Lesson One: Many Sounds In English Are Not In Your Native Language

The main reasons why speaking English is so hard

This special pronunciation section will explain to you why English is hard to speak correctly and give you some help on improving your pronunciation. These are the main reasons why English is so hard. There is a lesson for each one.

Note that the pronunciation examples are in American English accent. In the last lesson you will find American and British English examples.

These lessons are sponsored by: EyeSpeak English

It is likely that some of the sounds that are common in English are not used in your native language. The most common ones are 'r' as in 'right', 'l' as in 'light' and the 'th' sound as in 'thing'. The 'th' sound, where your tongue is between your teeth is uncommon in other languages.

The other sounds that you will most likely find difficult are the 'moving vowel' sounds or "diphthongs".

Pronouncing Dipthongs

Here are some examples of diphtongs:
hi price eye by

The vowel sound in these words changes as you say them, it starts off as 'a' and becomes 'e' Here is a picture showing the starting and finishing mouth positions:

vowel sounds

Notice that your mouth position changes considerably when saying this vowel. You start off with your mouth open and your tongue at the bottom of your mouth, and go to having your mouth closed with your tongue at the top of your mouth.

It is very common for students learning English to have difficulty making both sounds. Many students pronounce just one one of these sounds, either the starting 'a' sound or the finishing 'I' sound. To speak well and be understood, you need to make both sounds.

Here is another example of a diphthong:

diphthong

This is the sound in words like
'boat' 'goat' and 'coat'

Your tongue needs to start off near the middle of your mouth, with your mouth open. Then your tongue needs to move back and up slightly at the same time as you close your lips. Your lips also need to be 'rounded' slightly.

Here is a technique you can use to feel the difference in different mouth shapes:

  1. Start by putting your finger on your lips like you are saying 'shhhhh' and telling someone to be quiet. (Perhaps you don't make this gesture in your culture, or it is rude to do so. Actually, it can be a little rude in European cultures also, so you need to use it with care. You're most likely to see it among audiences at live shows, at the movie theatre, or in the library if someone is rudely talking.)
  2. Hold your finger still - don't move it when your lips move. Now make an 'ee' sound. You should feel your lips come back to be flat against your teeth. Your finger should now not be touching your lips.
  3. Now make an 'au' sound sticking your lips out. You should feel your finger be pushed out, away from your mouth. This is what 'rounding' your lips means.
  4. Now say the word 'goat' with your finger touching your lips, and check that your lips become rounded at the end of the vowel sound.
  5. Well done! You are probably making the vowel sound correctly now.

As you know, the 'th' sound can also be difficult. Here is how you need to make the 'th' sound:
th

Can you see how your tongue needs to between your teeth so that someone watching you can actually see the tip of it? Many people find this strange to do, but if you do not "poke your tongue out" a little in this way, you will not pronounce the sound correctly.

Pronouncing The "th" Sound In English.

The 'th' sound is quite common in English and found wherever the letters 'th' are found together. Here are two common examples for you:
Mouth Thumb

Usually, It's Better To Order "Rice" Than "Lice".
The Difference Between The "r" And "l" Sounds.

The R and L Tongue Positions

r l

The images above illustrate the difficulty in distinguishing the two tongue positions; however there are important differences:

For 'r':

  • Your tongue curls up around the edges, and you blow air through the middle of your tongue.
  • The top part of your tongue does not touch the top of your mouth.
  • Your lips should be slightly rounded.

For 'l':

  • The top of your tongue should touch the top of your mouth.
  • Your lips should not be rounded

Most people say 'l' correctly however for further help with 'r' you may find the following video helpful: