The power of pronunciation

I studied French in school for five years. I worked hard for good grades and I really enjoyed it. It was fun to speak French and I had wonderful teachers. After high school graduation I had the opportunity to live in France for three months and be a companion for an elderly French woman. It would be the perfect chance to solidify my French. I was so excited!

Imagine my emotions when I arrived to discover that no one could understand me! I could understand THEM, but the same words coming out of my mouth were unintelligible to my new friends. They could not recognize what I was saying, even though I had correct grammar and plenty of vocabulary. Guess what? Both speakers have to understand each other for communication to happen. I was so frustrated!

What went wrong? I had never explicitly studied the sounds of French, or had anyone compare them to the sounds of my North American English. I didn't even realize that you could not just 'overlay' your native sounds and be understood. Fortunately for me, my new Grand-maman had taught French to foreigners in her younger years. She was a strict teacher, and with tongue-twisters, exercises, reading aloud and patient correction, I was able to adjust my pronunciation and be understood. Picture my 18-year-old self repeating over and over: "Huit bouteilles d'huile."

In university I really enjoyed the classes I had in phonetics and pronunciation. I had a mentor teacher who specialized in teaching pronunciation to English learners. When I moved to Brazil some years later and was learning Portuguese, I discovered again the power of pronunciation. "We have the word 'cafe' in English; surely they will understand my coffee order," I thought. I was wrong! Unless you pronounce the final 'e' with an "open" sound, they will stare at you blankly.

There are many great websites to help you with pronunciation tips and to provide great listening practice. However, sometimes you need a native speaker or a fluent teacher to help you identify your trouble sounds and what words they have difficulty understanding. They can demonstrate how the sounds are made. They may also be able to suggest exercises to help you develop skill and confidence in making problematic sounds.

Just to be clear, the goal is not to eliminate your accent; the goal is to be easily understood. It is terrible not to be able to communicate. But do not fear! You can conquer the difficult sounds in English: the 'th,' the 'r' and 'l,' the 14+ vowel sounds, and whatever other sounds are difficult for you. With encouragement and direction, you can do it!

Where can you find tutors and teachers eager to help you with your pronunciation? That is where verbling comes in. Most of us know what it is like to try to communicate in another language and fail because of pronunciation errors. We want to help you make your English understandable, and therefore useful!
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