Teaching pronunciation

Language as a complex sign system, naturally or artificially created and relate conceptual content and standard sound. When to teach pronunciation. Pronunciation teaching and its importance in the development of students listening and speech skills.

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Teaching pronunciation

Simferopol, 2015


1. The importance of correct pronunciation in language learning

2. The content of teaching pronunciation

3. General features of teaching pronunciation

4. Techniques for teaching pronunciation

5. When to teach pronunciation


1. The importance of correct pronunciation in language learning

The first impact of any language comes from the spoken word. The basis of all languages is sound. Words are merely combinations of sounds. It is in these sound sequences that the ideas are contained. Listening is the first experience; the attempt to understand accompanies it. The acquisition of good pronunciation depends to a great extent on the learner's ability of listening with care and discrimination. One of the tasks of language teaching consists in devising ways to help the learner aud the unfamiliar sounds. The hearing of a given word calls forth the acoustic image of that word from which a meaning is obtained. Therefore teaching pronunciation is of great importance in the developing of pupils' hearing and speaking habits and skills. language pronunciation sound

Teaching pronunciation is of no less importance in the developing of reading and writing habits and skills, since writing (or what is written) is a graphic representation of sound sequences. In reading the visual images become acoustic images. These are combined with kinesthetic images, resulting in inner speech.

Wrong pronunciation often leads to misunderstanding. For example, when a speaker or a reader replaces one phoneme with another he unintentionally uses quite a different word, in this way altering the sense of what he wanted to say. For example, white instead of wide; it instead of eat; pot instead of port, etc.

Every teacher must understand how important the teaching of correct pronunciation is.

2. The content of teaching pronunciation

Pupils should study English literary pronunciation which constitutes received pronunciation. This is the language of radio, TV, theatres, universities and schools. In our schools we teach pupils literary pronunciation which is characterized by: (a) clear stress in all the rhythmic groups, (b) clear pronunciation of the sounds, for example, give me and not gimme admitted by colloquial English; (c) typical abbreviations in auxiliary words: it's, won't, doesn't, can't, shouldn't, etc.

Proceeding from the aims and objectives the foreign language syllabus sets out, pupils must assimilate:

1. The sounds of the English language, its vowels and consonants. They should be able to articulate these sounds both separately and in different phonetic contexts.

2.Some peculiarities of the English language in comparison with those of the Russian language, such as: English vowels differ in quality and in length, whereas in the Russian language the length of vowels is of no importance; there are no palatal consonants, and if some consonants may be pronounced slightly palatalized, this does not change the meaning of the word. For instance, we may pronounce the word Me with dark [1] and light [1], i. e., slightly palatalized, the meaning of the word remains the same. In the Russian language there are palatalized and nonpalatalized consonants and palatalization changes the meaning of the word: e. g., -- ; -- ; -- .

3. Stress in a word and in a sen'ence, and melody (fall and rise). Pupils must be able to divide a sentence into groups and intone it properly.

I 'don't 'know what his 'native Manguage is.

'Do you 'speak 'English?

Only when pronunciation is correct, when all main phonic rules are strictly followed, can one understand what one hears and clearly express one's thoughts in English.

The teacher, therefore, faces the following problems in teaching pupils English pronunciation:

1) the problem of discrimination; i. e., hearing the differences between phonemes which are not distinguished or used in the Russian language and between falling, rising, and level tones;

2) the problem of articulation, i. e., learning to make the motor movements adequate to proper production of English sounds;

3) the problem of intonation, i.e., learning to make right stresses, pauses and use appropriate patterns;

4) the problem of integration, i. e., learning to assemble the phonemes of a connected discourse (talk) with the proper allophonic variations (members of a phoneme) in jhe, months, hard ^times',

5) the problem of automaticy, i. e., making correct production so habitual that it does not need to be attended to in the process of speaking.

Consequently, discrimination, articulation, intonation, integration, automaticy are the items that should constitute the content of the teaching of pronunciation, i. e., pupils should be taught to discriminate or to distinguish English sounds from Russian sounds, long sounds from short ones; falling tone from rising tone; to articulate English sounds correctly, to use appropriate tone patterns; to integrate or to combine sounds into a whole and, finally, they should be taught to use all these while hearing and speaking the English language. Of course absolute correctness is impossible. We cannot expect more than approximate correctness, the correctness that ensures communication between people speaking the same language.

3. General features of teaching pronunciation

Teaching pronunciation is important not just because it is necessary to communicate one's ideas clearly. Articulation movements accompany the process of using the language not only when a person is speaking but also during listening, reading and writing. Hidden articulation movements were registered when a person seemed silent just listening to somebody else talking or when reading a text. The more difficult the cognitive task, the more obvious become sound articulations. Language articulation is thus closely linked to the language-and-thought processes. If the hidden articulation movements arc suppressed (in experiments the subjects arc asked to perform some movements with their tongue while doing a thinking task), the subjects find it difficult to perceive the words. Pronouncing one's thoughts or at least making hidden articulations facilitates the process. People often resort to pronouncing words while reading a text when they find the text ambiguous.

