Pronunciation rules and phonetic transcriptions are auxiliary tools created for teachers and trainers. For learners, these tools are generally only helpful when they already have a good basic knowledge of the foreign language.
It is much easier and more effective for learners to prick their ears: Listening is the most important step in being able to speak a foreign language well and without accent:
1. Listen and understand
2. Read along (quietly or loudly)
3. Speak on your own
Whether a toddler or an adult – we all learn by listening and imitating. However, adults have some specific advantages: they already know at least one language and can pronounce, read and write many sounds. This advantage makes language learning even faster.
Choral Speaking or Speaking in Unison
The best way to practice speaking is by speaking in unison. You will hear the foreign language and repeat it. This action is an additional exercise for those who want to have perfect pronunciation. For the activity, you need an audio recording of a foreign-language text that you already know and understand (e.g. by de-coding). These can be the lyrics and recording of a song, the recording from a textbook, a language learning program etc. Now try to speak in chorus with the speakers.
The Principle of Choral Speaking
Play the recording and speak “in chorus.” Alternatively, you can speak “in echo”, i.e. at a very short distance from the native speaker. The echo speech is a bit unusual at first, but after a few minutes, you will undoubtedly succeed without any effort.
Choral speaking is one of the exercises that leads you into “harmony” with the speaker: by speaking and repeating, your brain automatically compares the native speaker’s pronunciation with yours and can almost completely equalize the differences. The more often you do the exercise, the better your pronunciation will be, and the more likely you will avoid a “foreign accent.” If perfect pronunciation is your primary goal, then you should do this exercise even more often.
How Choral Speaking Works in Detail
In the beginning, adjust the volume of the native speaker so that it’s as loud as your voice. Do this exercise until you feel that you are becoming more competent. After a few repetitions, continuously turn down the volume of the recording until you can no longer hear it at all. Over time, you will no longer need the speaker’s voice because your pronunciation will be correct.
When are you ready to talk? Ideally, you naturally start talking. And you will, because by listening, your brain prepares. Remember, mistakes are normal. One day you won’t make anymore.
The Beginner’s Alternative: Echo Speaking
In the beginning, choral speaking is unusual and somehow tricky for most people. Alternatively, you can speak “in echo,” i.e. very shortly after the original speaker. The echo speaking might also be a bit strange in the beginning, but after a few minutes, you will succeed without too much effort.
You can use echo speaking to prepare for choral speaking in general or for any new phrases you want to practice. For example, if you have de-coded a passage of a text (word-for-word translation) and listened actively (listened to the recording and read the word-for-word translation). Then you might want to practice and improve your pronunciation. Speak the text in echo for 3 to 5 days – 1 to 2 10-minute sessions per day are sufficient. Try to switch to choral speaking after a few days.
Learning tip: learn in sessions
Our short-term memory is limited. As a rule, it can only hold 5 to 9 units of information at a time. Therefore, it is more efficient to learn in short periods. We recommend 10-minute sessions. Then the brain can fully focus. You also benefit from the so-called “spacing effect”. Meaning that our brain processes information subconsciously, even if we have been concentrating on something else for a long time. If you learn for 10 minutes intensively and actively, your brain continues to work passively for another 10 minutes. However, if you learn actively for 60 minutes, your brain will also only continue to work passively for 10 minutes. Short breaks are, therefore, very useful for learning efficiently and successfully.