In this post we look at how you can improve your pronunciation by reading. Yes, that’s right – by reading. While it’s true that many people feel frustrated by English pronunciation and some are even put off reading because of this, we’ll show you how reading can actually help.
Why do people often feel that reading in English is a waste of time? First off, it’s definitely true that reading in English presents challenges. The look of the word is so often different from the sound of the word that many people feel reading will just confuse them. This difference between how English looks and sounds is one of the biggest challenges that students face.
Compare English with, for example, Italian, and you end up with a very different experience. Take the Italian word ‘cammino’ (ka-miː-nəʊ): all the vowel sounds are open and the word looks like it sounds. Most words in Italian follow this pattern and so are completely predictable. Compare this the English word ‘laugh’ (lɑːf): while the ‘l’ itself might be predictable enough, the vowel sounds are not, and the pronunciation of ‘gh’ is downright peculiar. ‘A’ is an open sound ‘ɑː’ and ‘gh’ is a simple ‘f’. And so laugh, a very common word, is pronounced quite differently from how it appears on the page.
We could give many examples, but the basic point remains the same. English, often enough, looks different to how it sounds. So, in terms of reading, what can a student do to make sure they are pronouncing the words they read correctly? Is the situation hopeless? Is it impossible? Thankfully, the answer to that is ‘no’. What’s more, the solution is very simple.
There are many ways to use reading to improve your pronunciation, some better and some worse than others. By far the most effective, however, is audiobooks. Wait, you might say, how is an audiobook going to improve my pronunciation? What if I listen to it and can’t understand anything? Don’t worry – the answer to this is very simple.
This practice is so simple yet at the same time it’s totally effective. The technique is this: find a book you want to read (see below). To keep your motivation high, it’s important to find a book you’re interested in. Go to an audiobook website, such as audible, and check that an audio version is available. If it is, buy a copy of the audiobook and a physical copy of the book. Once you have both, simply read and listen at the same time.
Doing this will let you see and hear the difference between the words on the page and the actual sound of the words. By reading along with the narrator, you will practice correct pronunciation as you go. This technique is so useful for many reasons. For one thing, any time you don’t understand something or some difficult pronunciation, you can go back and check the sound as many times as you like. This is the major advantage the technique has over watching films or series.
Of course, you can repeat a scene in a film or TV show if you have a digital version, but what you don’t have is a copy of the words. This technique allows you to read and check the sounds as many times as you like. What’s more, while it’s true that you can do this with music and song lyrics, singers often distort the sound of words for rhythmic effect. The narrator of the audiobook almost always speaks more clearly than a singer. Try making sense of Thom Yorke, or Bob Dylan after 1976. Songs are a great way to learn, but this technique of simultaneously reading and listening to books is 100 times clearer. And easier!
Another benefit of this technique is that, as well as improving your pronunciation, you also get all the regular benefits of reading as well. These are: learning new vocabulary, new phrases, repeating and strengthening grammar patterns. You also see how the language is constructed and get time to think about what you’re reading. Reading improves your memory, vocabulary, empathy, and concentration. It strengthens your brain in ways that physical exercise strengthens your muscles.
So, all this is to say that reading and listening to an audiobook is really good for your language skills and good for you as a person too. But are there any drawbacks?
There are limitations to this method. The most obvious is that you might not be able to find a version of the book you’d like to read. What does this mean? Let’s say, for example, you want to read War and Peace. You find a physical copy of the book, but no audiobook. Or the other way round. What to do? The key here is that you simply have to choose a book which is popular enough to exist in both formats.
For example, if you want to read Harry Potter, you will very easily find a paper and an audio version of both. If you want to read a typical spy thriller or romance, it will also be easy to achieve. So, make sure you choose something popular, and you’ll be fine. In fact, this is pretty much the only drawback of this method – can you find a copy of both? If not, look for something else. If yes, you’re ready to start.
This ties in to the final point – motivation. Make sure the book you choose is something you WANT to read. Reading in a different language from your own is a great experience and can give you a lot of mental satisfaction. It can give you a great sense of achievement, indicating your progress and level. At the same time, it’s not always easy. There are occasions when you will find many new words and or difficult phrases, and this can sometimes make you feel despondent.
The best way to deal with these feelings is by first choosing a book you’re really interested in. When the reading gets tough, your level of interest in the book, your motivation to understand it and finish it, will help you to persist. Simply put, if the book is boring to you, you’ll give up. If it’s stimulating, you’ll carry on, despite the difficulty.
Reading is an excellent way to improve your language. It can help to consolidate grammar knowledge and expanding your vocabulary. But it presents challenges, especially for pronunciation (in English at least). The technique of both reading and listening at the same time can work wonders for improving your pronunciation. Remember, though, to choose a book you really want to read. This will help you when reading gets difficult, but it will also help your memory. That is to say, the more interested you are, the more you will remember.
What has been your experience reading in English? Do you have any book recommendations? Have you tried audiobooks before? Why not leave an account of your experiences in the comments section below.
Finally, if you’d like to know more about any of our English courses, have a look at the range we offer here.
Here’s a list of audiobook websites:
And for physical books: