The TEFL Iberia guide to teaching pronunciation


Pronunciation is sometimes overlooked in the TEFL classroom as teachers are focusing on the four skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking, and even within speaking, fluency is prized more highly than good pronunciation. However, pronunciation is an important skill to focus on, so we have five tips to help you get your students into pronunciation!

Have the phonemic chart up on your classroom wall

Start introducing the chart to your students as early as possible. It’s best to go through it bit by bit, so your students aren’t overwhelmed by all the symbols. Certain nationalities will struggle more with specific phonemes, so the phonemic chart will help you to first isolate and then focus on your students’ pronunciation difficulties. Students don’t need to memorise the symbols, they just need to be able to recognise it when you use it.

Transcribe new vocabulary

Once your students are comfortable with the phonemic chart, play around with students reading transcriptions. Digging down into the component sounds of a word will improve students’ retention, and it works very well with contracted form, eg would’ve, should’ve, could’ve. Focusing on contractions is very beneficial – lots of students will avoid contracting verbs, but as they begin to feel more comfortable with the contracted version they will use it more in speaking, improving their fluency.

Focus on connected speech

Like contractions, connected speech can be frustrating for students. Sentences which present no comprehension issues in their written form can be challenging for students when spoken. It’s worth focusing on the differences between ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ forms of common words such as and or have and teaching students how to recognise these differences.

Exploit your listening scripts

Most textbooks will provide audio files at the back of the book – transcripts of the listening exercises. Get your students to highlight connected speech in fixed chunks, sentence stress and intonation patterns. They can then emulate the recording, take on roles from the listening and make it a fun ‘dramatic’ activity.

Get into the habit of recording word stress

Learners struggling with word stress find the visual representation of the sound really helpful. Using the oO method is clear, easy for students to reproduce themselves and has the added advantage of identifying all the syllables in a word, stressed and unstressed. If you elicit word stress from students in the classroom, it not only helps their pronunciation but also helps them to remember the new vocabulary they’ve just learned.

Play vocabulary games

There are lots of games you can play with minimal pairs, vowel sounds and word stress to make pronunciation work more engaging. There are lots of ideas online and if your students really want to focus on pronunciation it might be worth investing in Pronunciation Games by Mark Hancock. We have a copy in our TEFL training classroom and can recommend it!

Drilling phrases as well as individual words

Drilling is very important when it comes to improving pronunciation, but teachers often overlook the efficacy of drilling entire phrases. You can also do back-chain drilling, eg “Done it, wouldn’t have done it, I wouldn’t have done it.” You can also get the students to drill with their inner voice – saying it to themselves before saying it out loud. Try to drill to the point of saturation, i.e. giggles – the students might feel silly but they’ll definitely remember!

If you’re not particularly confident in teaching pronunciation there are lots of youtube tutorials available online. What are your top tips when it comes to teaching pronunciation?

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