Teaching Pronunciation

The pronunciation of English is very difficult, as we all know. Actually English may be the most difficult language in the world to pronounce!!! And that may be the reason so many English courses avoid teaching students good pronunciation.

Pronouncing a foreign language involves...making foreign sounds which the tongue, the jaw and the mouth do not want to make!!! For example, like most Americans, when I was learning Spanish I could not roll my RRRs. I practiced for  three months. Finally I could do it! I was very proud of myself.

But English has about 20 sounds that are very frustrating to pronounce.

At the same time learning how to pronounce English is very important. First, of course it helps in speaking English. But it also helps in “listening comprehension” and in reading well.

Over the years there are some techniques I have developed which work very well and are even enjoyable for my students.

I use patience and humor and always include a pronunciation lesson or reminder in almost all lessons or classes.

My method is this:

1. First, I hand out my booklets to all my students with the vocabulary written like this:

           Table       tei’ bal      mesa

2. I focus first on the most important sounds first such as the G/J, V, Th, short i, short and the short  u. In later classes I introduce examples of other letter combinations.

3. I then introduce an example of how to make the sound using humor.

4. The students practice making the sounds, first as a group, then individually.

5. The we use lessons on the alphabet, greetings and numbers to practice. For example: spell your name, say out loud your phone number, etc.

6. Tongue twisters - trabalenguas are popular and useful.

7. I show how to divide long words into syllables and repeat slowly at first then gradually faster and faster.

8. And I always use a lot of humor and patience.

In this way we as a class can build a foundation so that pronunciation becomes just as important as grammar, verb tenses and idioms.

People have asked me why I do not use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). My answer is that it is too complicated, and that I spell the words phonetically the way that Spanish speaking students would probably write them. I learned this from my students.

Finally I also tell my students that accents are actually a good thing, because they make English a more interesting language. Personally I would prefer to speak English the way that Antonio Banderas speaks it!!!

The above is an outline of my pronunciation lessons, which are also included in my sites pumarosa and inglesconprofepablo. 

I look forward to reading your comments.



The problem with learning English pronunciation is that spelling is not very consistent with sounds, even though in print consonant are spelled 92% of the time in their most popular spelling and vowels 63%.  Dictionary grade pronunciation quality can be obtained using truespel phonetics and the free tutorials and converter at http:/truespel.com.  Reading (and writing) phonetically in US English comes down to 40 sounds, most of which ESLs know already.  Truespel links to US English phonics to make it simple. 

To understand phoneme popularity and phoneme spelling popularity in print media see http://bit.ly/2AKWZyo   Once pronunciation of the 40 sounds is mastered the ESL learner can say any English word correctly by reading it phonetically.  Then the job is to relate the phonetic word to the regularly spelled word.  This is not hard because the phonetic spelling of sounds is 66% related to the most popular regular spelling of sounds. This is not bad since in regular spelling sounds are spelled 77% of the time in the most popular way. Again see http://bit.ly/2AKWZyo 

The IPA of 1888 cannot do what truespel does and should be replaced by truespel as a better phonetic guide.


Tom - perhaps you could show us an example of how you would use Truespell with adult ESL students whose first language is Spanish. As I mention in my article I use my own method whiich is similar to what you describe as: "Then the job is to relate the phonetic word to the regularly spelled word."

Here is an example from my text which is also on pumarosa.com

Hello (jelou) hola

Good Morning (gud morning) Buenos dias

Good afternoon (gud aftirnun) Buenas tardes

Good evening (gud ivning) Buenas noches (cuando entra)

See you later (si iu leiter) Hasta luego

Good bye (gud bai) Adios

Come in (cam in) Pasale

How are you? (jau ar iu) ¿Como está Ud.?

I’m fine (aim fain) Estoy bién

What is your name? (uat ies iur neim) - ¿Como se llama? 

A Korean friend said that his high school Korean students learned truespel in less than an hour to help pronounce US English and preferred it to IPA especially because they could write with it..  I don[t prescribe a method but I would concentrate on pronunciation of the 40 sounds of English and have the students pronounce each one to validate correctness.  Once they are able to say each written phoneme correctly, you can tell them that they can say any word in US English correctly, even slang, when reading it in truespel.  The converter shows dictionary accent as spoken in talking US English dictionaries.  Here is an instructional video .http://bit.ly/2bS6YDG  Have them write phonetically as well.  Let me know how it goes. ~~Let mee noe hou it goez.~~

My friend who did the informal truespel acceptability study has a job that places Korean students in US colleges, so I'm sure the students were savvy to much English. We also developed truespel for Korean as replacement for Hangul, and he was pleased with the outcome of that.  Truespel could also be used to spell Spanish with a few additional sound-spellings.,  Note that truespel is based on English and does not look as friendly to other languages.  

Tom -  to learn Korean we first would learn the characters and pronunciation, from day 1. But unfortunately ESFL is often taught without any attention placed on pronunciation at the beginning level. So...if you could find some way to adapt Truespel for use by Beginners, that would be an enormous help.