Speech sound articulation is important not only to pronounce the words but also to recognize and to spell them. Russian learners of English often mistake the |t| sound for |ch| sound, believing that the words teacher is pronounced as |chichcr|, and the structure it is, is pronounced [ichis]. Mistakes in orthography can also be traced to erroneous pronunciation. The following words can be both pronounced and spelt erroneously by poorer learners of English. Headache is pronounced and spelt as [hedachj, blood as 1 bind I, type as |tup| becaasc y is associated with the Cyrillic letter and sound |oo|, climate as |climat|. An interesting example of substituting a more familiar word for a less familiar one is extinct which was both read and spelt by the learners as |instinct] (author's data). This interdependence word pronunciation, recognition and spelling is shown by the graph:

The communicative approach since 1980 holds that pronunciation is important for teaching the language for the purposes of communication. The studies of the importance of sounds and intonation have shown that intonation appears to be more important for communication than speech sounds. Mistakes in intonation cause more comprehension problems than mispronounced phonemes. Mastering the pronunciation of a foreign language presents great difficulties for the learners. Russian learners-of English can find it difficult to distinguish between the sounds in the words bed and bad. They can equally find it difficult to distinguish the sound in the words "ten and tan, etc. The reason for the difficulty is that Russian students of English do not have in their native tongue the distinction between open, half open and closed vowels, as well as between short and long vowels (as in bin and bean) and monophthongs and diphthongs (as in pen and pain). English rhythm and stress pattern of sentences arc also hard to master for the Russian learners. Russian speech is less rhythmical. Russian words do not have a primary and secondary stress. Russian learners of English arc no exception in their difficulties. Japanese students find it next to impossible to perceive the difference between rice and lice. Thai students find English intonation confusing because in the That language the word haa said with the falling tone means "five, while the same word pronounced with the rising tone means to look for.

Possible reasons for the learners making errors in pronouncing the foreign sounds arc that a particular sound may be absent in the mother tongue. A sound may exist in the mother tongue but with a different articulation. Similar native sounds may not distinguish the meaning as in the foreign language (e.g. long and short vowels). Learners may mispronounce the sound because they may mishear it. Conversely, the learners can mishear the sound because they mispronounce it. That is why the first thing that needs to be done is to check that the learners can hear and identify the sounds that arc to be taught. After the learners have acquired the sound-synibol correspondence, they may in some languages immediately decode any given word or write down any spoken word without much hassle. In the English language it is not so simple. This happens because in the English language the words have long changed their pronunciation but their original spelling still remains the same. The English orthographic system functions on the conservative principle while pronunciation appears to be more dynamic and changes with time.

The goal of teaching pronunciation is not to make the learners sound like native speakers of English. Only few highly gifted and motivated individuals can achieve it. A more realistic approach is to enable the learners to pronounce the language without detracting from the ability to comprehend the message. This approach to teaching pronunciation is called approximating. The target of teaching pronunciation is to develop in learners phonetic competence, which is the knowledge of the English phonetic means such as phonemes, syllable formation, word stress and intonation.

Phonetic competence includes the knowledge of how speech sounds (phonemes) are used in actual speech production. This includes elisions (absence of sounds as in "Chris/t/mas) and assimilation (where one sound merges in the next sound as in hambag standing for handbag). This is called modification of phonemes in connected speech. There arc some typical modifications of phonemes in connected oral speech. If these words arc spelt as they are pronounced they will look like: GrapeBritain" (Great Britain), stapement" (statement), lasyear (last year), aspecs (aspects), cabnet (cabinet), libry (library), etc. One of the reasons that the phonemes merge together in oral speech is that it saves speakers from making articulation efforts.

Major components of teaching pronunciation are English sounds and intonation.

English consonants are represented in the chart below:

These sounds make up the target in teaching English consonants.

Vowel sounds can be distinguished from one another by which part of the tongue is involved (front, central, back) and by how high the tongue is when the sound is produced (high, mid, low). These two dimensions are summarized in the vowel quadrant:

A typically English feature of the vowel system is the diphthongs or vowel glides. The vowel glide in the English diphthongs is shown in the quadrant below:

E.g.: play, near, town, pair, time, tour, toy, etc.

English intonation can be introduced to the learners as the variation of the voice pitch levels. This can be compared to variations on the music stall. 'I he staff and an example sentence can be drawn as follows:

Major intonation tone groups are: low rise and low fall, high rise and high fall, fall-rise (within one syllable), rise-fall (within one syllable), fall + rise (within a series of syllables) and rise + fall (within a scries of syllables), mid-level tone.

