The Importance of Enunciation

The terms pronunciation and enunciation are often confused or conflated. Although closely related, they are two different skills good speakers (and readers) can learn.

“Pronunciation is the act of making the correct sounds that create a word and saying the whole word correctly. Enunciation is the act of saying a word concisely and clearly, so the correct sounds and the whole word can be understood.” – Philip Huber

Both terms are important aspects of speaking English well and being understood by your listeners. The two terms are often included in an English as an additional language (EAL) program, however, they should not be overlooked for general literacy programs for both adults and children. Pronunciation is well understood, but enunciation can be overlooked. Darren McStay offered a concise explanation of the words articulation, enunciation and pronunciation in the video below. Please note that contrary to Mr. McStay’s video, the terms articulation and enunciation are sometimes used interchangeably.

 

Singers, actors and public speakers recognize the value of enunciation and fostering understanding through clear speaking. Many of us, even native speakers, make common enunciation mistakes.

  • Speaking too quickly. When you speak too quickly, your words have a tendency to blend together. Slow down so you can focus on speaking clearly.
  • Dropping consonants. For example, shortening and to simply an /n/ sound that can be misunderstood as the word in. Another example is dropping the final g in the word going so that is sounds more like goin’. You may also drop consonants in the middle of a word. Common letters are b, d, p, and t.
  • Using slang. A common example is blending words to shorten them. For example, going to is said as gonna.
  • Muttering. This is speaking too quietly or softly to be understood.
  • Mumbling. This is speaking in such an indistinct and low voice that your words blend together.

Some tips for improving enunciation

  • Listen to a recording of your voice. You will be more likely to hear when you make one of the errors above. Even better, listen to yourself in casual conversation so you’re not as conscious of your speaking voice.
  • Practice tongue twisters. Try different tongue twisters that use words you tend not to enunciate. For example, if you tend to drop consonants, try to enunciate each word of this tongue twister, “Betty bought a bit of butter but the bit of butter Betty bought was bitter.”
  • Enlist a friend. Ask a friend, tutor, or loved one to help you notice when you’re not enunciating.
  • Breathing exercises. If you’re a mutterer or mumbler, ensuring you have adequate air is important for speaking more clearly.

It should be noted that over enunciation can also be a problem. This causes your speech to sound fake, forced or even condescending. The key is find the right balance between speaking clearly and pronouncing words correctly, while remaining tolerable to listen to. Practice, of course, makes perfect! Check out the resources below to learn more about enunciation.

Resources

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