In my opinion, students who learn English without any pronunciation support learn it in a truncated and distorted way, which in some cases causes a great deal of anxiety and blocks learning. When students enter my class, usually they are nervous about speaking in English. I do my best to help them relax and try as best as they can, using a lot of humor,  and eventually they actually enjoy learning pronunciation. In fact it becomes part of the class, along with grammar and other lessons.


Hi Paul and all, I think the way you are supporting Spanish speakers to learn American English pronunciation is hugely helpful, Paul. Thanks for these examples.

I wonder how many teachers observe how students are writing the pronunciation of words in another script to help themselves with pronunciation. For instance, I recently noticed a Chinese speaker writing the sounds of the English words in a Chinese script. Similarly,  I use an English script to help me with pronouncing any language I'm learning to speak. Literate adults often rely on this type of learned skill.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

Actually, Susan, the same thing happened to me a long time ago. I have always distributed my texts to the students and one day I looked at one student's book and he had written the vocabulary words in the way that a Spanish speaker would write the phonetics. So....I added the phonetics to the vocabulary and began to show it to the students to make corrections. Some of it is not 'perfect' becuase there may be two or three interpretations.

From this I decided to call my method "bilingual and phonetic", and my original texts served as the basis for Pumarosa, which has sound - my voice. When students listen and repeat out loud, they improve their pronunciation very fast. 

Susan -- your question made me remember a gifted teacher I worked with in Yonkers, NY--- she had monolingual Spanish classes only and used Spanish phonics to indicate pronunciation in English.  I was astounded to hear her students, who had the most accurate English pronunciation of any Spanish speakers I have ever encountered who learned English as adults.    Of course a few sounds were difficult to indicate in Spanish, but she worked around those.   Still, it seemed an incredibly helpful way to really boost her learners' speaking skills very noticeably!  Robin Lovrien  


Thanks for this story, Robin. I shared how a Chinese student in my class always writes down how to pronounce words in Chinese script. In the beginning level class i teach, we are currently working on vocabulary for occupations.Today, an Arabic-speaking student asked me how to pronounce the sentence, "They are nurses." He then proceeded to write the pronunciation using an Arabic script on the back of the flashcard he was creating.  We showed his script to the other students in the class and explained how when reading Arabic, you need to read from right to left instead of from left to right. Everyone was fascinated!

We teachers should definitely validate this approach since it draws upon learners' prior knowledge and can also lead to better pronunciation. 

Cheers, Susan

Hi Paul and all,

With my mostly Spanish-speaking beginners and intermediates, I use a combination of their L1 orthography and IPA symbols.  I introduce IPA symbols for the sounds that don't occur in their first language, and mostly use their familiar orthography for the sounds they already know.  I also underline the stressed syllable, which may help students become more understandable to English speakers.


Hello   [h€ lou]  (€ = short e as in red, the IPA symbol is not available here; I used to use j=h as in Spanish, but I've found that my current students don't need that, so I no longer substitute Spanish j for English h)

See you later  [si iu lei reR]      (I distinguish between Spanish r and English R(small caps); Spanish r is a flap, English R is an approximant, where the tongue does not touch the alveolar ridge)

See you tomorrow   [si iu tu ma Rou]

What is your name?  [hua rɪ ziuR neim?]          ɪ = English short i as in hit

The LINCS website doesn't support all the IPA symbols, so I can't reproduce all of your examples.  For example, in See you tomorrow, the first o in tomorrow should actually be the schwa (the upside down e), and the € symbol in Hello is more of a backwards 3.

I only introduce new symbols for the sounds that don't occur in the L1, so there are a limited number of new symbols to learn; and I limit introduction of vocabulary so that they don't have to learn them all at once.

I also use the Color Vowel Chart, https://americanenglish.state.gov/resources/color-vowel-chart , invented by Shirley Thompson and Karen Taylor, to explain English vowel sounds.  This chart links each of all 15 vowel sounds in English, dipthongs as well as simple vowel sounds, to a color and a color phrase. For example, long e [i] = Green Tea; short a [Æ] = Black Cat; short e [€] = Red Dress;  long u [u] = Blue Moon.  Then we can talk about long e as in Green Tea, short e as in Red Dress, long o as in Rose Coat, short o as in Olive Sock.

I applaud the use of the L1 to help with pronunciation of English.  I developed my method by watching my students write their own phonetic transcriptions of what I was teaching them, and then using IPA to fill in where the L2 had sounds that did not occur in the L1.


Hi..Townbird! I can see your students diving into these pronunciation lessons! I know that this will help them all learn faster and with more confidence. Is there a way to type the IPA symbols in a document? Like you, I watched the students create their own phonetic spelling for vocabulary lists, and decided at that time to add it to the lists. I hope you write some more about the benefits of teaching pronunciation/phonics.


Hi  ALL-- do any of you remember/know of the literacy assessment in many languages that was in circulation a few years ago?  I believe it came out of a program in Virginia, but I could be wrong about that.    I would greatly appreciate any clues on how to locate it.    Thanks so much,  Robin Lovrien