Fixing pronunciation with reference words

Pronunciation training is an essential part of speech clarity improvement in English.

Not everyone likes detailed pronunciation work right away.


I know. Our voice is quite an intimate thing.

When we are required to alter pitch and sound formation, it may feel like we’re performing.

While we’re not required to sing to correct pronunciation errors, we are certainly required to speak somewhat differently.

And it can feel uncomfortable at times.


However, the good news is: it can be done in fun ways, and it’s not about getting rid of accent. That would be hard work, and most people don’t need that anyway.

We’re simply talking about clear pronunciation.


Clear pronunciation will make our audience happier. It will conserve their precious listening energy longer, and this will increase the communication value.


1-Minute Tip ⏳


Today I’ll show you one practical pronunciation training tip you can add to your learning tools kit.

Let’s suppose we find it hard to remember the correct pronunciation of the following words:

  • bear

  • bird

  • beer

  • beard

I have seen a lot of Spanish speaking learners of English struggle with making the different vowels sound correctly in these words.

Here’s what to do to fix it:

Find a reference word that you can pronounce correctly.

You must find a word that has the target sound (the sound you have difficulty saying in the “problem” word).

This word will be your reference word.


For instance, let’s take the first word from the list: bear

I choose a reference word for bear: hair


In hair the same vowel (here a diphthong) is used as the one I should use in bear.

If I am able to pronounce hair correctly, I can simply copy the vowel from hair and I can say bear with the same vowel.

As simple as that.


When I say hair, and then bear, the only difference is saying /b/ instead of /h/. The rest is a simple “copy-paste”.


Using reference words is practical to:

  • practise or correct pronunciation

  • to orient whenever you are in doubt about the right sound


Here’s a short video explaining this:


Hope this little trick helps you figure out the pronunciation differences between words that can be confusing at first sight, or words that you have been saying with incorrect pronunciation in the past and you want to fix now.

Interested in the whole video with the rest of the reference words and examples? Message me on LinkedIn saying “reference words video” and I’ll send you the link in the reply (no email registration needed).

The content I share with you is from my 20+ years teaching experience. I don’t use AI to compose or think for me.


👋 Hi, I’m Gábor.

I help business professionals to be successful internationally by building English fluency in simple ways.

Need help?

💬 Message me for a free chat. I’ll be glad to listen and help you discover your best roadmap to advancing your business in English.

Connect | Gábor Légrádi | MA, RSA/CTEFLA

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