Spelling -vs- Pronunciation
When it comes to pronunciation, English can be pretty tricky. And the differences between the way English works and the way Tagalog works can make it even more confusing. Here are a few hints to help you in your quest for great English pronunciation.
The first thing to remember is that, while Tagalog words are pronounced exactly as they are spelled, English doesn't work that way. In English, spelling and pronunciation are only loosely related. This is very important! Unlike Tagalog, English pronunciation is not always determined by spelling.
So how does that work?
Ok, first, the basics. the Tagalog language has 28 sounds, each represented by one of the 28 letters in the alphabet. And each letter produces only one sound, with no variants. The Tagalog A, for example, always produces the AH sound, as in BAKIT. It never sounds like BAKE-IT or BACK-IT. There is only one A sound in Tagalog.
In addition, Tagalog does not use letter combinations or silent letters. Each letter is pronounced individually, even in the case of double or triple vowels (DOON, MAAARI).
As a result, Filipinos are programmed to pronounce words exactly as they are spelled, and to apply the Tagalog sound to each letter. Even after hearing an English word pronounced by a native speaker, Filipinos tend to fall back to their original spelling-based interpretation. Think HAMBURJER!
English pronunciation, on the other hand, is only loosely related to spelling.
The English alphabet contains 26 letters, but the spoken language uses roughly 44 sounds. This means that some English letters can represent more than one sound. Think of the four different sounds of the letter A in the English words FATHER, FAT, FATE and FALL.
English also uses letter combinations to represent sounds that seem completely different from the letters in that combination. The PH in PHYSICAL and the GH in TOUGH are examples. And don't forget the different sounds of OU in YOU, LOUD, TOUGH and SHOULDER.
Native English speakers learned to pronounce English words before they learned to spell them, and so accepted these inconsistencies without question. They pronounce new English words as they hear them, not as they read them. As a child, I knew how to pronounce FATHER, FAT, FATE and FALL, long before I learned that they are all spelled with the same vowel (A). And even before I went to Kindergarten, I knew that FLOWER and FLOUR sound exactly the same. Pronounce FLOUR just like FLOWER (not FLAR).
Later, when I went to school and learned to spell these words, I just accepted the inconsistencies between pronunciation and spelling. I already knew how to pronounce them. The odd spelling didn't change anything.
In a way, we can say that English words are pronounced as you hear other people pronounce them, while Tagalog words are pronounced exactly as they are spelled.
For Filipinos, coming from a language where spelling dictates pronunciation, this can be very confusing. When speaking English, most Filipinos try to apply Tagalog pronunciation rules (pronouncing the English words MAN and RACK with a Tagalog AH). When pronounced with a Tagalog AH sound, the word RACK sounds like ROCK. You can see how this might start to cause a little miscommunication between you and I.
So what does this mean for you? It means that, while reading is a very important technique for improving your English grammar and vocabulary, the best way to improve your pronunciation is with your ears. As often as possible, listen to native English speakers and try to imitate their pronunciation. Listen for the tiny differences between RICE and RISE (the second one ends with a Z sound). Or between TOAST and TOSSED (the second one rhymes with LOST).
The problem, of course, is that you are not surrounded by native English speakers. But you still have access to television and movies. Just a few minutes each day, listening to native English speakers and repeating what they say, can have a huge impact on your pronunciation. There are lots of regional pronunciation differences from one American to the next, and of course there are differences between American English and British English, but watching CNN news each night is a good start. Look for Jim Clancy or Wolf Blitzer, both great examples of clear English pronunciation.
If you spend 15 minutes a day listening to a native English speaker and imitating his pronunciation, every day for a month, your pronunciation will improve. Guaranteed.