English uses different sounds than other languages. For example, the first sound in the word thin and the first sound in the word away are never heard in many languages.
Therefore, you have to:
- know all the English sounds
- listen to how they sound in real words and sentences
- practice your pronunciation — listen to English words and sentences, and try to repeat them as well as you can
It's not so important to spend a lot of time practicing; it's more important to do it regularly. Many learners find that just starting to pay attention to pronunciation helps them improve a great deal.
It is a good idea to try to imitate English words whenever you're listening to anything in English (watching TV, watching a movie, etc.). You should also try to pronounce English words whenever you're somewhere alone with a little time to spare, e.g. while waiting for the bus, taking a shower, or surfing the Web. Once your mouth and tongue get used to the new sounds, you will not find them difficult at all.
You will need at least some talent for imitating sounds (for instance, if you can imitate people in your own language, it should be easy for you to "do" English pronunciation). However, if you don't have these skills, you can achieve a lot with persistence and a little technology. One helpful technique is to record your voice and compare it with the correct pronunciation. This way, you can see where your pronunciation is different from the original and you can gradually make it more native-like.
Oh, and one more thing: Don't let other people tell you that "since you are a foreigner, you will always have a foreign accent".
2. Learn the pronunciation of English words
Reading an English word does not tell you how it is pronounced. For example, the words noand do both end in the letter o. However, no is pronounced like this, and do is pronounced like that. This means that, generally, you have to learn the pronunciation of every word that you're going to use.
How can you learn the pronunciation of an English word? You can look it up in a dictionary and read about how it is pronounced. Dictionaries tell you about pronunciation through a special system called phonetic transcription.
Phonetic transcriptions are written in a phonetic alphabet. The most popular phonetic alphabet is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Antimoon has also created the ASCII Phonetic Alphabet, which is suitable for typing on a computer.
Antimoon's software, PerfectPronunciation, helps you learn the pronunciations of the most important English words. It lets you record your voice and compare it with the correct pronunciation. Because it contains phonetic transcriptions and audio recordings, it can also teach you how to read phonetic transcriptions.
3. Choose American or British pronunciation (or both)
Different kinds of English have different pronunciation. For example, the pronunciation (the accent) in British English is different from the pronunciation in American English.
You have a choice between British English and American English, because these are the most important kinds of English in the world. Which one should you choose? Probably the kind that you like the most. Whether you choose British or American pronunciation, people will understand you wherever you go. Of course, you don't have to decide: you can learn to speak both kinds of English.
4. Learn about both American and British pronunciation
Even if you choose to speak one kind of English, you should learn about both kinds. Let's suppose you want to speak pure British English. You don't want to have an American accent at all. Should you pay attention to the American pronunciations in your dictionary? We believe you should.
You may want to speak British English, but you will hear some American English, too. You may go see an American movie, visit the United States, have an American teacher, etc. You may want to speak only British English, but you need to understand both British and American English.
Also, consider what happens if you (a student of British English) hear a new English word from an American? You may learn the American pronunciation of the word. And you may start using that pronunciation in your own speech. So your British English will no longer be pure.
For example, if you hear the word nuke on American TV, it will be pronounced [nu:k]. If, all your life, you have been reading only British phonetic transcriptions, you will not know that many words which have the sound [ju:] in British English, have [u:] in American English. So you will probably learn that nuke is pronounced [nu:k]. But if you learn it like this, you will make your pronunciation "wrong", because a Briton would pronounce the word [nju:k].
Of course, the same advice is true if you're learning American English. In such a case, you should be interested in both British and American pronunciations, too.