How to Improve Your Foreign Language Pronunciation with Forvo

When you’re studying a foreign language, do you learn a lot of new words by reading?

I do. Even though I’m a big proponent of a listening-based approach, I often rely on written texts and word lists to build my vocabulary.

Image Source

By Fg2 (Own work) [Public domain], Image Source

But there’s a problem with that. Two actually. First, I don’t know precisely how the new words sound, so I can’t easily recognize them while listening. Second, I also can’t pronounce them properly.

Luckily, there’s a free tool out there to help get around this: Forvo.

Why Pronunciation is Tricky

The letters of an alphabet are supposed to represent the sounds of a language. Unfortunately, in terms of phonology, writing systems are imprecise. (I mean, seriously, what’s the deal with the silent K?)

As native speakers of a language, we don’t find this too big of a deal. We learn our first language first by hearing it as children. Then when we learn to read, we match up written text with what we already know of the language that we’ve heard thousands of hours of.

Since alphabets are neither consistent within the same language nor among different ones, linguists (language scientists) have come up with an International Phonetic Alphabet. This alphabet is an amazing innovation and I’m absolutely impressed that professional linguists know and use this.

I’m going to be honest, though: I’m never going to use the IPA. You can chalk some of that up to laziness, I suppose. But authentic foreign language texts aren’t often written in IPA. And even if they were, I just don’t have it in me to spend my time dissecting a language with a scalpel and a magnifying glass.

So what then?

In Comes Forvo

Forvo is a website with pronunciations of millions of words, spanning over 300 languages. Users–typically native speakers of a language–upload a recording of them saying the word aloud. These words are then searchable by you, the language learner.

Here’s the procedure for how I learn to pronounce a new word:

1. Search for the word: Go to Type the word in the search bar (red box, next graphic). Click the Go button. A list of results displays.


2. Select a search result: Click a result in the list. In this example, I want to see all the pronunciations for the word “mich,” so I click the top link (red box, next graphic).

forvo_23. Play the pronunciation: Click one of the play buttons (red boxes, next graphic). Notice that a brief description of the speakers is provided, so you can tell what country they’re from and what gender they are.


4. Listen: Play the pronunciation several times. If you want, close your eyes. Really pay attention to how the word feels in your ears. Notice things like the sounds of the consonants, the sounds of the vowels, the number of syllables, the rhythm of the syllables, and–if applicable–any rising or falling tones.

5. Repeat: Repeat after the speaker. Try to parrot the speaker as much as possible. Do your best to forget what’s written and instead focus on imitating the actual sound and matching the cadence. Repeat this as many times as necessary. I try to repeat after the speaker at least five times.

Pros and cons of this approach

If you do this, you’ll get several benefits:

  • You’re repeating after a native speaker of the language so you’re emulating an authentic pronunciation.
  • While you don’t get feedback, if you pay attention you’ll likely be able to hear how closely your own pronunciation matches the speaker’s.
  • Hearing the word will help you remember it better, since you now have aural context to give the word additional “meaning.”

Admittedly, this method isn’t perfect:

  • You’re not hearing how a word sounds like jumbled up with other words, as it would be in natural speech.
  • The words are usually spoken a little slowly, so it’s a manufactured speaking pace.
  • You may not get natural, colloquial pronunciations of words, so you might develop some stiff pronunciation patterns. For example, if you were learning English, you might develop the habit of saying “going to” instead of the more common “gonna” or “goin’ to.”
  • It’s not practical to do this with every single new word you learn.

To that last point, what I suggest doing is not using Forvo to learn to pronounce every word, but just a sample of words. If you learned 20 words, for instance, then maybe try and run 5 of them through Forvo. Over time, this will add up and you’ll likely start picking up pronunciation patterns subconsciously.

Ultimately, I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons. At the very least, I recommend using Forvo to supplement other things you’re doing and adjusting this procedure for your own needs.

After all, if you begin matching the deliberate enunciation of Forvo clips and the biggest ding on your pronunciation is that you speak “too clearly,” then you’re not doing too bad.






  • Cori

    That´s a great tool. When I have doubts about English words I use , there is an audio version of majority of the words in English. I´m studying Portuguêse now, and I do have a native teacher, but I´m going to try Forvo too so I don´t have to wait for my next class. I hope I can take Chinese one day as well.

    When you said that a learner would develop the habit of saying “going to” instead of “gonna”, it made me remember one class I had in USA. I was talking to my American teacher, and said “gonna”, she corrected me saying that although it was a common word spoken in natives, it was better if I avoided slang, as it sounded “fake” to them in English learners. Haha…I´m not sure if her opinion was decisive as for what´s right or wrong. But it made me think twice either to use slang or not. And I don´t usually do it.
    Great Blog, great post.

    • Ron G.

      Hi, Cori! Thanks for the note and the info about I’ve looked up words there before, but hadn’t thought to use their audio tools. Cool!

      That’s an interesting perspective from your teacher. I hear it both ways from non-native English speakers. My mom is from the Philippines and she alternates between “gonna” and “going to,” with no real pattern. I don’t know the right answer either hahahaha.

      Your English writing is great and tells me that your English level is high. You don’t have to use slang if you’re not comfortable doing so, but if you want to, I’m sure you could get away with it. :)

      • Cori

        Thank you Ron!

  • Lindsay Dow

    Ooo, this looks like a great resource. Very excited to try it! Thanks as always for the useful posts, Ron! :)

    • Ron G.

      Cool! Let me know, please, if you try it and what your thoughts are. :)

  • Roman Shinkarenko

    “The Art of Imperfect Pronunciation Improving Methods”

  • Oscar García

    Hi Ron, I think sometimes we underestimate pronunciation´s importance but for me is a very important part when you’re studying a second language. I use Forvo and is great. And I let you another tool for mobile: It’s not developed as Forvo, but I think the progress is good. We’ll see. Regards!