Pronunciation: Teaching overview

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Teaching pronunciation, and teaching basic phonetics and phonology, typically involve the following areas.

  1. Segmentals: Vowels
  2. Segmentals: Consonants
  3. Prosody - intonation, rhythm, stress
  4. Prosodic effects - natural speech phenomena such as assimilation (blending), linking (liaison), contractions, and others
  5. Morphological effects, often under prosody or segmentals (e.g., pronunciation of plural -s, the -ed verb ending)

These are dealt with on their respective phonology pages (forthcoming). What is less often dealt with is teaching methods, and this is more challenging in TESL. Pronunciation is harder to teach than grammar. Those who start learning English as teenagers or adults have greater difficulties with learning new sound distinctions, and with fossilized pronunciation forms. For reasons unknown, L2 phonology and pronunciation seem more difficult to learn than grammar and morphology. It is also more challenging because it is more difficult to come up with communicative activities for pronunciation instruction, especially for segmentals, and especially for lower proficiency levels.

This page will provide an outline of the more useful and common methods for pronunciation teaching, with more on the linked pages. These are:

  1. Listening exercises (usually for segmentals)
  2. Production exercises (especially for segmentals)
  3. Controlled activities
  4. Reciting poems, chants, songs (especially for prosody)
  5. Discussion activities (especially for prosody)


The following exercises can be helpful for pronunciation practice. However, 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.

1 Rationale

It is unavoidable to avoid some moderate use of "traditional" repetition exercises and drills. However, these methods should be used conservatively, as they have been greatly overused and abused in the past, and still are in some places. To some degree, though, their use can be justified, if used correctly, in moderation, and for the appropriate levels. They are needed because learners have to learn new phoneme distinctions and prosodic patterns, and need some structured guidance in learning these new distinctions and patterns. They also need to form new neural connections between the sound perception, sound production, and motor areas of the brain, as well as connections for new phonemes and sounds. Connectionist research has shown the value of repetition and imitation exercises in developing and reinforcing connections, and imitation and repetition as a sort of input to strengthen connections. This line of research also shows the importance of guidance and feedback to learners while doing perception and production exercises. So some use of this is warranted. (I'll have to add references later.)

This is not the same as behaviorism, of course. Behaviorism and the Audiolingual Method (ALM) used repetition and drilling for the sake of drilling, and came from very erroneous assumptions about learning. These assumptions predate modern cognitive psychology and our understanding of neural connections; and these assumptions were discarded by psychology because they were wrong.

However, activities have to progress to higher order learning and contextual learning, so after a while, learners need to move on to more interactive activities. This is difficult, of course. We can start with more controlled, guided, and artificial activities. Once we get to more open-ended communicative activities, these are more appropriate for prosody than segmentals. Truly communicative activities for segmentals are few and difficult.

2 Listening discrimination exercises

See here for more detailed descriptions of listening exercises.

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. For example:

For /b/ vs. /p/: (1) bat - pat; (2) pebble - pepper; (3) flab - flap

These discrimination exercises can be used along and followed by similar production exercises. See the links at the bottom for finding minimal pairs. Typical listening activities include:

  1. Sound repetition
  2. Word repetition
  3. Minimal pairs repetition
  4. Phoneme identification
  5. Word identification
  6. Word discrimination
  7. Homophone discrimination
  8. Same / different
  9. Which one is different?
  10. Rhyming – which word doesn't rhyme?
  11. Pronunciation bingo
  12. Multiple choice
  13. Cloze exercise
  14. Fill in the blank

3 Production exercises

  1. Simple repetition
  2. Phoneme substitution
  3. Mixed phrases (sentence discrimination)
  4. Q&A
  5. Q&A, mixed sentences
  6. Sentence construction
  7. Correction exercises (in sentences)
  8. Tongue twisters
  9. Limericks
  10. Rhymes
  11. Stories and reading passages

4 Controlled activities

See here for more controlled or guided activities. These are somewhat close-ended, artificial, and traditional. However, they can allow the teacher to provide some scaffolding to the students.

  1. Naming task
  2. Bingo task
  3. Sentence construction
  4. Q&A
  5. Info gap table
  6. Matching activities
  7. Artificial dialogues

5 Interactive activities

These can be more communicative, or at least interactive and open-ended, requiring students to be more creative, to speak more, and to put their language into context. See here for more interactive activities.

  1. Info-gap activities
  2. Various discussion topics
  3. Creating dialogues or stories
  4. Interactively reading stories and poems together
  5. Singing songs together

6 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

6.1 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) [[Category:Phonology]