4. Techniques for teaching pronunciation

There are two kinds of knowledge in mastering English pronunciation. One type of knowledge is intuitive, which is a language feeling. The other type of knowledge is analytic and is based on the knowledge of articulation.

There are techniques for teaching pronunciation that have traditionally been used and are still being used in instructed settings. The traditional approach to teaching pronunciation that still survives is the "pronunciation drill. Drills arc still very popular and there are a number of reasons for that. Drills engage the students in narrowly delined tasks. This provides emotional security for the learners and teachers. Drills are relatively easy to perform. They guarantee in most cases the immediate result of mastering the learning material. In other words a drill works and that is what matters. It is evident that one can't master pronunciation of the foreign language without some form of repetitive drilling. Repetition can be by the whole class, individually in the fixed order, slow tempo and fast tempo, repetition in small groups, etc.

Listen and imitate. Students listen to the models provided by the teacher and imitate them.

E.g. I: back, lack, lap, tap, map, cat, fat... (phoneme [a] in the closed syllable).

E.g. 2: Why Willie, why wink widely, weep wildly, whoop weirdly...? (every word begins with |w|).

Repetitious exercises train the learners to pronounce long chains of words and/or phrases. E.g. lunch, much, crunch, such, touch... At lunch 1 like to crunch so much and touch what I can crunch. Analogy exercises consist in tilling in the gaps in word chains on the analogy. E.g. My loved one is so near, and dear, but 1... (fear) that he will not come here.

Phonetic description. The teachers and learners used articulation descriptions, phonetic alphabets (transcriptions) and sound charts to describe the language.

Minimal pair drills. The technique helps the students to distinguish between similar sounds in the target language through listening discrimination. Contrastive exercises train learners to distinguish the meaning with the help of phonemes.

E.g. I feel that 1 have my ... (fill). I can't go up the hill on high ... (heel). There are loo many sheep on such a small... (ship).

In order to make the minimal pair drill (e.g./n/VS/ng/) more communicative, pair work can be organized and the students instructed to ask each other questions using the list of names and activities.

E.g. Where's Ron? -- He is running. Where's John? -- He is jogging.

Tongue-twisters (phrases that are difficult to say without a sound mistake because of the sounds interfering with each other). E.g. Swans swam in sw'arm and swiftly swerved to swallow the sweet worm or She sells sea shells on the sea shore and the shells she sells are sea shells. Other examples are: The scythe of this size is the size of the scythe. This thin feather is thinner than that thick leather. 'Ihose pieces of leather and feather are both close with those clothes.

Possible texts of the tongue twisters:

Mary met a man at the market on May and her mother made tier do it. Mary married a monkey in Minnesota at midnight because she was mad.

Mary' ate mangoes in Montreal in the middle of the morning by mistake. Students can illustrate their best tongue twisters with pin-ups for the class!

Contextual minimal pair drill. A situation setting is used to distinguish between similar words. E.g. The situation is that a blacksmith is shoeing a horse. What sentence do you hear? "The blacksmith (a/hits, b/hcats) the horseshoe.

Visual aids. Devices such as charts, pictures, mirrors, real things are used to enhance pronunciation training.

Developmental approximation drill. The technique reconstructs the way, in which children acquire pronunciation by substituting sounds in the place of others.

E.g. children acquiring English as their native tongue often substitute /w/ for // or // for /I/. In order to deal with this error, the exercise will take the following shape: wed -- red, wag -- rag, witch -- rich, wipe ripe, yet -- let, yes -- less, etc.

E.g. children acquiring English as their native tongue often substitute /w/ for // or // for /I/. In order to deal with this error, the exercise will take the following shape: wed -- red, wag -- rag, witch -- rich, wipe -- ripe, yet -- let, yes -- less, etc.

Practice of shifts. E.g. /mime -- mimic/, /photo -- photography/. Rhythmic exercises develop rhythm of utterance: This thimble is thick fora thin finger. This thimhle is thin lor a thick finger. A thick thimhle for a thick finger. A thin thimble for a thin finger. Thick for thick. Thin for thin.

Rhythm reinforcement may take the form of jazz chants.

E.g. Where's the cat? -- It's on the mat. -- On the mat? -- Yes, on the mat. -- Why on the mat? -- It's so fat, it can't stand and sat on the mat.

Jazz chants are based on the repetition of phrases: Eat your salad! -- I don't like it. I hate it. I loathe it...

Recitations. Passages arc given to the learners for practice and recitation with the focus on stress, timing and intonation. This techniques may or may not involve memorization of the text.

