How I learned English pronunciation

People often assume that I know how to pronounce most* English words because I have lived and studied in London. As if my tongue learned how to stick itself between my teeth as soon as I landed on the English soil.

Well, it didn’t. I wish it was that easy. But in fact, learning the correct pronunciation of English words has been a bloody nightmare. Especially since I realised that I was getting it all wrong after I had already moved to England.

I remember leaving the airport thinking that my English was pretty good. Besides, I had studied its grammar and literature for years. I knew Shakespeare, Orwell and Woolf and I carried with me the poems of T.S. Eliot. How difficult could a simple conversation be?

I found out pretty soon. Within a few minutes of asking for directions it became clear that I couldn’t understand half the things people said to me. I watched their faces turn blank as I stuttered through my sentences, feeling completely helpless. It was horrible.

Suddenly I was alone in a foreign country and I couldn’t even buy a freaking train ticket without sounding like an idiot.

Obviously, I had to learn how to speak English properly — and learn it quickly. And since interaction with native speakers was too frustrating, I turned to my only friend for help. Did you guess who it was?

No, not T.S. Eliot.

I’m talking about the Internet.

Yes, you heard me. I’ve learned the correct English pronunciation on YouTube.

At the time I had a celebrity crush on Keira Knightley**, so I set out to watch all the interviews with her that I could find online. I found Keira so perfect I could just listen to her talking for hours. Then I went out and tried to impersonate her.

The brilliant thing about this is that it actually worked. I’d always believed in Keira, and she did the magic: a couple of months later, I got an unconditional offer to study journalism at City University London. The rest is history.

Of course, my journey to speak proper English was still long and filled with challenges. I mean, I went to study journalism. Once I mispronounced ‘baked beans’ on the radio and that, ‘ba-ka-deh bee-ns’, became my nickname for the rest of the year.

So, I guess the point of this story is: go on YouTube. Find a celebrity you like and become their talking twin. And do it now, before you move abroad and have to learn it the hard way. YouTube works everywhere!


*It’s a never-ending process. You should know that.

**Obviously not anymore. I mean, I’m totally over her. For real. Like, who the hell is she? I can’t even remember…