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Teaching Pronunciation

Hello colleagues, How do you approach teaching pronunciation to English learners? Is this something you do in each class? What strategies have you found helpful? What resources can you recommend for teaching pronunciation effectively? What challenges, if any, have you encountered when teaching pronunciation?

Looking forward to your comments!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP


David Kehe's picture

Hi Susan,

I’ll be very interested in hearing how others handle pronunciation.  When I taught homogeneous groups of students, I could find sounds that most of them struggled with, so I felt like it was a good use of time (intermittently) to work on them.  But when I started teaching students from all over the world in one class, I found it hard to justify having all of them work on sounds that were a struggle for some language groups but were not a problem for others. 

A few years ago, I taught in a program in which students (from all over the world) attended classes five days a week.  In one section, an instructor taught pronunciation once a week for a half-hour, but in a second section, the instructor didn’t do any pronunciation practice.  At the end of the term, students filled out course evaluations.  Interestingly, the students who did not get the weekly pronunciation practice complained.  They wanted this practice even though, sometimes, they would have been practicing sounds that were not a problem for them.

From my experience, if I have a student who has serious pronunciation problems, I have found this one-on-one technique to be easy and most effective.  It requires minimal preparation, but it will help you zero in on the words/sounds that a student is struggling with.  And it will enable you to help him/her improve their pronunciation in a non-threatening way.

Steps:  (For simplicity of pronouns sake, we’ll use a male student as the example.)

1) Find something for him to read aloud.  It can be an essay that s/he wrote or an article that you have found.  You will need two copies of it: one for him and one for you.
2) He reads it silently for about one minute.
3) He reads that part aloud and records for about one minute.  While he is reading aloud, on your copy of the passage, you circle words that are mispronounced or just not clear.
4) Together, you listen to the recording and stop at those circled words.  Go back a bit to let him hear what he read and compare it to your correct pronunciation and let him try to say it correctly.
5) After you have gone through that one-minute reading, you can review the circled words and/or have him re-read that part of the passage again.
6) Continue with another one minute of passage  etc.

Option 7) He monologues for one minute about anything. (You may want to give him a topic).  Record his monologue.  Play it back and stop at mistaken places and work with those words.

If you don't have a way to record, just circle the words while he reads.  When he finishes, just read and repeat the circled words until he says them correctly.

During the next session with the student, it could be helpful to have him read the same passage aloud to see if he had internalized the correct pronunciation.

David Kehe






Denise Swog's picture

If you look into the reading program Reading Horizon, it will teach your students how to divide words into syllables and how to pronounce words. It teaches phonetic rules and their exceptions. I will not only help with pronunciation but also with spelling.

Ellen Patron's picture
A part of pronunciation that I teach in every class is word stress.  It is a global issue for English learners regardless of their L1s and can be approached with every vocabulary lesson in small pieces or in larger chunks.   We count out the number of syllables in each word with two or more syllables and then identify the word stress.   I write the word on the board and divide it into syllables (have the student count the number of syllables) and put a /  at the syllable end.  Then I pronounce the word correctly a couple of times with proper word stress.  If students can't hear the stressed syllable initially, then I alternately stress the correct and incorrect syllables until they can hear the word stress.  I put a filled circle above the stressed syllable.   If we are covering multiple vocabulary words at one time out of context, I read through the list of words on the board with stress identified and have students chorally repeat after me.    In think/read alouds I also also exaggerate word stress to draw its attention.  I endeavor to never have students read aloud with having attended to word stress first.      I'm convinced that attention to pronunciation, and particularly word stress, also has a significant impact on student confidence and willingness to speak. 
I'm just finishing up a curricular resource for teaching word stress to high beginners  / low intermediates as part of my capstone for my MA in ESL.    It's two lessons that are about two hours each with the teacher talk, activities and handouts.  The lessons follow a communicative language approach and the five phases of the communicative framework for teaching pronunciation advocated by the Celce-Murica, Brinton, Goodwin and Griner as authors of Teaching Pronunciation:  A Coursebook and Reference Guide. Description and analysis, listening discrimination, controlled practice, guided practice and communicative practice.  At David Kehe's suggestion for teaching grammar, I also advocate a rules discovery phase in there too.      If anyone would like to look at it, please do send me a private email.   I only ask for a bit of feedback in return.
Ellen Clore-Patron
Volunteer REEP Teacher
Hamline University Graduate Student (MA ESL)
Betsy Parrish's picture

Hi Susan and David,

Thanks for sharing your ideas on for working with learners one on one, David! I taught pronunciation a lot in the early years of my career and do a lot of professional development with teachers on pronunciation instruction. Any time I get into a classroom, I try to integrate practice with pronunciation as much as possible.  A couple areas (among others) I like to focus on with teachers (and learners) are:

1) Word stress, sentence stress, and thought grouping (or suprasegmentals) are the areas that everyone can benefit from, regardless of language background. Those are the areas that often have the most impact on intelligibility, and improving intelligibility is our goal (as opposed to eliminating an accent). Of course there are sounds that pose difficulties for learners, but like you said, it's harder to prioritize those in a heterogeneous group (also see research on the 'functional load' of sounds in English to determine what is most important. For example, many teachers teach the 'th' sound (/θ/ and /ð/), but replacing that with /t/ or /d/ doesn't actually affect intelligibility much, and /t/ and /d/ are used in many varieties of English. 

