Improving your pronunciation with Forvo

When I lived in Italy, occasionally me and my friends would speak Italian to each other, in public, with the worst American accents we possibly could. It was fun, and occasionally we could get a couple of people of people to laugh at us on the subway in Milan, but in retrospect, I wish I had spent more time learning to sound like an Italian.

Me using Forvo
Me, my balding head, and doing a little language study during break time at work.

A few years after I had returned home, one of my friends, Massimo, who knew me from Italy, came to visit the United States. He complimented me on my Italian accent. My accent had actually improved since I had left Italy. Why? Because when I got home, I actually practiced my pronunciation and accent.

That was over ten years ago. Today, there are many more tools out there that can help us with our pronunciation. In this post, I talk about one of my new favorite one.

Ever find out about something you wish you had known about years ago. That's how I felt when I read about Forvo on Daniela Maizner's blog. Dani lists Forvo as one of the resources she uses very often, and I can see why.

Forvo is a website full of sound recordings of words in over 300 languages. There are over 2.5 million words with audio recordings. Some languages, like German, have over 300,000 recordings. The language I'm learning right now, Lao, has only 136 words. But I'm still finding Forvo useful with my Lao studies.

How I use Forvo

Lao has been a challenge to me for several reasons, including the facts that 1) it uses a completely different alphabet, 2) it is a tonal langugae and 3) some of the vowell sounds are quite different than the ones I'm used to as a native English speaker.

When I use Forvo, I look at a Lao word, and say it aloud. Then I listen to the recording of that word on Forvo, to see how close I am. If I'm not satisfied with my own pronunciation, I practice saying the word a few more times.

Since I'm still building my Lao vocabulary, most of the words I'm practicing I don't even know the meaning of. That doesn't bother me so much. I might look up a word or two in the dictionary, but my main focus is being able to read a Lao word and pronounce it correctly.

Speaking is critical in learning pronunciation

The reason my Italian accent improved after I left Italy was due to practice. I didn't practice the accent very much in Italy because I was embarrassed to practice. I was in Italy as a Mormon missionary and Mormon missionaries have almost zero alone time.

When I got back home and started driving places, I found I could talk to myself in my car in Italian all I wanted without anyone hearing me. My pronunciation improved quite a bit -- enough for my friend Massimo to notice the difference when he came to visit.

I wish I had been a little less shy about practicing aloud in Italy. I don't think any of my roommates would have made fun of me for practicing in the apartment. Today, I'm not as timid about practicing my pronunciation in front of others, and it pays off.

How do you practice your pronunciation?

What websites or methods have helped you in practicing your pronunciation? Share in the comments so we can all learn.


Stephanie 10 October 2014

I actually don't mind having an accent - so long as it's an accent that native speakers think is cute. Ha! But yes, I think that it's important to practice pronunciation from day one. My favourite tool is native speakers - but you need someone tough enough to actually point out your biggest mistakes and make you repeat words and phrases.

(as an aside - not sure if something's wrong with your feed, but I can't add your blog to Bloglovin.)

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Kent 11 October 2014

I can't remember anyone telling me in Italy they liked American accents, but maybe it was just no one liked my American accent. ;)

Thanks for the heads-up on my feed! I'll see what I can do to fix that.

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