5 Things to Remember When Teaching English Pronunciation

by | Jul 5, 2017 | Teaching ESL

What’s the next hardest thing after speaking? Pronunciation, naturally. It’s all well and good to be able to know the word “bird.” But when you start pronouncing it as “bed,” then we have a problem. Teaching English is no different – there are so many rules, many of which just don’t make sense, and it can be really frustrating for a student to know exactly how to pronounce a word.

Here are 5 things to remember and implement when teaching how to pronounce words.

It’s All in the Face

If you’ve learned French, you’ll know exactly what this means. Sometimes, in order for a word to come out right, your lips have to make the right movements. How can you do this? In a number of ways. For example, when you say words, make sure to accentuate the movement of your mouth. As your students see how your mouth is shaped when you pronounce words, the easier it will be for them to follow suit.

You may fell silly sounding out words in an exaggerated manner, but it will go a long way in aiding your students in pronouncing words correctly. This may mean making a huge ‘O’ shape of the mouth when saying a word like “loaf.” As your students copy your mouth movements, it makes it easier for them to reciprocate and produce the sound as it should be.

Mother Tongue Influence

Imagine a Chinese student saying this tongue twister, “Red lorry, yellow lorry.” Thanks to their mother tongue, most Chinese students struggle with the “r” and “l” sounds because they don’t have them in their language. How do you overcome this challenge? By being conscious of your students’ mother tongue and customizing lessons accordingly.

Mother tongue influence is a strong barrier when it comes to correct pronunciation. With Chinese students, it’s important to emphasize, word stress as Chinese tends not to have. To illustrate, you may ask the student, “are you hungry?” which would require a neutral “no.” However, when you ask them, “are you angry I took your piece of chicken?”, they could very well answer “no” with a neutral tone instead of an angry tone. It is therefore imperative to make your students aware of different situations and the tone of voice required to convey the correct feelings. Role plays would be a good aid in this endeavor.

Stress in a Word Makes a Difference

As your students mimic your pronunciation, it is important that you explain what parts of a word are stressed. Make them realize that it’s important for them to stress words correctly or they might be misunderstood. Make the distinction clear when speaking. Be quick to correct incorrect stress. If you don’t, it will be harder for the student to say the word correctly.

Also, make use of the blackboard/whiteboard when showing stress. Use various colors, capital letters and other mediums to emphasize where the stress lies in the word. Continually drill it into the students, almost like a mantra. Be sure to use the words in exercises, songs and role plays to make sure your students understand word stress clearly.

A great exercise to implement for word stress would be to class three syllable words for example under the right column. The three columns would be either the first syllable, second or third. So telephone would go under column one because the word stress is on the first syllable, while “religion” would go under the second column because the second syllable is where the word stress is.

With younger students, you can clap your hands to count the number of syllables in a word and emphasize the word stress.

Phonetics and Silent Letters Are Your Friends

Although daunting at first, especially for newbie teachers, phonetics could make pronunciation a whole lot easier for students. Phonetics can be confusing for students because of how letters change when put with certain letters. Take “d” for instance. You have a “-d” sound as in “kid,” “-ed” sound as in “painted” and “–id” as in “wanted.” The English Club nicely summarizes how you can differentiate between the three “-d” sounds and how to teach students how to know which pronunciation to use.

How to do it? As you introduce your students to new vocabulary, pull out the phonetics table and go through the sounds you’re looking at, supplying students with numerous examples. Ask them for examples to make sure they’ve got it. Let’s say you’re looking at /a:/ in “far.” You could ask your students for objects similar to that sound. They may come up with “car,” “bar,” and maybe even “char” if they’re advanced.   

Continually practicing the sound and citing examples help imprint the sound visually and orally. Once students have gone over the respective sounds repeatedly over a period of time, and been given time to practice them out loud in class and in private, they’ll be more confident when faced with a new word.

Here is a list of common English words with silent letters. It can be tricky for students because although the words are silent when spoken, one mustn’t forget to write them! Fortunately, although silent letters may seem like a lot, when students understand the rules applied to silent letters, they can identify them more easily. It’s confusing, even for native speakers, but it can be done.

Practice Makes Perfect

What’s the best way to become good, even an expert at something? To do it as often as you can. In order for your pronunciation to become better, you need to speak, speak and speak more! You are the bridge between your students and their goals of proper pronunciation.

Encourage them to speak at every occasion. Make correction fun and enjoyable, instead of embarrassing and tedious. Boost their confidence levels by rewarding them for improving on their pronunciation. You can help your students improve their pronunciation by practicing the different sounds with your students on a regular basis. This could be done one-on-one, chorally, in songs or drilling. Remember, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

The 5 things to remember when teaching pronunciation will help you succeed in the classroom. Pronunciation doesn’t have to be a daunting part of the learning process. If anything, it could be the most rewarding.

What helps you teach your students’ pronunciation? Comment below.

Thanks to Lazolia for this post – When Lazolia isn’t indulging in the English language as a writer or teacher, she’s eating sweets to her teeth’s detriment and wishing WiFi was free the world over. She’s also known to enjoy playing Xbox when the mood suits her.

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