How to Teach Pronunciation to ESL Learners


Pronunciation often gets ignored over grammar and vocabulary in ESL programs. However, it is just as important because with bad or garbled pronunciation, the spoken message gets lost. “I think” becomes “I sink,” to give a common example. With ESL learners across the world, each country and culture has its own verbal albatross. Here is how can you can begin to use pronunciation for your students’ needs.

  • Get to understand why English words can be so problematic for non-native speakers of English to pronounce. Understanding this difficulty from your students' point of view will better equip you to help them overcome it.

  • Obtain phonetic charts that have symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). These charts are available from teaching supply companies and books such as those in the English File series. Hang this up in your class, and familiarize your students with the pronunciation symbols. You can use these charts to teach pronunciation by helping your students understand the sounds that they get wrong, as well as the correct sounds for a given word or similar words.

  • Keep your lessons as informal as possible. Students might initially be shy about pronunciation. By using fun, silly activities, it creates a more relaxed, effective atmosphere than strict practice. Tongue twisters are one such fun activity. See the Resources section for a link.

  • Use syllable races as an exercise to teach pronunciation. Get a "Snakes and Ladders" board game, and then prepare flash cards that each have a one-syllable, two- or three-syllable word written on it. Instead of throwing a dice, each player will draw a card and if she pronounces the word correctly, she gets to move as many spaces on the board as there are syllables in the word on the flash card. The winner is the player who gets to the end first.

  • Get familiar with the different elements of the spoken word--word stress, minimal pairs, pronunciation, intonation and sentence stress--so that you will be able to explain them and be able to create your own lessons geared towards what your students find difficult.

  • Use a feather to demonstrate the difference between aspirated and un-aspirated sounds, by holding it right in front of your lips as you say the word.

  • Help your students differentiate between minimal pairs by reading phrases for them to draw. For example, have them draw sketches that depict: "A ship’s on the sea" and "A sheep’s on the shore."

  • Photo Credit Author: topfer - Image used courtesy of, under the stock.xchng lisence
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