At its most basic level, pronunciation is the key to making your words understood and being able to comprehend those around you. If the person you are talking to does not understand what you have said, then you are not communicating, you are just making a noise at the other person!
Once you understand the simple aspects of how the language functions orally, you can start to communicate with others. If you are anything like me, then communicating with others is the main reason for learning a language. So, being able to say what you want and make sure the other person understands is a great result.
Because pronunciation is not just about how you speak, it is also about being able to understand others, the next level of pronunciation is being able to understand people with different accents. There are so many English accents and if we do not hear them regularly, or expose ourselves to a variety of accents, then we can find it really challenging to understand those we are not used to when we do come across them. For example, when I first came to Scotland, having never visited Scotland before and having grown up in the south east of England, I found the Glaswegian accent (spoken by people from Glasgow) almost impossible, but now I find it much easier, although a broad accent can still be challenging some days if I am honest!
It is the same for my clients – if they spend all their time watching American films, it can be difficult for them to understand an Australian accent. I also know that it is very subjective – certain accents will be harder for some than others.
Another level of pronunciation is understanding how grammar and sentence structure can change the pronunciation of certain words. This could be simple, for example that we use contractions, rather than saying each word individually, when we speak. It could even be being able to comprehend when words, which grammatically are not contracted, but in spoken English are merged together to make it easier for our tongues and mouths to get around the sounds. For instance, instead of 'Do you...' we often say /ʤə/.
Or it could be understanding that some words, especially auxiliary verbs and prepositions have strong and weak forms, depending on whether they are stressed or not; this could be the difference between 'been' being pronounced with a long /i:/ or a short /ɪ/. In order to comprehend proficient speakers we need to at least understand these differences, although using them in your own speech is not essential.
At its highest level, pronunciation is about being able to choose (whether consciously or unconsciously) your intonation, the words you emphasise, even your choice of words, to be able to influence how other people feel when you are talking to them. And all of this depends on context – who you are talking to, where you are when you are talking with them, whether you are on the phone, on a video call, or in person.
I am sure you have all experienced, on the one hand, listening to someone who you feel really does not care about what they are saying, and on the other hand, where you have heard someone speak and felt like they have seen you and care about you, and their topic of conversation. Their body language and eye contact will have played some part in that if they are with you in person, but even over the phone you can hear when someone is smiling – the warmth comes through the voice. That is how powerful your voice can be.
If your main aim for communicating is to be able to understand and be understood, then a basic understanding of English pronunciation will be enough for you. However, having worked so hard to get to your current level, wouldn't it be a shame to not go that little bit extra, to be able to influence the way people react to what you are saying in the way you want them to, by exploring the deeper aspects of intonation, stress and fluency.
If you are interested in learning more about how pronunciation can influence the way your message comes across, you can sign up for one of my upcoming courses here, or get in touch, either via DM, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org; use the words 'highest level pronunciation'.