TESOL in China




Pronunciation is an area of language use where it is particularly difficult to exert conscious control. And yet, it’s important. For beginners, or for those who have learnt mainly from written texts, poor pronunciation can be a obstacle to being understood. For more advanced learners, pronunciation can still be an issue; inappropriate intonation may mean that they ‘give the wrong message’ when they speak. The importance of pronunciation work is being increasingly recognized in coursebooks, and you may well find yourself using a book that contains specific pronunciation activities. The following suggestions, then, should help you to make the most of explicit pronunciation work with your learners.



Teaching pronunciation

  1. Learn how to describe pronunciation. Familiarize yourself with the phonemic symbols for English, and with a system for describing some basic intonation patterns. These are challenging tasks, but they can bring rich dividends. The knowledge will help you to understand more clearly what your learners are aiming for in terms of pronunciation, and what their problems are.

  2. Record your learners’ speech. It is best to choose moments where one learner at a time is speaking. Listen to the recordings and see where their main difficulties lie; especially if you have a monolingual class, they will probably have difficulties in common. You can then think about which of their difficulties are most significant: which are likely to form a barrier to effective communication?

  3. Be aware of your own pronunciation. Whether or not you are a native speaker of English, your accent is probably different from the Received Pronunciation which your learners may regard as ‘correct’. Learners can have strong views about some accents being superior to others! Talk to them about different accents, emphasizing that there is more than one acceptable model.

  4. Teach pronunciation a little at a time. Pronunciation will improve naturally if you ensure that your learners do lots of listening and speaking. Intensive pronunciation work can help, but short, fairly frequent sessions are the most useful.

  5. Teach some phonemic symbols. This can be done gradually, so as not to overload learners. Once they know the symbols, you have a very useful metalanguage available for talking about pronunciation.

  6. Work on learners’ perception of target sounds. Awareness of a sound is the first step to being able to produce it But if a sound does not exist in your learners’ first language, or is not significant for meaning, then they may find it very difficult to hear the essential characteristics of the English sound. ‘Minimal pair’ exercises can be useful here.

  7. Tell learners how target sounds are physically articulated. Especially if learners are having trouble with a sound, an explicit description of the voice, place and manner of articulation can be useful. You can use a diagram of the mouth, such as appears in many pronunciation books, to help you here.

  8. Work on learners’ perception of intonation. English intonation is, of course, very significant for meaning. It especially has to do with the ‘shared knowledge’ of speakers involved in a conversation: whether speakers perceive what they are saying as new information, or as already understood. To demonstrate this idea, you will probably need to use recordings involving several turns of dialogue, where there is a context to help learners to see how ‘shared knowledge’ is built up and assumed.

  9. Get learners to produce whole utterances, and combinations of utterances, during pronunciation practice. That way they work in tandem on intonation and on the correct pronunciation of individual sounds in context. The sounds which make up words can change and, in some cases, even disappear, according to the context of pronunciation, and these changes are intimately linked to the rhythm of the utterance.

  10. Let learners listen to recordings of themselves. This can be a valuable awareness raising strategy; they may well hear features of their pronunciation that they simply do not have time to notice when actually speaking. As a result, they may be able to work on weak areas consciously.


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