacher, there are a LOT of pronunciation differences between English and Vietnamese. But some problems are more serious than others. A pronunciation problem becomes serious when it interferes with communication.
There are TWO common problems Vietnamese speakers have that I believe are very serious. If you consistently make these errors, people will not understand you.
- Final consonants
- Word stress
Just like in Vietnamese, ALL the sounds of words in English are important. Listen to a native speaker say the words, Book, Boot, Bull:
The last sound tells you if the speaker means something to read (Book), something to wear on your feet (Boot), or a large animal (Bull). Instead, many Vietnamese speakers say this:
What is this – a BOOP!? This is not a real word in English! If your listener hears a word that is not real, it is very confusing. In fact, when it comes to English, the end of the word is often the MOST important sound. Without it, people will not understand you at all.
Every word has one or more syllables. A syllable is a word or part of a word that has a vowel sound. For example:
- mat has one syllable
- mattress has two syllables
In English, we do not say every syllable with the same force. Some syllables we say more LOUDLY, and some we say quietly. For example, in the word photography, the stress is on the second syllable: pho-TO-graphy:
The same is true of sentences. When we say a sentence, we say some WORDS more loudly than others. If we DON’T do this, people may not understand us.
Listen to a Vietnamese student introducing herself, using POOR word stress:
Now listen to the same student using GOOD word stress:
The second example is MUCH easier to understand.
The first step in improving your English pronunciation is to be AWARE of your problems. When you’re speaking:
- THINK about final consonants. Make sure you pronounce the ENDS of words. Try not to forget!
- Believe it or not, LISTENING helps improve pronunciation. The more you listen to English, the more natural English it will become. You will FEEL the natural rhythm of the language, and this will improve your pronunciation.
What Do You Think?
Do you have problems with final consonants and word stress? Are you aware of these problems when you speak English? Do you believe that listening will improve your pronunciation? Let us know in the comments section below!