Change is hard. I know this because, for me, the past couple of years have been all about change.
My husband and I watched our Denver neighborhood change a lot. We decided to move and find a neighborhood that felt more ‘right’. So, in 2015, we spent months fixing up our house, doing things I didn’t know we COULD do–working long hours every day when we weren’t doing ‘regular’ work. Then we sold our house, and we moved to a different house in a new neighborhood in a new city. New neighbors, new grocery store, new post office, new mayor. When you have not moved in nearly 20 years, it’s a lot of change.
Out with the old, in with the new. That’s what they say. But it can be hard to let go of the familiar, even when you know you will be happier in the end.
When people come to me to work on their pronunciation, I always say that it isn’t going to be easy to change. I start by telling them something I heard in grad school. One of my instructors described pronunciation improvement this way. She said there are four phases that we all pass through:
Phase One: We aren’t sure WHAT the problem is. We just know that people sometimes can’t understand things we say, or they think the way we speak sounds funny or strange. Most people who come to me are at this stage. After the initial analysis and assessment, everyone receives a report from me describing the problem and moves immediately into Phase Two.
Phase Two: At this stage, we understand the problem, but we aren’t sure what to do about it. Lessons can help people in Phase Two, because they show us what we must DO to change the way we speak. When we know HOW to change the way we speak, we have entered Phase Three.
Phase Three: In Phase Three, we know how to improve our speaking, but we only speak the *new* way when we are thinking about it. We have to concentrate when we speak to make the changes. If we stop thinking about it, we return to speaking the old way. This is the very hard phase. If you have been speaking English for a long time, it is annoying. Even if you are very fluent, now you need to pay attention to HOW you are saying things that you have said a thousand times. You need to correct yourself when you notice yourself speaking the old way. It’s hard work. How long people stay at this stage depends on many, many things, with the most important being motivation, energy, and time to practice. But only with hard work, attention to detail, and lots of self-monitoring is it possible to move on to the final phase–Phase Four.
Phase Four: In Phase Four, we don’t need to think anymore about how to say things the new way. Now it’s natural. We do it automatically. All the hard work has paid off.
Bottom line, change is not easy and it doesn’t happen overnight. But if we want something bad enough, with hard work, we can make it happen.
Here’s a hint to help you get to Phase Four as quickly as possible: LISTEN TO ENGLISH. Listen to music. Listen to natural conversations. Watch TV and movies in English WITHOUT subtitles as much as possible. Listen and pay attention to HOW people say things. Reading is a great way to improve your vocabulary and writing, but if you want to improve your pronunciation, you must LISTEN and speak. I cannot emphasize the LISTEN part enough. People’s brains expect to hear a language spoken in a familiar way. When words and sentences do not sound familiar, the listener can get confused or annoyed that they have to work so hard to understand.