How much pronunciation work takes place in the average EFL classroom? Many teachers would admit that a lot less goes on than they would like. When I have asked them why there is a range of responses: I don’t have time, I’m not sure how to teach pronunciation well, I don’t know where to start; my students make so many mistakes, it is not part of our syllabus. They never say because it is not important. This tells me that teachers need help with how to teach pronunciation. They need to feel more confident and better equipped to work with their learners pronunciation needs.

In today’s post, I am going to share some ideas for how we can do this.

1 Listen and Learn

This is the first step in developing your teaching to integrate pronunciation effectively into every lesson. Instead of, or as well as TTT, we have TLT- teacher listening time! When you are planning and teaching consider when, how and why you are listening to your learners. Two reasons why:

  1. You will learn more about your learners’ needs- what aspects of pron do they do well and what do they need help with? Both in terms of listening to each other and to other input and struggling and in terms of their own production.
  2. If you listen and make notes on their pronunciation, you are giving yourself time to think about how you will teach it. As we know from the pron cycle, listen and repeat is not quite enough. There is so much more to be done and this needs confidence and know-how. If you note down aspects of pronunciation during class, you can take your time to plan what you will teach, learn more about that aspect of pron and think about how you will teach it. This will help you identify potential teaching points too.

So. listen and learn about your students, about pronunciation and phonology and about your own development.

2 Every language point has a pronunciation point.

Now that we are more aware of our learners’ problem areas, another good place to start when we are thinking about what aspects of pronunciation to address is looking at the language points we are going to teach that day. Whether it is a set of vocabulary or a grammar point, we can ask ourselves; what will my learners find difficult when they hear and/or say this language? This might be harder to pinpoint in multilingual classes. If you are working in a monolingual context this will be easier to answer. For multilingual groups, you could think about issues the majority of learners will struggle with. Let’s take an example. Imagine you are teaching adverbs of frequency- sometimes, usually, never, always etc. Imagine your learners saying these words. What would they get wrong? If they heard these words spoken quickly is there anything that might affect their understanding?

For my Spanish speaking learners, I think the priority would be their production. They might have the following issues:

  • Word stress usuALLy ooOo (this would lead them to adding an extra syllable too!), instead of Usually Ooo
  • /b/ and /v/ confusion in never.
  • Use of the wrong vowel sound in always. They might use /ɑː/ instead of /ɔː/

Although the second and third points might not impede their intelligibility, I want to teach them the correct mouth position of /v/ and /ɔː/ as they struggle to make them accurately in these words.

My next step is to decide what to do to teach these points. Maybe I need to do some research on teaching mouth position. But, by deciding this at the planning stage I have time to prepare how I will teach this point so I feel more confident going into class.

3 One thing at a time

As I mentioned before, many teachers avoid teaching pronunciation because they do not know where to start. Let’s reflect on that in the context of teaching other parts of the language. When we are teaching grammar, we do not focus on lots of things at once; we might teach one tense or one specific bit of grammar, as above in the adverbs of frequency example. So, teaching pronunciation can be the same. As well as identifying pronunciation points in the language we are teaching, we can address pronunciation errors one at a time. It may be something we have heard in various classes and made a note of, or it may be a recurring error that has come up in one lesson. Either way, we can focus on correcting it and developing accuracy by following these steps. Firstly, if we think the learners are making a mistake because they don’t have that sound in their own language we need to help them hear the sound and to be able to isolate it. We can do this by saying words which are minimal pairs, e.g. if the problem sound is /v/ (my students often say /b/ or something close to it), we could ask them to tell us the difference between these two words we say to the class- berry and very. Once they hear the different sounds, we can help them to distinguish between the sounds in other words- bet and vet etc. Then, we can start to help the students say the words by showing them the teeth and lips position for the two sounds. Start with some group and individual drilling of the sounds in isolation, then in words and then in a short phrase. Once we have heard they can produce it, we can make it a focus of our error correction in that lesson and in future lessons.

Hopefully, this gives you some ideas. For more posts on teaching, pronunciation check out a blog I write with Mark McKinnon

Nicola Meldrum started her teaching career in Barcelona, Spain in 2001 and is now a materials writer, teacher trainer and well known international speaker. As well as that, she is the Course Director of Oxford TEFL’s Diploma TESOL course.  

You can join Nicola on the Oxford TEFL certified online Teaching Pronunciation Course.  This is a 30 hour course that will give you a thorough background knowledge on all areas of phonology it will help you integrate pronunciation into your lessons in a more natural, effective way.



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