A lot of times when people think of learning pronunciation of any language, they assume they are going to learn a bunch of consonant and vowel sounds. And they would be correct in their assumptions. However, what most students don't realize, and what most pronunciation classes fail to deliver, is that there are actually three important areas to focus on when learning pronunciation in any language.
Three Kinds of Information to Increase Understanding
Pronunciation is a two way street - listening is just as important in learning prounciation as speaking is. Understanding a language can be like breaking a code sometimes. Language is more than just sounds. There's grammar structures, rhythm, vocabulary, etc. The more technical the conversation or lecture or interview you're engaged in, the harder the code can be to decode. Remembering that there's three types of information contained in listening to any of these situations can help you understand more effectively!
1. Background information - use what you already know about the topic of conversation or lecture to help you better understand what's being said. This is especially helpful with more technical conversations. Using background information can help you infer or even predict what's being said.
2. Language information - use what you already know about how the English language works. This is where knowing your grammar rules is helpful. All English sentences have a subject (who or what we are talking about) and a verb (the action). Learn and pay attention to proper word order in English, subject-verb agreement, verb tenses, vocabulary words, etc.
3. Sound information - the sounds that you actually hear someone saying. We will explain this a bit more in a moment.
Three Kinds of Listening Skills
Just like there are three types of information to listen for in a conversation, there are three skills you can practice to get better at listening.
1. Listen for message content - English is a challenging language because many times sounds can be linked, reduced, deleted, altered, or contracted on top of regular pronunciation. In other words, native English speakers will distort sounds. Even if you hear all the sounds in a conversation, there's a chance you likely may not understand every word a speak says. This is true for both native and non-native listeners. Practicing the different ways English gets modified will help in not just your pronunciation, but also your listening.
2. Listen for message intent - intent is what a speaker means in a conversation. Imagine your friend looks at your car and says "Nice car!" Without understanding the intonation, stress, or timing in your friend's voice, you have no idea if they are complimenting your car or insulting it (sarcasm). Even if you hear all the words clearly, you may not understand what a speaker means without listening to the "music" of their language. Like most languages, meaning in English is more than just the sum of words in a sentence.
3. Listen for grammar sounds (noun and verb endings) - grammar endings on regular nouns and verbs are important for listening comprehension. Use these ending, or suffixes, for valuable information about tense, person, and number. These endings also give pronunciation the proper rhythm, or stress, in a sentence or conversation.
Putting It all Together
Remember that pronunciation has two parts - both speaking and listening. Use this to your advantage and let you speaking help improve your listening skills. By practicing linked, reduced, altered, and contracted sounds in your speaking, you'll be able to make better sense of what you hear, especially from native English speakers.