Teaching pronunciation can be an overlooked area of language teaching. Very often experienced teachers are reluctant to tackle pronunciation issues in class. But EFL teachers should always help their students to achieve good pronunciation in order to make their own speech more comprehensible and meaningful to others. When teachers take the risk to teach pronunciation, they are often surprised to find that teaching pronunciation makes for very enjoyable classroom work.
Here are a few ideas which can improve pronunciation teaching and learning in the EFL classroom:
- Integrate rhythm and other aspects of phonology into grammar, vocabulary and functional language lessons as well as listening and speaking activities.
- Get students to listen to and distinguish words which have sounds that seem very similar (minimal pairs – eg hat vs hut, thin vs tin, sheep vs sheep, fill vs feel, peach vs pitch, beans vs bins). Ask students to underline the word they hear.
- Use tongue twisters to work on particular sounds or to contrast sounds (eg She sells sea shells on the sea shore). Turn this activity into a competition.
- Use transliteration – get students to write out a word or sentence in phonemic script.
- Train learners in using a dictionary to find pronunciation as well as spelling. Encourage students to make a record of the phonemic transcription.
- Keep a phonemic chart on the wall of your classroom. Introduce one phoneme at a time.
- Tap out words on the chart and ask students to say the words.
- Use the chart for pointing out correct sounds when students pronounce something wrong.
Use phonemic crosswords. Students complete them in the same way as a traditional crossword but they have to fill in phonemic transcriptions of words rather than their spelling.
- Use ‘chants’ and limericks. Model them line by line and ask students to repeat them. Make sure rhythm and stress are accurate. Go for the enjoyment of exaggerating the feelings and volume. This activity involves all the students and the rhymes make the words memorable.
- Use ‘shadow reading’ (reading at the same time with a competent reader). For example, you read a dialogue out loud, playing all parts, while the students follow the text and read aloud themselves.
- Use ‘speed dictations’ (eg The boys are good/The boy is good/ The boy was good).
- Use drills (especially backchaining).
- Use songs to focus on sounds/words/connected speech. They are authentic, memorable and rhythmic language and can be highly motivating and relaxing for students. Replace some of the rhymes in the song with a gap and ask students to listen and fill the gaps. Students can also listen and underline the stressed syllables while listening. Don’t forget to sing the whole song through.
- Provide natural models of new target language before introducing the written form.
- Encourage learners to listen carefully to authentic speech (eg tape scripts). Give the students the tape script to a listening text before they hear it. Play the tape again if necessary.
- Ask students to record themselves speaking English and then listen to the recording.
- Use recordings of deliberately ‘unnatural English’.
- Ask students to match phrases to stress patterns.
- Ask students to mark stresses and weak forms in a sentence.
- Ask students: ‘What’s the third/fifth/seventh word?’ in a sentence?
- Ask students how many words they hear in a sentence (to practise recognising word boundaries)
- Focus on short utterances with distinctive stress and intonation patterns and a specific rhythm (long numbers, phone numbers, football results).
- Use Cuisenaire rods. The different sized, small coloured blocks are great for helping students to ‘see’ the word stress. The students can build the words using different blocks to represent stressed and unstressed syllables. A taller rod is used for the stressed syllable.
- Use pictures representing problem sounds. For example, a picture of a man called Jim to represent /ɪ/ can be put next to one of a woman called Jean /i:/ and the students ask: ‘Is that a Jim sound or a Jean sound?’ Pictures representing other words containing that sound can be added below.
- Read a sentence (eg What do you mean?) with different types of intonation and ask students to recognise the ‘mood’ (eg ‘angry’, ‘delighted’, ‘sarcastic’, ‘bored’, ‘surprised’). Indicate intonation with hand gestures, waves, etc. Exaggerating intonation or lack of intonation can be very funny.
- Hum/whistle/sing a sentence without words before you pronounce it.
- Involve students in playing word games. For example, one student says a one-syllable word and another student replies with a word that rhymes with the first word and then switch roles. When a player can’t find a rhyme, the opponent wins a point. This game is called ‘Word tennis’.
Developing students’ pronunciation skills doesn’t require special lessons – simply regular practice and a range of quick, simple and motivating game-like activities prove to be very useful in this attempt. But pronunciation needs constant attention for it to have a lasting effect on students, which means integrating it into daily classroom procedures.
Scrivener, J., Learning Teaching (The Essential Guide to English Language Teaching), Macmillan, 2011.
Gower, R., Phillips, D., Walters, S., Teaching Practice (A Handbook for Teachers in Training), Macmillan, 1995.