Teaching Pronunciation [8 Simple Activities]

Teaching pronunciation is usually neglected. As teachers, we prefer to place heavier emphasis on other aspects of the English language, such as grammar, vocabulary, and skills. But pronunciation should have its own special place in our EFL lessons.

The way we sound when we speak a foreign language influences the assumptions other people make about us. Just think of all the different accents of your native language and the assumptions you automatically make when you hear them. Our own pronunciation also defines our feelings about ourselves: our confidence, our sense of identity, and our self-esteem.

But it is also important how we teach pronunciation. Phonetics and endless drills are a sure way to make your students hate or fear the study of English. As teachers, we must try to understand the difficulties, how pronunciation is learned, and what specific conditions help students internalize it.

The best way to teach pronunciation is indirectly. We need to know what we are teaching, but the students need not always be aware of what they are learning. As babies, we start with the immense potential for leaning any language. As the time passes, we become accustomed to our mother tongue and hear everything under its influence. Similarly, our students must learn to perceive the sound of a new language afresh, as if they are hearing it, like babies, for the first time.

In this light, it is essential to create a relaxed atmosphere where students can approach pronunciation in an unrestrained way. We need to make them lower their resistance barriers, dispel prejudices about the foreign language, and most importantly reduce self-consciousness.

pronunciation

The activities that follow will help you create positive attitudes towards pronunciation and the English language in general, and increase your students’ confidence in their own ability to handle it.

1. English All Around

CEFR Level: A1 and above | Duration: 15 minutes

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Open discussion with the class about their personal experience with the English language. Discover what past relationship your students have had with English, e.g. from relatives who can speak English, from music videos, from social media, from TV series and films, from tourists etc. Discuss what their perceptions are of both the language and the English-speaking people, and how they feel when they hear the language.

2. You’ll Never Guess!

CEFR Level: A2 and above | Duration: 10 minutes

English speakers tend to slow down towards the end of a sentence, especially when the information is important or highly emotional. Ask your students to practice this.

Prepare some sentences with surprising or exciting news, and ask them to convey them to one another. They must start with ‘You’ll never guess what happened!’ and slow down as they reach the important part.

3. Misheard Lyrics

CEFR Level: A2 and above | Duration: 60 minutes

Find a popular song that is close to your students’ level. Write the lyrics on sheets of paper and distribute them to the class. Play the song or music video and explain any unknown vocabulary.

Ask your students to underline all the stressed syllables, e.g.:

With or without you, I can’t live

Then ask them to replace the words, but keep the same rhythm, e.g.:

With or without food, Jack can’t live

Finally, ask them to rewrite the whole song, replacing as many words as possible. Check which one could replace the most words.

4. Robots

CEFR Level: A1 and above | Duration: 10 minutes

The aim of this activity is the opposite of the one above. Here students learn to control the rhythm and tone of their voice.

Find online some videos with robots talking and make a list of their phrases. They should be fairly short, mostly instructions. Give them to the students and ask them to read them aloud to one another, trying to be as robot-like and monotonous as possible, without any stress or intonation. Other students must follow the conversation, i.e., reply in the same manner.

5. In Character

CEFR Level: A1 and above | Duration: 20 minutes

Find a video clip with many characters and lively dialogues. Divide the class in groups. Each group will be assigned one character from the clip.

After watching the clip, hand out the scripts of its character to its respective group. Students read aloud the lines, trying to imitate the rhythm and intonation of their character, as well as the bodily gestures. At the end, students act out the entire dialogue.

6. Sounds English To Me

CEFR Level: A2 and above | Duration: 15 minutes

Ask the students to form small groups or pairs. Each group has to think of the most ‘English’ sounds, which cannot be found in their native language. Ask them to think of words that contain that sound.

Ask them to put their sounds in lists, such as ‘the weirdest’, ‘the funniest’, ‘the most elegant’, ‘the most interesting’ etc. Students compare their lists and discuss.

7. Silent Dictation

CEFR Level: A1 and above | Duration: 10 minutes

Create two lists of words that are similar but are pronounced very differently, such as ‘ship/sheep’, ‘cut/cat’, ‘big/bag’ etc. Write the words on the board and read them slowly aloud. Ask students to pay attention to your face and lips as you pronounce them.

Then, give them a silent dictation, pronouncing the words (moving the lips) silently. Students try to guess which of the two words from each pair you have pronounced.

8. Pronunciation Battle

CEFR Level: A1 and above | Duration: 15 minutes

Prepare two sets of cards: one with words and one with short sentences. Each one must have some of the sounds your students have found difficult to pronounce during the school year.

Divide the class in groups. Put the cards face down. Each group draws a card and they have to pronounce it. Explain that ‘word’ cards are worth 1 point, whereas ‘sentence’ cards are worth 3 points. To get the points, they must pronounce all words on the card correctly.

The groups take turns, choosing from whichever pile they wish. Some may wish to play safe, while others may risk and go for the 3 points. The first group to reach 20 points wins.  

Teaching Pronunciation

These activities are short and have been designed so that they can easily fit into a busy curriculum. Most of all, they will give your students confidence and familiarity with the English language.

Teaching Pronunciation in 8 Steps

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Savas Savides
Education born and bred. I have worked as a teacher for many private language schools, as a test centre administrator, as a teacher trainer, as an educational consultant, and as a publisher. I am an advocate for literacy and a huge proponent of using technology in the classroom. I have a BA in English and an MBA in Marketing. I mostly write about English Language Teaching. I live in sunny Athens.

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