On the TOEFL, pronunciation matters. While you won’t lose points for having an accent, you will be penalized if you mispronounce words or can’t be understood. Here are ten tips that can help you improve your pronunciation before taking the test.
Learn an American accent
The test is specifically designed for people who want to study in the United States, so the evaluators prefer American pronunciation (and spelling). While most consonant sounds are the same as British English, vowel sounds are very different.
Know the International Phonetic Alphabet
Once you’ve mastered all the IPA symbols, you’ll know the pronunciation of any word just by looking it up in the dictionary. Check out this great guide for vowels here.
Use Learner’s Dictionary
When you first learn a new word, you want to make sure you learn its correct pronunciation. Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary shows you the phonetic transcription of each word so you can do just that.
Practice speaking every day
You can’t improve your pronunciation just by reading about it; you have to put what you learn into practice! Read aloud. Chat with English-speaking friends. Sing. Use any opportunity to practice.
Ask for feedback
It can often be hard to identify your own trouble areas, so get help from an ESL teacher. A native speaker can also be a great resource, but an experienced teacher will be able to better communicate any issues you face.
This is a great way to spot errors, but recording yourself is also important because you’ll be talking to a computer for the exam. Make yourself comfortable with the process.
Focus on difficult sounds
Once you know your trouble areas, underline words that contain those sounds in any passages you’re reading, and then say them aloud, focusing on those words. Also, practice listening for problem sounds in podcasts, in music, and on TV.
You’ve likely imitated someone else before as a joke, but now this can actually be useful! Choose a particular phrase from a movie or TV show, listen to it over and over, and then do your best imitation of the native speaker.
Don’t get fancy on exam day
When it’s time to take the test, don’t make the mistake of trying to impress by using a longer, more advanced word when a simpler one will do. Stick to words you feel confident you can pronounce when possible.
Relax! It’s okay to have an accent
You can lose points for pronunciation errors, but that doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. The key is to make sure you speak clearly and be understood.