Pronunciation is an immense issue for every language learner no matter their age or their level.
It is a constant issue that students struggle with, and it is imperative to have focused practice on pronunciation at every stage of the game. Follow these three tips for perfecting pronunciation, and you’ll see wide strides of improvement.
Try These 3 Tips for Perfecting Pronunciation
Poor pronunciation can be a serious problem because it can negatively disturb understanding. Students by no means have to have native-speaker perfect pronunciation, but it is important for them to be understandable. Many students will request pronunciation help, and it really can provide a great confidence boost.
Pronunciation is so very closely related to hearing that listening is a vital part of developing this area. Listening to a tape, CD or video, or using your own voice as a model are all outstanding ways for students to get varied exposure to different pronunciation and accents. There are many ways to create drills that are engaging as well as entertaining. Don’t be afraid to try out different drills or warmers to see which ones your students really take to. One example is something of a dictation and listening exercise where students pick out whether what you are saying is the same or different. Create a list of minimal pairs such as: hit/heat, fit/feet, grit/green, etc. Read out one pair to the students and have them say it back to you. Then tell them to spell the word they heard, and write it on the board. Was it the same or different from the one you read? Go through this with multiple pairs and repetition. You can also have them just write down what they heard in their notebooks and then go over the answers. Move the pace along quickly for more challenge and even have the students try leading the activity themselves. You can do many variations of this to get students not just speaking, but listening for subtle differences as well.
Rhyming games can be a fun type of drill to do which incorporate both speaking and listening. It could be as simple as starting out with one word and the next student has to say a word that rhymes with it. It goes around the room until there are no more possible rhymes. You could choose to try and focus on certain vowel sounds, combinations or just let the students begin randomly. An example might be: blue-flu-glue-do-crew-shoe-moo and so on. You can write the chain on the board as you go or make it a memory game and see if students can remember all the words that were stated.
Odd one out is another drill-type listening exercise that can be done frequently with minimal prep time. Devise a list of groups of words with the same consonant cluster for example: shoe, cheap, sheep, ship, and read them aloud to students. Students can then repeat what they heard and decide which word is out of place. You can choose any sound to focus on and mix and match in your groups of words. Make it even more challenging by not telling the student what the difference is, and have them determine that as they listen and repeat.
Reading aloud is another great way to get lots of solid pronunciation practice. You can use recorded excerpts from the book, have students do the reading or do it yourself. There are many ways to vary this so it doesn’t just become you reading to the group all the time. You can play a recording and ask the students to count how many times they hear a certain vowel combination or consonant cluster. Follow that up with giving the students an opportunity to read the same passage aloud. You could also focus on intonation, and have each student read a sentence or paragraph using different kinds of intonations. You could have them read angrily, happily, sadly, etc. This way they are working on the different ways inflection affects meaning.
If you choose, you can isolate specific problem areas for learners and focus on them in chunks rather than just reading a lot of varied texts. For example, if students stumble a lot over particular sounds like th or sh, devise reading activities that focus on these sounds and use the readings to show all the different ways those sounds could be produced utilizing particular combinations. Past tense verbs with –ed is a good example. When does the ending sound like –ed, -t, -d at the end of the word? You can even create your own readings if you have specific problem areas you want to focus on.
Tongue twisters are the tried and true ESL teacher’s good friend. They are not only fun and silly; they are worthwhile and can be used at every level to challenge students! There are many of them out there for practicing the notoriously difficult sounds, but you can also feel free to create your own to suit your students’ needs. Encourage them to first repeat them all together as a group, and then speed up the pace to make it even more challenging. If students are getting into it, you can ask volunteers to recite one or more of the tongue twisters as fast as they can. This can be quite comical as well as impressive!
Do you students a great service and make sure that you don’t forget about pronunciation.
There are lots of resources to help you if you want to introduce phonics, the phonetic table, or simply get some great ideas for other activities you can do. Listen carefully to the students and stay in tune with the challenges students face with pronunciation.
I am an ex-ESL teacher who has transitioned from that industry into the field of adult education. I have a long history of teaching ESL in numerous countries and varied classroom settings. I’ve also taught a variety of learners, but found I loved teaching teens and adults the best. I spent three years certifying and training want-to-be teachers in China and the Czech Republic. I am also a writer and editor interested in anything to do with education, travel, and lifelong learning.
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