For any language you want to learn, the List of Courses shows where you can get this computerized feedback on your pronunciation. The programs work by comparing your recording to a standard recording, adjusting for any basic difference in pitch. The programs vary widely in what they offer. Items 1-3 are excellent and worth getting.
- Transparent gives the most detailed graphs to show how well you pronounce. Each time you say a word or phrase, you can see an overall score, and graphs on how the vowels, consonants, pitch, etc. sounded. They provide this feedback for 76 languages. The graph of pitch would be especially good for tonal languages like Mandarin. $20-$40 gives you permanent ownership of the program, with all 76 languages, and no web connection is needed.
- Passport to Languages / Learn to Speak has a simple pronunciation score in 6 languages. They need Windows XP (nothing newer), and have less detailed graphs but more vocabulary than Transparent. $20 for purchase, and no web connection is needed.
- Pronunciator is an online subscription of $30 per month, has good scoring in 72 languages. It is easier to use than Transparent, though the graphs are far less detailed. It has at least as much vocabulary as Learn to Speak. It offers free samples of the pronunciation scoring, which most do not.
- Two more are expensive and hard to use, according to reviews: TellMeMore and Rosetta Stone. TellMeMore scores pronunciation generously. I got undeservedly high scores in Spanish. A graph shows volume and an extra line for pitch to help you learn intonation. Reviewers say that in sentences, you must speak each word separately to get a good score.
- Babbel gives you too little feedback about pronunciation and then moves on to reading and writing. It scores good pronunciation on a scale 50-100, but gives you no score or feedback on poor pronunciation and goes on to the next screen before you get the pronunciation right. They let you say each word just once each time through a lesson.
- Two others are free, but only teach intermediate English: EnglishCentral and GoEnglishMe.
- Berlitzonline is expensive, and no samples or reviews are available.
Arguelles discusses 5 ways to learn an accent:
- Recorded Native Speakers - very helpful, starting with slow, clear "didactic" speech, and advancing to authentic broadcasts, recorded books, and movies.
- Interacting with Native Speakers - the next step after recordings. Especially helpful is consultation with an expert phonetician in the target language who knows the most common pronunciation problems which learners from your language have. An encouraging idea is that hard work on any one pronunciation problem will help your other problems, because sounds are related. Several websites connect you with non-experts to practice through Skype or Kakao.
- Understanding Phonetics Principles - very helpful to understand how your mouth forms sounds, how sounds differ between languages, and how to change the habits of your mouth muscles to form new sounds. He mentions the example that T is formed by the tongue touching the top of the mouth; different languages have the tongue in slightly different places, and Hindi has 2 different T's, in 2 different places. Learning the principle may help you listen for and create the right T. He has an introductory video on phonetics principles
- Immersion - in a country where the language is used everywhere, spoken and written, it becomes a "living thing" and has power to pull you in.
- Text and Phonetic Symbols - too hard for most people.
He has found that children up to about age 12 can learn accents very well: their ears are willing to hear new consonants and vowels which are slightly different from their native language, and their mouths are willing to form these. After that age, depending on natural ability, many students can learn a good accent, when learning from good models, but a completely native accent would be rare. You can see this distinction for example in recordings of native speakers and US teachers at Middlebury Language Schools. The US professors are excellent speakers, but their pronunciation and rhythms are not quite the same as the native speakers'.
The Foreign Service Institute, which teaches US diplomats, makes a similar point, "Most adults are not good at eliminating accents and developing a native-like pronunciation, but, for FSI, as stated earlier, proficiency refers to the ability to use language as a tool to get things done. Native accent is typically not a practical criterion for success in this ability (although intelligibility is)" (p.74).
Some books explain how to form words in each language, and discuss common errors. For example:
- Edith Skinner has hundreds of speaking exercises for actors, and a CD, which would also help learners of English. These are in her 400-page book, Speak with Distinction, not the 40-page booklet with the same title.
- Peter Avery (1992) describes English pronunciation in detail, updated from an earlier version for Canadian immigration classes. It discusses distinct errors in English by speakers of Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The book is written in English, for teachers, and could also be useful for intermediate students. Amazon has sample pages.
- Celce-Murcia also describes English pronunciation, and the 2010 edition includes 2 CDs of her examples (sample pages).
- If these are not in your library, there may be other books in subject classifications PE1137, PN2071, 421, or 428
Avery says learners have difficulty both "because they have never exercised their mouth in the particular way required to pronounce certain English sounds," and because their native language affects "the ability to hear English words... Students continually repeat a mispronounced word in the same way... the word is heard through the sound system of the native language... sounds which occur in the native language will be heard rather than the actual sounds of English" (p.xv).
A good accent, which does not cause barriers to communication, is a reasonable goal. Learning from native speakers is a good starting point, and is possible with the best courses reviewed here. Starting with teachers who themselves have poor accents, and perhaps never learned from native speakers, would be a handicap.
There is even a small potential problem with native teachers who have learned your language well enough to interact with you. A study of 7 native French-speakers who had learned English well, and 7 native English-speakers who had learned French well, found the pronunciation of T in the native language had shifted away from the norm in the native language, in some respects, to be more like T in the second language. So bilingual teachers may not be the best models to learn from! (Flege, Journal of Phonetics, 1987 v.15 pp.47-65)
Arguelles notes that recorded didactic voices often have pauses for you to repeat. He prefers no pauses, so you speak along with the native speaker. This approach is available in the English lessons on this site, as well as Language Guide and Book2.