Teaching Pronunciation



Pronunciation involves far more than individual sounds. Word stress, sentence stress, intonation, and word linking all influence the sound of spoken English, not to mention the way we often slur words and phrases together in casual speech. 'What are you going to do?' becomes 'Whaddaya gonna do?' English pronunciation involves too many complexities for learners to strive for a complete elimination of accent, but improving pronunciation will boost self esteem, facilitate communication, and possibly lead to a better job or a least more respect in the workplace. Effective communication is of greatest importance, so choose first to work on problems that significantly hinder communication and let the rest go. Remember that your students also need to learn strategies for dealing with misunderstandings, since native pronunciation is for most an unrealistic goal.

A student's first language often interferes with English pronunciation. For example, /p/ is aspirated in English but not in Spanish, so when a Spanish speaker pronounces 'pig' without a puff of air on the /p/, an American may hear 'big' instead. Sometimes the students will be able to identify specific problem sounds and sometimes they won't. You can ask them for suggestions, but you will also need to observe them over time and make note of problem sounds. Another challenge resulting from differences in the first language is the inability to hear certain English sounds that the native language does not contain. Often these are vowels, as in 'ship' and 'sheep,' which many learners cannot distinguish. The Japanese are known for confusing /r/ and /l/, as their language contains neither of these but instead has one sound somewhere between the two. For problems such as these, listening is crucial because students can't produce a sound they can't hear. Descriptions of the sound and mouth position can help students increase their awareness of subtle sound differences.

Here are some ideas for focusing on specific pronunciation features.

  • Voicing
    Voiced sounds will make the throat vibrate. For example, /g/ is a voiced sound while /k/ is not, even though the mouth is in the same position for both sounds. Have your students touch their throats while pronouncing voiced and voiceless sounds. They should feel vibration with the voiced sounds only.
  • Aspiration
    Aspiration refers to a puff of air when a sound is produced. Many languages have far fewer aspirated sounds than English, and students may have trouble hearing the aspiration. The English /p/, /t/, /k/, and /ch/ are some of the more commonly aspirated sounds. Although these are not always aspirated, at the beginning of a word they usually are. To illustrate aspiration, have your students hold up a piece of facial tissue a few inches away from their mouths and push it with a puff of air while pronouncing a word containing the target sound.
  • Mouth Position

Draw simple diagrams of tongue and lip positions. Make sure all students can clearly see your mouth while you model sounds. Have students use a mirror to see their mouth, lips, and tongue while they imitate you.

  • Intonation
    Word or sentence intonation can be mimicked with a kazoo, or alternatively by humming. This will take the students' attention off of the meaning of a word or sentence and help them focus on the intonation.
  • Linking
    We pronounce phrases and even whole sentences as one smooth sound instead of a series of separate words. 'Will Amy go away,' is rendered 'Willaymeegowaway.' To help learners link words, try starting at the end of a sentence and have them repeat a phrase, adding more of the sentence as they can master it. For example, 'gowaway,' then 'aymeegowaway,' and finally 'Willaymeegowaway' without any pauses between words.
  • Vowel Length

You can demonstrate varying vowel lengths within a word by stretching rubber bands on the longer vowels and letting them contract on shorter ones. Then let the students try it. For example, the word 'fifteen' would have the rubber band stretched for the 'ee' vowel, but the word 'fifty' would not have the band stretched because both of its vowels are spoken quickly.

  • Syllables
    • Have students count syllables in a word and hold up the correct number of fingers, or place objects on table to represent each syllable.
    • Illustrate syllable stress by clapping softly and loudly corresponding to the syllables of a word. For example, the word 'beautiful' would be loud-soft-soft. Practice with short lists of words with the same syllabic stress pattern ('beautiful,' 'telephone,' 'Florida') and then see if your learners can list other words with that pattern.
  • Specific Sounds
    • Minimal pairs, or words such as 'bit/bat' that differ by only one sound, are useful for helping students distinguish similar sounds. They can be used to illustrate voicing ('curl/girl') or commonly confused sounds ('play/pray'). Remember that it's the sound and not the spelling you are focusing on.
    • Tongue twisters are useful for practicing specific target sounds, plus they're fun. Make sure the vocabulary isn't too difficult.


Step in Teaching Pronunciation

Step 1: You have begun teaching the dialog. 

When you notice that a student has difficulty producing a particular word,  stop and isolate the word.

Step 2: Pronounce the word by itself and have the class repeat.

If the word is still too difficult, isolate the syllable that seems to  create the most difficult.

Step 3: Pronounce the syllable by itself and students repeat until they can say  it easily.

Step 4: Add additional syllables one at a time until the students can pronounce
the word.

Step 5: Pronounce the phrase or sentence again and have students repeat until
they can say the word in context.

Step 6: Have original student repeat sentence.


Teacher -- Do you have any children?

Student -- Do you have any __________.


Teacher -- Children

Class -- Chi_____.  (Students mispronounce the 2nd syllable.)


(Teacher isolates the problem syllable and has students repeat it.)

Teacher -- _____dren.

Class -- _____dren.


Teacher -- Children.

Class -- Children.


Teacher -- Do you have any children?

Class -- Do you have any children?


Teacher -- Do you have any children?

Student -- Do you have any children?



The most efficient way of showing contrast is by minimal pairs. Any pair of words or phrases or sentences where there is only one feature to distinguish them is a minimal pair. e.g.

part                             port

a tack                          a tag

He’s coming?           He’s coming.


Such pairs can be used in the following ways:

a.    The teacher instructs the students to judge whether he is saying two things that sound the same or different. Sometimes he says the contrasting pair, sometimes he says one member of the pair twice.

b.    The teacher says three items, two the same, one different. Students judge which item is the different one.

c.    The teacher says one of the pair and students indicate which one it is, either by referring to numbers (e.g. Sound 1, Sound 2), or by referring to pictures illustrating the words, or by performing an action illustrating the word, or by writing the word on the board or in their books, or by marking a choice in an arranged exercise, etc.

d.    The teacher says one of the pair and students either repeat it after him, or say both members of the pair, or say the other one. This can be done chorally, or by individual students chosen at random, or in turn rapidly round the class.






Thu, 22 Sep 2011 @01:03

Copyright © 2018 bejo sutrisno · All Rights Reserved