7 Pronunciation Tips
From vowel and consonant sounds to stress and intonation. GB English has a distinctive sound, here are 7 tips to get it right (play the audio below each tip to listen):
1. Dont always say r
In GB English you only pronounce /r/ if it is before a vowel sound, so you do say it in ROCK, PRETTY & COVERING, but you dont say it in WORK, HARD or MOTHER. In American English you say all the written rs, so WORK, HARD & MOTHER, so its one of the main differences between most British and American accents.
2. Touch the teeTH
There are two fricative TH sounds in English: voiceless /θ/ in TEETH, THANKS & BATH, and voiced /ð/ in THE, BROTHER & BATHE. In GB English they are both made with the tongue touching behind the teeth, but in some accents theyre replaced with /f/ and /v/, like in London.
3. 12 vowels = 12 tongue positions
GB English has 12 mouth positions for vowel sounds, here goes: /i ɪ e æ ə ɜ ʌ ɑ u ʊ ɔ ɒ/. Its really important to put the tongue in a different place for each of these, as many sounds are only subtly different like the vowel sounds in SHIP and SHEEP. There isnt actually much difference in the length of these two sounds, but the tongue is always further forward in SHEEP.
4. Oh No!
On top of the 12 basic vowels, there are a further 7 double vowels (diphthongs): /eɪ, ɔɪ, aɪ, əʊ, aʊ, ɪə, eə/, perhaps the hardest one is the /əʊ/ sound in OH, NO, GO & SHOW. Northern accents might say [nɜː] or [nɒʊ], cockney would be more like [naʊ], and really posh speakers would start toward the front [nɛʊ], but in standard GB English, it starts in the middle, you [nəʊ].
5. Mind the gap
In normal everyday speech we tend to join everything together in English. Sometimes consonants change and become silent. When a word begins with a vowel sound it joins onto the previous word: move_it_along! Sometimes if one word ends with a vowel sound and the next one starts with a vowel sound, we add /r/, just to make sure we can join, is that_your_idea(r)_of_a joke?. No, it really happens, listen again slowly.
6. Not too much stress
You probably have enough stress in your life, so dont stress every syllable in English half of them are weak (the underlined ones in this sentence). Its essential, though, to find the main stress in every sentence or speech unit and really stress it by making it longer, louder and normally higher:
A John! How are you?
B David! Im fine, how are you?
The bold, underlined syllable is the main stress in each part, its also where the intonation pattern begins (see next point).
7. Nice and high
GB English intonation is fairly flat until the main stress, then it tends to go high and fall. There are three intonation patterns: falling YES, rising YES, and fall-rising YES, these show our attitude to our words, you can hear them in this conversation:
A |John | How are you? |
B |David | Im fine | How are you? |
A |Actually | theres something I need to tell you |
B |OK | shall we go and grab a coffee? |
A | Yes | somewhere private | would be best | where you can sit down |
B | I dont much like the sound of this |