Julian Northbrook sends daily email tips for speaking better English – Click the button on the right, sign up, and you'll get a new email every day packed with ideas and tips for speaking better English.

What does a non-English speaker really have to learn to pronounce English well?

August 2, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

There are three things you need to know:

  1. There are sounds in English not present in your native language.
    This one’s easy, and you already know this.
    When I learned Japanese, I had to learn to pronounce the “ra”, “ri”, “re”, “ro” sounds that don’t exist in English. Japanese people learning English have to learn to pronounce those sounds as separate “r” and “l” sounds.
    This really just comes down to learning new motor skills.
  2. The way you were taught to pronounce English was really bad.
    Most people get taught idealised versions of English in school. Every word is enunciated clearly and you end up over pronouncing everything. Word. By. Word.

    But this isn’t right.

    Native speakers don’t enunciate every word clearly. They slur words together, crush them down and sometimes even pronounce them wrong.
    And your over-pronouncing English is actually harder to understand.


    Because we speak in chunks.

  3. Articulate English in “chunks” – don’t pronounce in words.

    Native pronunciation is chunked, not word by word words.

    Like I mentioned above, sounding native-like in English has more to do with your rhythm and intonation than it does pronunciation.

    It’s all about good chunking skills.

    If I pronounced the word “end” wrong in “at the end of the day”, what I’ve said is still instantly recognisable to a native speaker.

    But If I pronounce each word carefully?

    It’ll be much harder to understand.

Hope that helps.

A great exercise for working on pronunciation in general, and good rhythm and chunking skills, in particular, is “shadowing” — I wrote a free guide called “The Good Shadowing Guide” which you can download here.

Julian Northbrook

Subscribe to Dr Julian Northbrook's Daily Emails for Speaking Better English & get FREE access to the Doing English App, packed with free lessons:

view pixel

More Shizzle on the Blog: