Pronunciation is one of the most difficult parts of English. One reason for this is that, in English, the same letter or letters can make many different sounds, and the same sounds can be written many different ways. Even native speakers make pronunciation errors sometimes, often because they have seen a word written down, but have never heard it spoken. Non-native speakers also have to deal with issues such as rhythm, intonation, and linking. All of these are important for communicating clearly, and for making your spoken English sound more natural.
Fortunately, there is something you can do to practice your pronunciation at home which will help you with all of these; it’s called “shadowing”. In order to use this technique, all you need is a recording of someone speaking English, preferably with a transcript or subtitles. Good resources to use for this activity include podcasts, TED talks, and audiobooks (see my previous post for some useful links), but you can also do it with movies and TV shows.
The idea of shadowing is to copy the sound of the speaker as closely as possible. As you listen to the video and read the transcript, try to speak along with the speaker. Think about how the words sound, but also pay attention to the rhythm (stress, pauses, and connected words) and the intonation (changes in pitch i.e. how high or low the voice is). Pause and replay parts of the recording as you need to. You can repeat difficult words and phrases until you feel that your pronunciation sounds similar to that of the speaker. You may find it helpful to use headphones.
Below is a video which you can use to try shadowing for yourself. The video I have chosen is of Henry Cavill, who plays Geralt of Rivia in the Netflix adaptation of “The Witcher”. This programme, as you may know, is based on a series of novels and stories by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, and Mr. Cavill is reading from the English translations of one of these stories (“The Last Wish” or Ostatnie Życzenie in Polish). I have chosen this video for several reasons: it has subtitles; Mr. Cavill speaks clearly, has a nice voice, and, according to my wife, is almost as handsome as I am. I also enjoy the Witcher stories and hope to read them in Polish one day soon.
A quick warning: the part of the story that Mr. Cavill reads includes descriptions of violence, so it may not be appropriate for everyone.
Remember: when shadowing, you should try to sound exactly like the recording (or as close as you can) in order to practice sounds, rhythm, and intonation. However, the overall goal of pronunciation practice is not necessarily to sound like a native speaker; everyone who speaks English has an accent and there’s no such thing as “perfect” English pronunciation. The most important thing is to understand, and to be understood. You will probably never sound exactly like Henry Cavill, and that’s OK!