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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.

Susan Finn Miller'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.

Susan Finn Miller'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! 

KAT's picture

For those who are interested in knowing more the Color Vowel Chart and Color Vowel Approach, I'm posting some information and resources.

The Color Vowel Chart is a visual organizer for the vowel sounds of English.

The function of the Color Vowel Chart is to teach word and phrase stress by focusing attention to vowel quality at the peak of stress.

The Color Vowel Approach is a collection of multi-sensory, brain-based teaching strategies that help teachers support their own awareness of sound while teaching students how to notice, perform, and perceive stress and vowel quality as the 'deal breakers' of comprehensible spoken English.  Among those strategies is Color Vowel Yoga, whereby we teach vowel production through specific, concrete positions and movements of the arms as an externalization of the vocal tract.

What I love about the Chart (and of course I'm biased!) is that it time-efficient, highly effective (with proper training), and is accessible to all ages groups and English levels, ranging from low-literacy adults to high-proficiency professionals. I also love that the Chart engages teachers in their own practice, often re-igniting a love for the language we teach!

I'm happy to answer questions, and I welcome comments from those who use the Color Vowel Chart and the Approach.

Karen Taylor, Co-Author of the Color Vowel Chart
Director, English Language Training Solutions

Ellen Patron's picture

What is really wonderful about the Color Vowel Chart and its approach is that there is a simple way to categorize each vowel sound. All 15 of them.  For example, we used to call vowels sounds short and long (which isn't accurate at all or inclusive.  How do you categorize or name  the schwa sound in cup?). With CVC we ascribe a color to the sound.  So, we have a name for each vowel sound that is unique and a noun that "rhymes" with it.  (GREEN tea, ROSE coat, WHITE tie, RED dress, etc) .  A student can ask about the pronunciation of a word (What color is it?) and the teacher can help the student discover the sound or simply respond with a color (ROSE coat).  Even if the student can't pronounce the vowel sound they still have a category to put it in and a words to associate it with.  The approach is really efficient and easy.  Of course, there are other techniques for the approach and activities designed to help teach it.  But the basic idea is to 1) find the stressed syllable in your word and 2) assign the vowel sound in that syllable to a color.   Invaluable tool...

Lisa Brickman's picture

To help my students develop their skill in speaking English I use the video function on my cell phone and personal YouTube channel.  I stress to my students that the YouTube channel is private and no one may access it without my permission. I am the only one who may access it.   

I use my cell phone to video my students reading a text and talking with me about the text. The camera is aimed at a piece of paper with the student's name, the date, and the title of the text while the student speaks. Each recording is about 3 minutes long.  When it is completed I "send" it to my YouTube channel.  Once there it must be edited to add the "closed caption" feature. 

After the video has the closed caption feature added and working properly, I show it to the student.  The student watches the video with me without sound.  I have a copy of the text with us too. We watch the words appear on the screen.  The student reads his recording.  This shows the student that the computer can understand his/her pronunciation.  Incorrect words indicate a mispronounced word and what I need to address and remediate.  When I am done reviewing the video with the student I show him/her how it is deleted.    

My students love this!  One woman always spoke just above a whisper.  After a few of these recordings, her confidence grew and her voice grew too.  I work with students who are NRS level 2 and above. It's wonderful to watch their confidence with English pronunciation develop.

I try to do this for all my students.  I can record a few each week.  I work through my class list and try to reach everyone at least once a month. While I am recording a student's voice the class is silently working on a writing assignment. Everyone looks forward to their chance to make a recording with me.  


Susan Finn Miller's picture

Hi Lisa, Thank you for sharing this innovative approach to pronunciation. As you indicate, the learners are eager to participate, and they gain a deeper understanding of their specific pronunciation issues. From what you say, it seems that YouTube's close captioning is quite accurate in the way it conveys the learners' speech. I've always had trouble with YouTube's close captioning being accurate. Could you say a bit more about this aspect? In addition, I'm curious about the texts you are using for these read alouds as well as how you prepare the learners for the videotaping.

Looking forward to learning more about your creative approach!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

Lisa Brickman's picture

When students begin studying English with me I usually hear them say something like this, "My English is no good."

I try to teach American Pronunciation with two goals in mind.  The first is to help the students to develop an American accent that is comprehensible. Secondly, I specifically teach the American accent to improve my students' listening comprehension. They tell me, "Everybody talks very fast."  I live and work in New York and New Yorkers speak, I believe, very quickly compared to other Americans.  Also, New York accents vary greatly throughout our state too, but this is a different discussion.

I am not a speech therapist who is trying to remediate articulation problems nor am I a speech coach helping an actor develop an American accent for a specific role.

The closed caption function works wonderfully for me even with its flaws. I liken it to an x-ray of a bone; where's the fracture or the break? Why do I do this? Because I do have a few students with significant articulation/accent issues that impede comprehension and it interferes with their job performance and interacting with people in the community especially when they are speaking on their cellphones.   

I tell my students, "Remember, you will always sound like the country you came from.  The music of your native language is beautiful and I would never change it. You need to be brave. I am looking for mistakes.  Make the idea of 'making a mistake' your friend.  Facing mistakes can only make your English skills stronger." I first review their recording without sound then we review it with the sound to see if the misspelled word would be completely comprehensible to the listener.

As soon as we encounter an error in the text I pause the recording.  We find the text and then compare the two words.  Now my work begins.

Is it a homonym error?  Did a vowel sound shift somehow? Is it a problem of learning how to decode a multi-syllabic word that the student has not memorized? Was it an unfamiliar word? Was it the wrong word? Did the closed caption function just 'miss the mark' of what was said? 

Another issue I think about is; 'Was misspelled word still comprehensible in spoken English?'  This does happen infrequently and when it does I say, "I can understand you! The closed caption function did not don't worry about it."  This is usually enough to reassure the student. I wish I had a more specific example for you but I don't; my apologies.

What texts do I use? Well, my program supplies a wonderful newspaper entitled Easy English by Elizabeth Clair.  We read an article as a class and review unknown vocabulary.  I record a few students while the rest work silently on the comprehension questions.  If not that specific text then I use some other text and reading comprehension exercise.  My students are accustomed to this class procedure and look forward to their turn.

If I can be of any other assistance with this technique just let me know. It works well for me and my students, flaws and all.