Let’s start at the beginning – what is pronunciation? Pronunciation is the way we say words, the sounds we make with our voice, throat, tongue and mouth, which can include stress, intonation and fluency in order to share thoughts and ideas out loud with others.
Most languages have a certain degree of flexibility within pronunciation, and depending on which country or region you come from, you will almost definitely pronounce certain sounds differently.
Many people argue that pronunciation is one of the most important parts of learning a language and being able to communicate. I have to admit, I agree: if the person you are speaking with cannot understand what you are saying, communication is a struggle. The purpose of speaking is to share ideas, make suggestions or ask for help; without the correct pronunciation we can do none of these.
While I am sure that most of you correct your students when they mispronounce something when speaking, I know it can be less common to have a section of the lesson focused on pronunciation itself.
You may be asking yourself, do we really need to focus on it regularly in class? The simple answer to this question is: yes. We should try to teach pronunciation in every language class. Without clear pronunciation there is no communication. Without communication what is the point of learning a language? You may be able to write clearly and accurately, but most communication occurs through speech.
English is now a global language and whether we like it or not, many companies use it as their lingua franca in their daily meetings and communications, even if they are not based in an English speaking country. In an average business it is estimated that we spend over half of the day communicating, and more than 60% of that is speaking (Klemmer & Synder, 2006). In order to give our students the best chances of succeeding, we need to provide them with the tools to communicate clearly and effectively. This involves developing their pronunciation.
There are several ways we can incorporate pronunciation into our lessons. Let’s look at five ways to teach pronunciation without having to change our lesson plan.
5 Ways to teach pronunciation
- To begin with, when introducing new vocabulary, we can focus on the pronunciation of the new words, including the words in the word family. This is important because sometimes the stress moves depending on whether the word is used as a verb or a noun, or sometimes when there is a prefix or suffix added to the word. We can also look at the pronunciation of the words in collocations or in a sentence, as the pronunciation may change when it is stressed or unstressed.
- Additionally, when looking at a new grammar point, you can focus on how the words connect in speech, not just on paper. I often hear student struggle with contractions, because they always write out the full form of the grammar structures, but in natural English we would only say each word individually for emphasis, for example, when we are correcting a misconception (I did NOT use up all the paper!). This is an important aspect you can share with your students when studying pronunciation.
- We often use audio recordings to allow our students to practise their listening skills. What if we also used the recordings to help our students with their pronunciation? We could take a short extract from the audio file – just a few seconds – then we ask our students to copy the sounds they hear. This can be a great fun. The students can really focus on the words being said, the sounds they can hear, and the sounds they can reproduce.
- As a continuation of the previous activity, you could also ask your students to record themselves saying one of the sentences they have been listening to and compare their recording to the original audio. What sounds the same and what sounds different? Can they make it sound more similar to the original?
- Another great activity is getting your students to try and use voice command on the tablets or their mobile devices if you are able to use this technology during class. It can be quite amusing seeing the search requests being made. It can also help your students understand the importance of clear pronunciation.
I know that trying to teach pronunciation can be a challenge, but once you have a few tips and tricks up your sleeves, it becomes an enjoyable aspect of English language lessons for both the students and the teacher.
You do not have to try everything at once, but perhaps introduce one or two ideas during the next week and slowly build it up from there. Try not to be afraid of making mistakes, we all make mistakes, and just have fun with it. This will help your students have fun too! You never know, this could be the start of a wonderful new relationship with English pronunciation.
References Klemmer, E. & Snyder, F., 2006, ‘Measurement of Time Spent Communicating’, Journal of Communication, 22 (158), DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1972.tb00141.x,