Why does pronunciation – and English pronunciation – make us feel anxious? Why do we feel more vulnerable when we speak, compared to when we write, for example?
My story of “pronunciation shame”
This is a story of my experience as an Italian learner. The company where I worked was designing an Italian course for foreigners. They wanted someone to do the voice of a foreigner, so they asked me to record a few things.
I had to describe the colour of someone’s clothes, and the word I had to use is the Italian word for blue – which is “azzurro”. English speakers don’t usually pronounce double consonants, and in the word “azzurro” there are two double consonants – two zs and two rs. So I had a lot of problems saying the word.
The person responsible for the course kept telling me to say it again – and I just couldn’t say it. It made me feel frustrated, embarrassed and a little annoyed. After all, they wanted a “foreign” pronunciation and that’s exactly what they got!
But the story illustrates a simple thing. When we speak in a foreign language (in my case Italian) we’re making ourselves vulnerable to all sorts of negative emotions:
So why does it matter so much to us?
I think it starts when we’re young. When we first speak a new language – which for many of us is in a classroom – our classmates taugh at us. I don’t think we don’t ever lose that feeling of shame.
Why we feel anxious about our pronunciation
Of course, there are some really valid reasons for being anxious about our pronunciation. For example:
– fear of making a mistake
The wrong sound in English can change the entire meaning of a sentence. It isn’t always important, but who wants to make a mistake?
– embarrassment at getting something wrong (or not being understood)
It’s humiliating to say something and then someone says “Sorry?”, especially if it happens more than once. Of course, you can use hand gestures, or simplify what you’re saying, but this feels awkward in some situations, like meetings.
– a fear of standing out as an outsider or a foreigner
Your pronunciation can mark you as someone who doesn’t ‘belong’ to a community, which can be difficult if you’ve moved to a new country.
– a fear of being considered ‘unprofessional’
If English is part of your job (if you’re an English teacher for example,) then your pronunciation can be even more stressful for you. After all, you’re supposed to know it to teach it.
How to overcome pronunciation anxiety
There are some things that you can do to feel less vulnerable about your pronunciation.
– decide if your pronunciation really does need work – and where.
Some things have the potential to make you difficult to understand. Often these are vowel sounds, as English tends to have more than many other languages.
– focus on the areas that speakers of your language typically find difficult
Every language has these, and when you know what they are, you can work on them for immediate improvement.
– change your mindset around pronunciation – and specifically about accent
People often say that they want to have a native-speaker accent, which I don’t think is important or helpful. What is important is to speak so others can understand. That might mean slowing down or paying attention to difficult sounds rather than trying to sound British or American.
Advanced English Pronunciation Is Possible!
Is your pronunciation difficult to understand?
Nine times out of ten, pronunciation mistakes happen because the sounds in English aren’t the same as the sounds in your own language. Maybe you don’t have that sound, or the sound is used differently.
These problems are completely fixable.
When you know what the problem sounds are, and when you know how to say them clearly, you’re already half-way there to improving your pronunciation.
This is why I created ‘Advanced English Pronunciation In 30 Days’. It’s based on the sounds you find difficult (depending on your first language) and it gives you a clear learning plan to improve them. You even get practice and individual feedback on how you say them.
If this is something that could help you, click the button below!