How would you react if I were to turn on a voice recorder right now and record your speech? Most people would shake their heads, cover their mouths and proclaim that they hate to listen to recordings of themselves. “Do I really sound like that?!” is the usual comment followed by more head shaking.
I’m here to say yes, you really do sound like that.
Whatever “that” is, is a learning opportunity. Listening to a recording of yourself is the equivalent of looking in a mirror. A mirror gives you feedback on your grooming techniques. A recording of yourself gives you feedback on your communication style. What you’re hearing in your head may not be how others hear you.
If you are serious about improving your pronunciation, in any language, you need to actually listen to what you really sound like. It’s never been more convenient to record yourself. Most smartphones come with a voice recorder app or you can download one for free. Audacity is free open source, cross-platform software that allows you to record and edit speech. This software makes it very easy to compare your recording to that of a native speaker back to back.
Here are 5 good ways to use your recordings to improve your pronunciation.
1. Podcasts: listen and repeat
Listen to podcasts that feature native speakers. Pick a topic that interests you or has a host that speaks in a way you want to sound and you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Play a few lines of the podcast and then record yourself repeating what they said. Listen to both back to back and check for accuracy. Are you speaking too fast or too slow? Are you linking words together in a more natural way?
2. Record your teacher
If you are working with a pronunciation coach, ask him or her to record the training material or a few paragraphs from a book or magazine. I send my clients recordings of topics we covered after every session. I ask them to listen to the recordings and then record themselves so they can compare. I give them feedback on the recordings they send me so they can make adjustments as needed.
3. Make a phone call
Record your half of the conversation for a variety of calls. How do you sound when speaking to unfamiliar listeners, like when making dinner reservations? Are you giving necessary information using expected intonation patterns, like when you are asked to spell your name? Listen to how your speech patterns change when speaking to a friend or colleague. Do you fall into old speech habits? Being aware of your old speech habits will make you less likely to repeat them.
4. Find a language partner
Find a friend that is a native speaker that doesn’t mind you recording a conversation between you. Record 5 minutes of conversation and listen to yourself. Ask your friend for feedback, in addition to listening to your recording. Are there certain words you repeatedly mispronounce? If you don’t have anyone local you feel comfortable with, try online communities like iTalki or LingQ. Both of these sites have native speakers who are willing to be conversation partners on Skype to help you improve your language skills.
5. Practice a presentation
When asked to give a presentation, most of us know it’s important to rehearse. You may not think (or want) to record yourself while practicing. Why not listen to how your audience hears you? Are you stressing the right words for clarity? Are you pausing at strategic points for maximum impact? By speaking louder, you’re naturally going to speak a little slower. This will help you stay focused and improve your speech clarity. For those of you who don’t have to present regularly at work, don’t let that stop you. Record yourself telling a story as if you were speaking to an audience. Describe how you got your current job, talk through a typical work day, or give a review of the latest movie you watched. Try to use vocabulary you use on a daily basis so you can hear how it sounds to others.
The more you listen to yourself, the less “cringe-worthy” it becomes. Soon you’ll be able to analyze your speech for mistakes and make the necessary changes. Knowing how you sound to others is one of the best ways to practice and make lasting improvements to your English pronunciation skills.