Number 1 priority when speaking in English – The huge importance of mastering the correct pronunciation of the language

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Let's say that you can already understand any kind of content in English without any major issues: You read the entire Harry Potter saga and almost never searched words in the dictionary as you read. On your way to work you play a science and technology podcast on your smartphone, and you understand practically everything. At night when you get home you play a movie in English, and you can understand all that's going on in the movie, and you can follow well enough most of the dialogue you are listening to. Etc.

Let's say that understanding English is no longer an issue to you, and that the next objective in your journey is to speak well in English.

So... what does "speak well" in English mean, exactly? Well, given that the objective of languages is communication, I think speaking a language well implies, first, being able to successfully communicate what you actually want to express. After that comes expressing yourself with accuracy and no ambiguity, and then doing it as fast as you can without sacrificing understandability.

If you think about it, it's good to achieve fluency, to achieve a high speed of communication... but it's not essential. You... can... speak... slow-ly... but... if... you... speak... co-rrec-tly... then... others... will... un-ders-tand... you... and... that's... what... ma-tters...

That's no excuse to not train your speaking speed, of course. Most people will not have the patience to listen to someone who speaks as slowly as a drunk maggot. But what's still most important is to make yourself understood.

What about grammar? Putting words in the correct order when you speak IS important, of course. Although if you make some not-so-terrible grammatical mistakes (i.e., not-so-terrible mistakes like these xD), other people will mostly understand you. It's just that in their minds, those people will be thinking:

"Uuugh, yeah yeah, I understand but that's NOT HOW you say it...

NO, you say "she", not "her"!...

NOOOO, there you say "don't", not "won't"! You monkey BEAST!!"

As long as your grammar is not extremely messy and not too far from the correct form, people who master English will be able to understand most of what you say. And again, that is not an excuse to not train your sense of correct grammar in English, which you will develop through tons of comprehensible input and attention from your part.

Now, an important point that Steve Kaufmann makes, one of my favorite vloggers (video bloggers), is that vocabulary is much more important than grammar when speaking, because if you don't have vocabulary you will not be able to say anything. It will not be possible for you to express anything if you don't have access to enough words that define the things you want to say.

As I see it, the hierarchy of speaking "aspects" would go like this:

Vocabulary > Grammar > Fluency

In other words, when speaking, vocabulary is more important than grammar, and grammar is more important than fluency. But there is another element, which is more important than the previous elements – something so important that it should be your number 1 priority once you start training you English speaking.

That something is your pronunciation.


The huge importance of developing a correct pronunciation


Why is pronunciation SO important? Because it doesn't matter if you speak fast and fluently, or if you speak slow and carefully. It doesn't matter if your grammar is impeccable, and it doesn't matter if your vocabulary is wide and deep. It doesn't matter if each English line that comes out of you is grammatically correct. If your pronunciation is bad, nobody will understand you.

If you don't believe me, I invite you to experience some examples of bad pronunciation:
Not for nothing, but the pronunciation in the first three videos is atrocious. On those videos I almost couldn't understand anything of what they were saying. The pronunciation of the "I fuck you, you fuck me, we are a happy family! xD" guy is a bit more clear, but there were bits I couldn't understand.

For Spanish-speakers like me, the pronunciation on the videos featuring Botín and Inmaduro are not that difficult to understand, as we are used to the accents and sounds of our language. But imagine a poor Chinese or Arabic person trying to understand those two guys... good luck with that.

Because of that, if speaking well in English is important to you, your first priority will be to pronounce clearly and correctly the different words in English that come out of your mouth. Your pronunciation goes first, and assuming you invested a good amount of time training with comprehensible input, then vocabulary and grammar will not be an issue to you. After that you can train your fluency – to speak faster but still correctly.

Coming up, some suggestions to ensure your spoken pronunciation will be as good as, say, Tom's (from Antimoon), or as Felix Kjellberg's alias Pewdiepie (love him or hate him, the guy speaks really good English.)


How to pronounce English words correctly


1. First of all, learn the International Phonetic Alphabet for English. It's not hard to learn those extra symbols, and if you learn them you will obtain a strong tool that will help you learn with more accuracy the correct pronunciation of each word in English you look up in your dictionaries. Believe me, it's much better to know the IPA than rely just on audio recordings to check pronunciations.

2. Listen actively. Listen, listen and listen. Pay attention to what you listen to and search the correct pronunciation of words you don't know in your dictionaries. Following this routine of listening and checking pronunciations for months will make you internalize numerous correct pronunciations in English.

3. Once you decide to start practicing your speaking, do some of the pronunciation exercises I recommend here. Each day take some time to, say, read a text out loud, vocalize each word slowly and try to imitate it as closely to its correct English pronunciation as your mouth allows you to.

Also, try speaking in English alone at home, whether improvising something or thinking out loud in English. Again, slowly vocalize if necessary, and try to imitate as well as you can the correct pronunciation of each word.

If you don't remember how to pronounce a word, whatever you do, for the love of Odin, Amaterasu, Arceus and the entire celestial court, DO NOT guess the pronunciation of that word. Search for its pronunciation in a dictionary and verify it by reading its IPA (and listen to a recording of the word if you want, too). THEN try saying the word yourself.


Mission: In progress


All right, mission complete! Well... for now, as this is an always-in-progress mission. Once you've internalized the correct pronunciation of tons of words in English through comprehensible input, then it will be through practice and more practice that you will gradually improve your spoken pronunciation until you sound as good as, say, Gabriel Iglesias a.k.a "Fluffy" (awesome comedian :D) And once you develop a pretty good spoken pronunciation in English, keep practicing your pronunciation every now and then. If you don't... you will sloooooowly lose that skill.

So, my last suggestion here would be: If speaking well in English, and keeping said skill is important to you, practice your pronunciation every now and then. And don't stop consuming comprehensible input to maintain your English. Peace!


Summary


Regarding speaking English really well, grammar is more important than fluency. Vocabulary is more important than grammar. And pronunciation is more important than the last three, because if your pronunciation is bad nobody will understand you.

If you care about speaking really well in English, make sure you learn to pronounce correctly each English word. To do this you can:

1. Learn the International Phonetic Alphabet so you can read pronunciations in a dictionary.

2. Listen actively and consult the pronunciation of words you don't know.

3. Practice reading texts in English out loud, or speaking alone in English, imitating as closely as possible the correct pronunciation of each word. If you don't remember how to pronounce something, look it up in the dictionary.

Practice and keep consuming comprehensible input to keep your good pronunciation.


Last updated: May 22 of 2015

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