There are 26 letters in English.
But there are 44 sounds.
So, you see that there is NOT a direct one-to-one connection between letters and sounds in English.
In some other languages, the letters and sounds don’t change.
In English, they do.
Many students complain that you don’t speak English the same way you write it. This is true for many words. But, the good new is, about 80% of English is phonetic: you write it and say it in the same way. It’s important to learn the connection between letters and sounds in English. Once you understand them, you will be able to pronounce words more easily.
If you learn English as an adult, you will probably always have an accent. Of course, you should try your best to pronounce words correctly, but it is unlikely that you will sound like a native English speaker, even after many years in the U.S. But don’t worry. It’s not a problem. Having an accent is part of who you are. With time and practice, your accent may become less noticeable. But it will always be there, just a little.
English is also a stress-timed language, not a syllable-timed language. This means some words receive more stress than other words. When you read in English, you DON’T pronounce every word equally, with the same stress. You only put stress on the important words.
This page shows how native English sounds. You can click “play” and listen to the sentence 3 times. You can make it slower or faster. When you listen, you can see how every word is NOT pronounced with the same stress. Only the important words are stressed.
Here are some more sites for practicing pronunciation:
Sounds of English – Has different activities to hear different sounds and stresses.
Sounds of Speech – This site shows you how each sound in produced in the mouth. Visuals show movement of tongue, teeth and lips.
The Color Vowel Chart – Interactive Chart that links colors and key words for vowel sounds
LEVELS 1, 2, 3
ABC Fast Phonics: This site explains the sounds and letters in English.
GCF – Letter Explorer – You select a letter and this lets you see examples of words that contain the letter. You click on the word to hear it pronounced.
How to pronounce -ed in the past tense: A good site with audio links.
Many Things Pronunciation Practice: You can practice words that sound the same and more pronunciation games.
Phonics Lessons: This site has a lot of reading practice, but no audio.
LEVELS 4, 5, 6
EZ Slang – Offshoot of Randall’s Listening Lab, this site has only a handful of audio lessons that concentrate on using natural conversation with common reductions (i.e. want to -> wanna) and everyday slang.
Spelling and Pronunciation in English: No audio, but an interesting view of how spelling and pronunciation change.
Perfect Pronunciation: From the Merriam-Webster dictionary. This has audio you can listen to and read along with.
50 Difficult Words to Pronounce – Two podcasts and blog entries (25 words each) of words voted most difficult to say.
100 Mispronounced Words and Phrases – Check out common errors and how to pronounce them correctly.
Learn By Doing – Pronunciation – Has some interesting activities with stress and letter sounds.
2/2/2019 Update => these links are no longer working and unable to find current URL. I’m retaining it here to check again at a later date. It really was a superb resource.
English Pronunciation / Listening – Excellent site that has 13 units covering sound pairs. Each unit has lesson videos, minimal pair exercises and other activities (dictation, conversations, tongue twisters).
And just for fun see this video to see how tricky pronunciation can be.