Teaching pronunciation - the key to learning English well and efficiently

I teach beginning adults and I focus on pronunciation from the first class and I usually review pronunciation for intermediate and advanced students.

Learning English pronunciation not only is the key to learning how to speak English, but it is also necessary in order to understand spoken English (Listening Comprehension) and it is an important ingredient in learning how to read English.

I do not use the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) because it takes too long to learn, but instead developed a method based upon how Spanish speakers would write words phonetically.  

I concentrate on "problem sounds" and use tongue twisters such as:
1. G AND J –George and Jim jump in the garage 
2. V – Virginia is very intelligent
3. H – Harry has a red hat
4. SHORT I - Jim swims in the river
5. SHORT U - Uncle Harry’s umbrella is under the bus
 And I include a special section on words beginning with S followed by  consonant because Spanish speakers have a tendency to add an e at the beginning, and at the  same time I teach the silent e at the end of words rule.

Slowly, step by step, one step at a time the students learn how to speak English and build confidence.

Most of these sounds can be found in the lessons on the alphabet, the numbers, greetings and in Cognates

So learning to spell, counting, adding, subtracting, telling time, greetings and salutations, etc., are the first lessons I teach.

I demonstrate how to make the sounds as comically as I can, because after all, English is a very funny language! Actually, English may be the most difficult language to pronounce in the world!! So I have found it necessary and ..even rewarding and fun!...to use humor.

I also tell my students how I learned to roll my RRs - which is very difficult for Americans.

And then I "weave" pronunciation lessons or drills into nearly all my classes for at least three months. 
At a certain point I teach ’confusing words" (tree, three) in a quiz show kind of approach.
I have observed that when a student becomes comfortable with English pronunciation, then that student also begins to learn more quickly.

I think that a lack of pronunciation hinders learning because the student feels ... stupid, and I try to help the student acquire confidence in speaking. My only "rule" in class is that it is forbidden to make fun of another student.  
My program is bilingual, but some of the drills can be used in an English only class
Paul Rogers


Hello Paul, Thank you for posting about your bilingual program. As you say, pronunciation issues can definitely affect a learner's confidence. It's essential to teach pronunciation explicitly and to give learners lots of practice. I was pleased that LINCS was recently able to offer a substantive study circle facilitated by Andrea Echelberger on teaching pronunciation. Andrea offered participants many practical tips on ways to teach pronunciation effectively. I'm hoping Andrea might be able to lead this study circle again next year.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

Susan, perhaps we can have a 'study circle" here. To learn the pronunciation of any language, we must train our speaking muscles. I had to practice rolling my RRs for a month, starting with the initial sound. At the same time a sense of humor is necessary! Once students see me stick out my tongue to pronounce TH, they can relax a bit! Another ingredient is showing respect for others. My first "rule" is - Do not make fun of anyone when they are speaking! 

In general I teach pronunciation during every class or lesson, and I call my method "bilingual and phonetic". 

In any case, let's see if there can be a discussion here.


Hello Paul and all, It would be fantastic to have a discussion here about ways to approach teaching pronunciation. Teachers please share what's working for you.

Perhaps those who participated in Andrea's study circle could highlight some tips they gained.

Of course, questions are also welcome!

Cheers, Susan

Tom, Truespel can be a great guide for teachers in their understanding of English phonics. My focus however is on how to teach pronunciation.

Basically I teach pronunciation from Day 1, and I teach step by step ...with attention paid to those sounds which are more important or useful.

Years ago I woke up at 3 AM realizing that Spanish speakers at first needed to learn the sounds of g/j, short i, short u, V vs B, Th and a few others....all of which can be found in the alphabet and the numbers, along with practice with greetings, etc. 

In other words there is a rank order of importance. Just like any other language. In German we need to learn how to pronounce the 'ch' in "Ich"  and the ú umlaut in "úber" at first (can't type the umlaut here). In Spanish the double r causes Americans a lot of trouble.

So in English the TH gives people the most trouble, followed by G/J. 

I discovered early on that once the students could pronounce these sounds comfortably and understandably, the students' confidence increased and learning more - 'nuanced' - pronunciation was relatively easy.

 Now, as far as accents are concerned....I am from Boston and  it took me years to learn how to pronounce the letter R in the words ..car, far, yard and Harvard.....!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This truespel phoneme analysis of US English ranks phoneme frequency and ranks the frequency of ways they are spelled (phonics).  The number of word instances is 15.4M for the top 5k words (with the top word "the" having 1M instances).  Also given is the truespel phoneme set, which makes learning US English pronunciation simplified. https://justpaste.it/understandtruespel