Pronunciation: Listening exercises

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The following drills can be helpful for pronunciation practice. However, exercises or drills should not be overdone to the point of boredom. Usually, one would do some listening discrimination exercises, then production exercises, then a less controlled activity, such as pair or small group work, and if possible, a communicative or quasi-communicative activity. While doing listening activities, it is helpful to sometimes mix up listening activities and similar production activities.

Phoneme contrasts need to be practiced for initial, medial, and final contrasts, that is, sound distinctions for each sound at the start, middle (and between vowels), and end of words. This is because the phonetic realization of each phoneme can vary according to these word positions, and students need to know that, e.g., A, B, C are the same sound category (phoneme), but A is not the same as sounds D, E, F. See the links at the bottom for finding minimal pairs. For example:

For /s/ vs. /z/: (1) sit - zit; (2) fussy - fuzzy (3) cuss - 'cuz


1 Listening discrimination exercises

1.1 Sound repetition

Repetition of the sound by itself. The teacher pronounces the sound and has the students imitate his pronunciation chorally, in small groups, or individually.

1.2 Word repetition

Repetition of the sound in association with known and easy sounds. The students imitate the teacher's pronunciation of a series of words that contain the sound that is being drilled.

1.3 Minimal pairs repetition

This drill centers the attention on the difference in the pronunciation of two sounds. The minimal pair device uses word pairs which differ in pronunciation only in the new sounds under consideration, such as bit – beat or lock – rock. For less common phonemes or phoneme contrasts, near-minimal pairs could be used, e.g., neither – Nessie.

1.4 Phoneme identification

Students listen to words and identify the appropriate phoneme symbols on their handout; e.g., if the teacher says lad, the student can circle /æ/ on the handout. Or students raise their hands if they hear /æ/.

  • lad /æ/, red /ε/

1.5 Word identification #1

Circle the word or picture that you hear. (The teacher calls out words and students circle the appropriate word or picture on a handout.)

  • think sink wreath Reese
  • Cassie Cathy bath bass

1.6 Word identification #2

Students identify words with the target phoneme – identifying the word on a handout, or by holding up 1, 2, or 3 fingers to indicate the first, second or third word that they hear as having the target sound. Word pairs or triplets may be used.

  • rid reed (#1 for /ɪ/)
  • bead bid bead (#2 for /ɪ/)

1.7 Word discrimination

Underline the word that does not have the same sound as the others.

  • break brake brick (brick)
  • bid bead bead (bid)

1.8 Homophone discrimination

Students identify the correct homophone, e.g., as a wholly written exercise, or by identifying the word they hear on the handout. Besides homophones, other similar words could be used, or a second distractor (wrong answer) could be included.

  • You're not to play music in your room after 11pm at night. (aloud / allowed)
  • You're not to play music in your room after 11pm at night. (aloud / allowed / a lot)

1.9 Same / different

Students indicate whether these two words are the same or different by saying "same" or "different."

E.g., for θ/s:

  1. sink sink (same)
  2. so though (different)

Examples for /æ/:

  1. bed bad
  2. tack tack
  3. shell shall
  4. add add
  5. shall shell
  6. bagger beggar
  7. hammer hammer
  8. said sad
  9. edit, add it
  10. pastor pester
  11. lather leather
  12. gather gather

1.10 Which one is different?

Students indicate which one is different from the other by raising 1, 2, or 3 fingers, or calling out 'first,' 'second,' or 'third'.

  • think sink think (#2)
  • so so though (#3)
  • thin sin sin (#1)
  • tensely tenthly tensely (#2)

1.11 Rhyming – which word doesn't rhyme?

Students are to identify the word that does not rhyme with the others.

        Set A
  1. land blend sand
  2. rack stack peck
  3. smelly valley Sally        
        Set B
  1. Mel bell shall sell
  2. rag bag hag leg
  3. bread lad thread dead
  4. badge hedge edge sedge
  5. settle battle rattle saddle        
  6. bread lad thread dead
  7. cattle rattle settle battle
        Set C
  1. sell it, pallette, mallet
  2. lacking pecking sacking
  3. heckle crackle spackle
  4. defection faction reaction
  5. injection redaction selection        
  6. add it, edit it, said it

1.12 Pronunciation bingo

Students have words with a target phoneme (and possibly a contrasting phoneme) on a bingo card. This is played like a bingo game. The teacher calls out words, and students must hear correctly to identify words on the bingo card.

dead dense said letter mess
end mass latter shell gas
leather laughed BINGO dad pet
pat guess better dance left
sad shall lather batter and

1.13 Multiple choice

Students hear or read a set of words and indicate which word on their handout has or does not have the target sound

1. Which of the following does not have the sound /ɪ/?
A. bin; B. been; C. bean; D. bins
2. Which of the following does not have the sound /æ/?
A. rather; B. redder; C. ladder; D. hatter

1.14 Cloze exercise

Students fill in blanks with clozed (e.g., x/y) choices or blanked-out choices on a piece of paper with correct words as the teacher reads them aloud.

Hello, (Selma / Thelma), how are you?
Fine, thanks. And how are you, (Cathy / Cassie)?
I'm OK, I guess. Thanks for asking. But I think my health is not so good.
You (think / sink) so? You look fine! I think you (seem / theme) a little (thin / sin) to me.
No, I don't think I'm any (sinner / thinner), but thanks anyway. No, I think something is wrong with my (mouse / mouth). It hurts whenever I chew.

1.15 Fill in the blank

Students fill in blanks on a piece of paper with correct words as the teacher reads them aloud.

Hello ____, how are you?
Fine, thanks. And how are you, ____?
I'm OK, I guess. Thanks for asking. But I think my is not so good.
You ____ so? You look fine! I think you seem a little ____ to me.
No, I don't think I'm any ____, but anyway. No, I think something is wrong with my ____. It hurts whenever I chew.
(Theo, Thelma, health, think, thin, thinner, thanks, teeth)


2 See also

  1. Phonology & pronunciation portal
  2. Phonology & pronunciation topics (Minimal pairs will appear here later in wiki pages for various segmentals)
  3. Pronunciation: Teaching overview
  4. Pronunciation: Listening exercises
  5. Pronunciation: Production exercises
  6. Pronunciation: Controlled activities
  7. Pronunciation: Interactive activities
  8. Discussion questions for listening-speaking class


2.1 External links

  1. Sounds of English
  2. Phonetics flash animation practice (U. Iowa phonetics site)
  3. English phonetics and phonology for non-native speakers
  4. Tongue twisters website (also, tongue twisters for other languages)
  5. Phoneme flashcards for kids
  6. MoreWords] (Here you can search for words by spelling patterns)