How to Teach Pronunciation

Level appropriate suggestions on teaching English pronunciation skills

Teaching ESL
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Teaching English pronunciation is a challenging task with different objectives at each level. This guide on how to teach pronunciation provides a short overview of the main issues to be addressed at each level, as well as pointing to resources on the site, such as lesson plans and activities, that you can use in class to help your students improve their English pronunciation skills. Following each level are a few suggestions for level appropriate activities.

Finally, the best way to help students improve their pronunciation skills is to encourage them to speak English as much as they possibly can. Introduce the idea that even when doing homework students should be reading aloud. Learning to pronounce English well takes muscle coordination, and that means practice - not just mental activity! 

Beginning Level English Learners

Key Points:

  1. Syllable Stress - students need to understand that multisyllabic words require syllable stress. Point out common syllable stress patterns.
  2. Voiced and Voiceless Consonants - Teach the difference between voiced and voiceless consonants. Have students touch their throats to note the difference between 'z' and 's' and 'f' and 'v' to demonstrate these differences.
  3. Silent Letters - Point out example of words with silent letters such as the 'b' in 'comb', '-ed' endings in the past for regular verbs.
  4. Silent final E - Teach the influence of the final silent 'e' generally making the vowel long. Make sure to point out that there are many exceptions to this rule (drive vs. live).

    Discussion:

    At the beginning level, English learners need to focus on the basics of pronunciation. In general, the use of rote learning is best for this level. For example, the use of grammar chants is a great way to help students pick up pronunciation skills through repetition.Teaching the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) is too challenging at this point as learners are already overwhelmed with the challenges of learning a language.

    Learning another alphabet for pronunciation is beyond the capability of most beginning level English learners. Certain patters such as silent letters in English, and the pronunciation of -ed in the simple past is a good starting point for future pronunciation drills. Students should also learn the difference between voiced and voiceless consonants.

    Beginning Level Pronunciation Activities

    • Slap That Word! - Fun game for learners asking them to associate words that are posted on the wall of the classroom. This exercise will reinforce pronunciation patterns during a fun, competitive activity
    • Read and Rhyme - Rhyming game asking students to come up with words that rhyme with others presented on cards.

    Intermediate Level English Learners

    Key Points:

    1. Use of Minimal Pairs - Understanding the small differences in pronunciation between similar words is a great way to help students notice these differences.
    2. Word Stress Patterns - Help students improve their pronunciation by focusing on short sentences using standard word stress patterns. 
    3. Introduce Stress and Intonation - One of the best ways to help students is to focus their attention on the music of English through the use of stress and intonation. 

      Discussion:

      At this point, English learners will feel comfortable with relatively simple pronunciation patterns in English. Moving on to exercises using minimal pairs will help learners further refine their pronunciation of individual phonemes. Intermediate level learners should become aware of common word stress patterns, as well as sentence stress types. At this point, students can also begin becoming familiar with the IPA.

      Intermediate Level Pronunciation Activities

      • IPA Symbol Card Game - This card game helps students learn phonetic symbols. Cards are included on the site that you can print out and use in class.
      • Tongue Twisters - Classic English tongue twisters to help students focus on some of the more challenging phonemes.

      Advanced Level English Learners

      Key Points

      1. Refine Understanding of Stress and Intonation - Further students' understanding of stress and intonation by changing up particular words stress to change meaning.
      1. Use of Register and Function - Introduce the idea of changing through pronunciation depending on how formal or informal the situation is. 

      Improving pronunciation through focus on stress and intonation is one of the best ways to improve higher intermediate to advanced level English learners. At this level, students have a good grasp on the basics of each phoneme through the use of exercises such as minimal pairs, and individual syllable stress. However, English learners at this level often focus too much on correct pronunciation of each word, rather than on the music of each sentence. To introduce the concept of stress and intonation and the role it plays in understanding, the students first need to understand the role of content and function words. Use this lesson on practicing stress and intonation to help. Next, students should learn how to use sound scripting - a way of marking up texts to help prepare for reading aloud. Finally, advanced level students should be capable of changing meaning through word stresses within sentences to bring out contextual meaning through pronunciation.

      Advanced Level Pronunciation Activities

      • IPA Transcription Lesson - Lesson focusing on continuing students familiarity with the IPA in order to focus on the issue of connected speech in English.
      • Pronunciation Lessons Shared by Other Teachers - These pronunciation activities have been provided by English teachers around the world.
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      Your Citation
      Beare, Kenneth. "How to Teach Pronunciation." ThoughtCo, Feb. 8, 2017, thoughtco.com/how-to-teach-pronunciation-1210483. Beare, Kenneth. (2017, February 8). How to Teach Pronunciation. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-teach-pronunciation-1210483 Beare, Kenneth. "How to Teach Pronunciation." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-teach-pronunciation-1210483 (accessed November 22, 2017).