Tasks with inteijecfions. Tasks with inteijections are used to develop in learners the ability to use phonetic means in the given situational circumstances. There are quite a few phonemes that can be used in speech as interjections, i.e. short exclamatory words. The learners are given a situational phrase, to which they react using an inteijection with the correct articulation and intonation.

Creative exercises. These techniques incorporate phonetic tasks in the creative communicative task. E.g. Make up a list of your favorite fruit and pronounce the words to make everybody feel how you like the items. Make up a poem about the wind. End up every line with the sound /sh-sh-sh-o-o-o-w/. Read a news story to others. Sound bored, indifferent, shocked, irritated, angry or pleased. A creative activity can target the acquisition of a particular sound or a group of sounds. E.g. in the activity /th/ voiceless VS. /th/ voiced the learners can be asking each other about the relationship of the people in the family tree.

E.g.: Who is Keith's mother? -- Keith's mother is Agatha.

Recording learners' pronunciation offers opportunities for feedback front the teacher and peers.

Board game

Board games are used for teaching pronunciation in pairs or small groups. They teach not only pronunciation hut also learner interaction.

Three-phase framework for teaching pronunciation

The three phases for teaching pronunciation include pre-activity, while-activity and post-activity. The general contents of these phases can be as in the table below:

Constant attention to pupils' pronunciation on the part of the teacher, whatever the stage of teaching is, results, as a rule, in good pronunciation habits and skills of pupils.

Young teachers are inclined to expect immediate results and soon they stop teaching pupils correct pronunciation as a hopeless task. No doubt they forget their own imperfections and do not know that pronunciation can be taught only by a long, patient, and persistent effort throughout the whole course of study.

5. When to teach pronunciation

Just as with any aspect of language - grammar, vocabulary, etc. - teachers have to decide when to include pronunciation teaching into lesson sequences. There are a number of alternatives to choose from:

Whole lessons: some teachers devote whole lesson sequences to pronunciation, and some schools timetable pronunciation lessons at various stages during the week.

Though it would be difficult to spend a whole class period working on one or two sounds, it can make sense to work on connected speech concentrating on stress and intonation over some forty-five minutes, provided that we follow normal planning principles (see Chapter 22). Thus we could have students do recognition work on intonation patterns, work on the stress in certain key phrases, and then move on to the rehearsing and performing of a short play extract which exemplified some of the issues we worked on.

Making pronunciation the main focus of a lesson does not mean that every minute of that lesson has to be spent on pronunciation work. Sometimes students may also listen to a longer tape, working on listening skills before moving to the pronunciation part of the sequence. Sometimes students may work on aspects of vocabulary before going on to work on word stress, sounds, and spelling.

Discrete slots: some teachers insert short, separate bits of pronunciation work into lesson sequences. Over a period of weeks they work on all the individual phonemes either separately or in contrasting pairs. At other times they spend a few minutes on a particular aspect of intonation, say, or on the contrast between two or more sounds.

Such separate pronunciation slots can be extremely useful, and provide a welcome change of pace and activity during a lesson. Many students enjoy them, and they succeed precisely because we do not spend too long on any one issue. However, pronunciation is not a separate skill; it is part of the way we speak. Even if we want to keep our separate pronunciation phases for the reasons we have suggested, we will also need times when we integrate pronunciation work into longer lesson sequences.

Integrated phases: many teachers get students to focus on pronunciation issues as an integral part of a lesson. When students listen to a tape, for example, one of the things which we can do is draw their attention to pronunciation features on the tape, if necessary having students work on sounds that are especially prominent, or getting them to imitate intonation patterns for questions, for example.

Pronunciation teaching forms a part of many sequences where students study language form. When we model words and phrases we draw our students' attention to the way they are said; one of the things we want to concentrate on during an accurate reproduction stage is the students' correct pronunciation.

Opportunistic teaching: just as teachers may stray from their original plan when lesson realities make this inevitable, and teach vocabulary or grammar opportunistically because it has `come up', so there are good reasons why we may want to stop what we are doing and spend a minute or two on some pronunciation issue that has arisen in the course of an activity. A lot will depend on what kind of activity the students are involved in since we will be reluctant to interrupt fluency work inappropriately, but tackling a problem at the moment when it occurs can be a successful way of dealing with pronunciation.

Although whole pronunciation lessons may be an unaffordable luxury for classes under syllabus and timetable pressure, many teachers tackle pronunciation in a mixture of the ways suggested above.


1. Harmer Jeremy. How to teach English. Longman, 2001.

2. Harmer Jeremy. The practice of English language teaching. Longman, 2001.

3. Kelly Gerard. How to teach pronunciation. Longman, 2001.

4. Millrood Radislav. English teaching methodology, , , 2005.

5. Rogova G.V. Methods of Teaching English, - .: , 1983 .


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