2) Pronunciation instruction should be integrated with everything we do.  When teaching new words, we can work on the stress of the word (doesn't do much good to know a word without being able to say it so others can understand). Susan's great vocabulary workouts start with pronunciation as well.  I systematically have learners match words to stress patterns (with bubbles, for example o o o O o communication; o O o o mobility, or with clapping of humming the patterns.  If you're working on language functions such as polite requests, it's important to teach the intonation to go with a phrase such as: "Would you be able to help me, please?" If learners are working on longer oral presentations, they can practice pausing at logical thought groups and noting the prominent elements they need to stress. 

My colleagues in MN, Andrea Echelberger and Suzanne McCurdy,  ran an excellent study circle on teaching pronunciation through our state PD Center ATLAS and I had the privilege of working with them on a study of the effectiveness of the study circle.  For those who would like to conduct professional development on pronunciation instruction, you can find links to the study-circle materials as well as the outcomes for teachers in our article in the CATESOL Journal.  For teachers who want to learn more about teaching pronunciation, we highly recommend the text Pronunciation Myths by Grant et al, University of Michigan Press. Well Said and Well Said from the Start (Linda Grant) are also good resources. 

When you are working on particular sounds (or want to have a better understanding yourself):

Sounds of Speech, University of Iowa ( Sounds of Speech™ demonstrates how each of the speech sounds of American English is formed. It includes animations, videos, and audio samples that describe the essential features of each of the consonants and vowels of American English. Sounds of Speech is useful for students studying English as a second language.

Taylor, K., and Thompson, S. (1999). The Color Vowel Chart. Santa Fe NM: English Language Training Solutions. Explore this website to learn more about techniques for using the Color Vowel Chart. I know others of you out there have more experience with this that you may be sharing here. 

I am excited to read what others are doing!


athomas's picture

We have used read aloud and self recording for all our lessons. We practice pronouncing core vocabulary in class. Students read aloud day's lesson. Listening to others help our students with listening comprehension. It gives us a chance to note the mispronounced words and word with  pronunciation difficulty.  we go over the strategies to improve pronunciation; stretching the sounds, opening the mouth and vowel/syllable stress.  Follow up:Students practice on their own at home and make a recording of their reading using the voice recording option on their phone. They e mail the best recording to us.

finnmiller's picture

Hello colleagues, Thanks, folks, for the great suggestions for teaching pronunciation. I especially like the idea of having students record themselves, which is so easy now since almost everyone has a cell phone.

Betsy mentioned the Color Vowel Chart (Taylor, K., and Thompson, S. (1999). The Color Vowel Chart. Santa Fe NM: English Language Training Solutions. I've been super curious about this technique for some time. It would be great to hear from those who are using this method for teaching pronunciation.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

Ellen Patron's picture

Hi Susan.

IAnother thought on using cell phones for pronunciation practice...I  just recently had a colleague suggest that I make a recording on my phone of the vocabulary I want students to practice and text it to the class.  So, I record a vocabulary set with pauses in between words, repeating the word once after about 5 seconds, on my cell phone and just message it to everyone in the class.  It takes much less time than trying to record a vocabulary set on each students' phone.  Students then have model pronunciation to imitate and can do so before they record themselves.  Here's a REEP video about using cell phones for pronunciation practice  .

David J. Rosen's picture

Thanks Ellen for this excellent idea. What software tool or app do you use to set up your class phone numbers list so you can send one vocabulary set to all the students with one click? Can you recommend a good video (e.g. short YouTube video)  that explains how teachers can use that tool?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group


Ellen Patron's picture

I don't have a video recommendation but my understanding is that the ideal resource for sending mass messages is What'sApp.  When I surveyed my class a few months ago, I discovered that almost all of them (on that day) had What's App and use it.  I've gotten so far as to install it on my phone but that's as far as I've gotten!  Maybe someone else can chime in on the uses of What's App in the classroom and for extension activities.  

athomas's picture

We have been using Whatts App on I phones to listen, watch, read, and write for almost five years. It is one of the most cost effective, easy to use app for sharing information.  Students don't have to worry about data over use charges, or international call/data charges because Whatts App runs on Wifi..We can share information, as a group or individually depending on how comfortable students are with sharing their phone numbers in a group. It is more of a cultural issue. We use both the video chat and audio recording to speak, read aloud and listen to items in English. It is an excellent option for practice . We can teach the techniques, strategies and uses of open syllables, closed syllables, long and short vowels, stresses etc, in class, but if students don't  practice  out of class they won't master the skills certainly not in our class with only two classes per week.. It is a great way to exercise their facial muscles to improve pronunciation in the privacy of their home. Even students that are not comfortable speaking in class in front of others gets a chance to practice. In my experience, many adult students are self conscious and have low confidence. I see  using Whatts App as an option to give students the control of their learning.

finnmiller's picture

Thanks for telling us how you have been using Whatsapp, Anitha. Paul Rogers has also been using and promoting the use of this tool for some time. I have not yet started, but I am definitely going to with my new class that begins in July.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

Suzanne McCurdy's picture

Great discussion! 

My colleague Andrea Echelberger and I made a series of videos for teaching pronunciation in ABE classrooms, including literacy-level classrooms. Go to the Minnesota ABE Professional Development YouTube page and click on the Pronunciation Instruction playlist -

We hope to make more if you have suggestions!