How many times have you given a speech or a presentation, negotiated a deal, or chaired a meeting in English and afterwards felt that it could have been more effective? You felt frustrated because the audience didn’t seem fully convinced or your client didn’t grasp the importance of your message?
There are many reasons for this, but for professionals that are already proficient English speakers, pronunciation is often the key issue. So if you’re confident communicating in English in your everyday working life, addressing your pronunciation is what will take your English to the next level.
Think about what better English pronunciation really means for you in the business context – it means quicker conference calls, being easily understood by your international project team, commanding more respect at the negotiating table, or even a standing ovation for your next speech.
Here we’ve identified 7 tips to overcome the most common pronunciation problems faced by Italian speakers.
1. Unroll your R
The best place to begin is with the “R” sound. Do NOT roll your R’s like you do in Italian. In English, the “R” sound is a nothing sound. It almost doesn’t exist, but there are 2 different ways to pronounce this letter: the British often use the ‘schwa’ sound (uh or ah), so ‘mother’ becomes mothuh. Whereas Americans pronounce the “r” by bending the tip of their tongue up a little.
2. Master the “th” sound
‘Th’ is a tough one to master because it doesn’t exist in the Italian language and is therefore an awkward sound for the mouth to create. The “th” sound is made by air passing between your tongue and your top teeth (but with your tongue still in your mouth). The letters are either voiced (there) or unvoiced (thin). Never substitute a “d” or an “f” for the “th” sound. Not only does that brand you as a non-native speaker, but also rather ineloquent.
3. Get the stress right
Speaking with correct stress has the biggest impact on how well you’re understood – incorrect stress typically means native speakers don’t understand what you are saying until you finish the entire sentence. So if want your audience to have an easy time listening to you speak, you need to learn the correct pronunciation of words with more than 1 syllable. “Mandatory”, “develop” and “percentage” are just a few examples of words that are commonly mispronounced by Italians in the workplace.
The first syllable gets the stress in mandatory (MAN da to ry / ˈmændət(ə)ri), while the second syllable gets the stress in develop (de VE lop / dɪˈvɛləp) and percentage (per CEN tage / pəˈsɛntɪdʒ). Unfortunately, there are no easy rules as to which syllable gets the primary stress. Use your ear and pay attention to pronunciation when you’re watching English films, videos and in conversation with native speakers.
4. Introduce merged speech
In English, not only do we merge words together when we speak, like with “I wanna go” (I want to go), but in a single word the syllables can also be merged. The ‘able’ sound is one that nearly always gets merged. For example, comfortable, vegetable or interesting – native speakers say “comftable”, “vegtable” and “intresting”.
5. “Sit” vs “seat” – differentiate your vowel sounds
“Sit” and “seat”, “live” and “leave”, ”slip and “sleep”: these pairs of words have a distinctly different pronunciation – ih and eee. The difference may seem slight, but giving the wrong pronunciation to these words can change the meaning entirely. Just think, slipping (ih) on the floor is very different from sleeping (eee) on the floor! Revise the difference between these common vowel pairings and you can avoid embarrassing mistakes in your speech.
6. Know your “Ed” endings
Don’t let your pronunciation brand you as “the ugly Italian” when you mention things like LinkedIn.
Because the Italian language is almost entirely phonetic and every syllable is pronounced, Italians typically struggle with English words ending in “Ed”. The fact that there are 3 different pronunciations for “ed” endings doesn’t help: t, d, and Id. Asked and linked use “t”: askt, linkt. Lived uses “d”: livd. Started uses Id: startid. Unfortunately, you just have to learn these differences by heart – but always remember that none of these words are pronounced phonetically.
So that means, LinkedIn is NOT pronounced linkadin, but linktin.
7. There’s more to an effective delivery
In addition to improving how you pronounce individual words, you can enhance your delivery by focusing on your posture (standing up straight in a relaxed way), intonation (the rise and fall of your voice), and learning certain warm-up exercises and breathing techniques. Approaching your English communication in this holistic way is fundamental to making a positive impact on your audience, and getting the results you want. They’re necessary skills for any high-level business executive to achieve success in the workplace.
Do you want to improve your English accent?
On The Language Grid pronunciation program, our pronunciation expert works with you on an individual basis to identify your weaknesses, then through personalized innovative exercises, helps you overcome them. Our methodology focuses on effective communication, because it’s not just what you say, but how you say it that delivers results in business.
Image: © Roberto De Riccardis