Speak Up London

How to improve your pronunciation

Have you ever watched Downton Abbey and thought to yourself, “I wish I spoke like Maggie Smith playing Violet Crawley”? Perhaps it’s not just me. Whether you’re diving into the world of Harry Potter, appreciating Shakespeare’s prose, or annually rewatching Love Actually, the quest to refine your English pronunciation likely resonates with you, especially with the rich backdrop of British film and television.

However, there’s a catch: not all Brits sound the same. With almost 40 different accents and dialects, each carrying its unique set of slang, pinpointing what “sounding British” means can be a challenge. While some accents, like Glaswegian, may seem daunting, most are straightforward and accessible, even to non-natives.

So while you don’t have to worry about which accent to use, focusing on universally understood pronunciation makes practical sense, especially if English is not your first language. Its neutrality, clarity and universal comprehensibility make it ideal for communicating with everyone.

The good news is that there is an abundance of English language media you can consume where standard received pronunciation remains spoken widely. Here are some you can use to enhance your English pronunciation:

  1. Listen to ‘The Diary of a CEO’ by Steven Bartlett: Tune into this podcast for a candid deep dive into business and entrepreneurship, all articulated in contemporary British English by the eloquent Steven Bartlett. It’s an excellent way to get accustomed to modern British accents while soaking in some inspirational advice.
  1. Tune into BBC Radio 4: For intellectual nourishment, BBC Radio 4 is unparalleled. Its blend of news, drama, comedy, and science not only aids in refining your pronunciation but also keeps you up to date with British culture, politics, and humour.
  1. Enjoy an audiobook by Stephen Fry: There’s nothing quite like Stephen Fry’s voice, which has the smoothness of butter melting over a warm slice of toast. Whether you’re listening to his rendition of the Harry Potter series, or his own stories, you’ll be treated to hours of exquisitely pronounced English alongside a captivating story.
  1. Watch ‘The Crown’ on Netflix: Immerse yourself in the grandeur and intrigue of British royalty, as interpreted by Netflix. This show features some of Britain’s finest actors, all delivering top-form pronunciation. From the Queen’s Received Pronunciation to Princess Margaret’s posh accent, it’s an insightful way to improve your own accent while uncovering some lesser-known aspects of British history.
  1. Watch a theatre production in the West End: Dive into the heart of British theatre by experiencing a live performance in London’s West End. It’s a great opportunity to absorb the nuances of British English as delivered by top-tier actors. Witnessing their emotional depth and precise diction on stage can refine your pronunciation and immerse you in English-language culture and storytelling.

So, you’ve engaged with all the recommended media and might be feeling quite proficient, right? Think again! Now, the real work begins – it’s time to practise your pronunciation. Begin with simple, everyday interactions, like ordering coffee or striking up a conversation with your neighbour. These small steps are crucial for building confidence, yet we’ve barely scratched the surface.

Moving forward, it’s essential to leverage everything you’ve learned by immersing yourself in activities that challenge you further, pushing you to navigate more complex situations and utilise a broader vocabulary to achieve a fluent sound. Here’s how you can take it to the next level:

  1. Imitate a favourite celebrity or world leader: Mimicking a British figure, whether it’s Emma Watson’s grace or Winston Churchill’s compelling speeches, can be both fun and educational. Practise their speeches or interviews in front of a mirror, focusing on tone, pacing, and articulation. To make this even more effective, consider recording yourself and then listening to your speech critically to focus on areas to improve, perhaps running it past a native speaker friend for added measure. This method is a proven way to enhance pronunciation and boost speaking confidence.
  1. Use the Meetup app to find new British friends: Immersion is key in language learning. What better way to immerse yourself than by making British friends? The Meetup app is a fantastic platform for connecting with British people, whether locally or online. Engaging in conversations with native speakers, at language exchanges or social events, will hone your pronunciation and familiarise you with the idioms that give British English its unique charm.
  1. Join an English Language School: To take your English to the next level, consider enrolling in an English language school. You’ll benefit from structured lessons, professional feedback and ample speaking practice in a supportive setting. It’s also a great way to meet peers, share learning tips and practise various accents. English language schools offer a holistic approach to mastering the language, from pronunciation drills to cultural immersion. Speak Up London is a school that allows you to do all of this from the heart of London, where you can benefit from experiencing all that the city has to offer, while also being able to take part in the many social programmes we offer that enable you to mingle with your fellow students after school.

Committing yourself to enhancing your English pronunciation involves a great deal; it’s about immersing yourself in the nuances of British culture, literature, and history. Achieving fluency in pronunciation is a personal journey as diverse as the accents found throughout Britain. It requires consistent practice, deep cultural immersion, and a willingness to learn from mistakes. By following the suggestions outlined above, you’re opening the door to a deeper appreciation of British culture and engaging with the wider English-speaking world – an essential step towards sounding native.

So, embark on this journey with determination and curiosity. No matter your current level, improving your English pronunciation – and along with it, your cultural understanding – is entirely within your reach. Like any skill, it demands time and dedicated practice. Embrace this adventure, enjoy the process and soon, you might find yourself sipping milky tea and cursing the weather with the ease and finesse of a true Brit.