How to teach pronunciation: 5 steps

I have been teaching pronunciation to students for about 17 years or more. I’ve learnt what works and what doesn’t, especially for East Asian students, and Japanese in particular. Here are five easy steps to teach pronunciation.

Follow a routine

I cannot emphasize this enough. If you’re going to teach English, in English, you must follow a routine that your students can quickly pick up and understand easily. The routine could be a standardised lesson plan, of your own design; but it should be a routine for teaching pronunciation, another routine for teaching vocabulary, and another for teaching grammar, and so on. This way, students can understand what is happening now, what is happening next, and they can see how each step of the lesson is integrated, because they’ve become accustomed to your routines. This makes it easier for students to focus, follow, and participate positively.

The 5 Steps

Your routine for a pronunciation segment of your class would be:

  1. Introduce
  2. Demonstrate
  3. Main activity
  4. Wrap up
  5. Segue to the next activity

Step 1: Introduce

Socrates said that every good story has a beginning, middle, and an end. That is, all successful narratives follow this, and it is a structure that humans can easily understand. A simple introduction could be to list some key words on the board (pictured), and elicit some features about them. The key words should be the first few moves of the main activity you will do.

  1. Do a listen and repeat drill of the words, and always, always give students time to…
  2. Rehearse the words with their partner.
Teaching two-syllable pronunciation. The blue is the list of examples, the black is the information elicited from students, and green is the explanation of the parts of the input students get.
Teaching two-syllable pronunciation. The blue is the list of examples, the black is the information elicited from students, and green is the explanation of the parts of the input students get.

Features of the input phase, as can be seen in the image, there are:

  • The first few moves included
  • Information about the pronunciation is elicited from students
  • Extra information so that students can work autonomously (with their smartphones) is included.
  • Examples and anti-examples are included. Anti-examples show what an answer would be unacceptable in the activity.

Step 2: Demonstrate

This is especially important for language learners. All students understand things better when they can see it being done; also they can understand your verbal instructions better. Simply walk through the first three moves of the activity eliciting from the students each move/step (see picture below). If it’s a pair work activity, choose a capable student to partner with you. My preferred option is to elicit the first, second, and third moves from the class, just to get them started on an activity.

Always, always, after giving a set of instructions, always, always say:

  1. “Check with your partner, what did I say?” (give half a minute for them to talk & confirm things with each other)
  2. “Do you understand?”
Example of a pronunciation activity that students would work together on.
Example of a pronunciation activity that students would work together on.

Step 3: Main activity

After eliciting the first few moves, I say, “Now continue with your partner”, and most students usually know what to do with no problems.

I prefer to use paper-based pair work activities. This way, they can see their progress, and you can see where they are going wrong. Also, working with a partner helps students have more confidence in their answers, and the social situation lightens the classroom anyway. Walk around and check to see how they are doing.

Most pronunciation activities can be repeated or reviewed in the next lesson. Simply by having students remind each other what the main point is, and “test each other”. For instance, demonstrate with a dichotomous choice question, giving yes-no, same-different, i-i:, æ-ə type of responses. For instance, “Does it have two syllables that are big-small? ‘really’ – yes, ‘zero’ – yes, ‘again’ –  no; great, now ‘test’ your partner”. This would be your demonstration, and so students can now understand what to do, and can review with each other.

Step 4: Wrap up

Simply follow these steps:

  1. elicit the answers from students / or “test” them if it’s a review
  2. Have them listen and repeat your pronunciation
  3. Give them a minute to review the pronunciation in pairs

Step 5: Segue

Some how make a link between this activity and the next. Or else say, “Next, as usual, is grammar…”. Having a segue creates a cognitive link, and a flow in the lesson. Without segues, lessons seem stop-start, or fragmented. Create some flow or continuity, so things seem smooth.

Key points

At the appropriate times, always ask these questions:

  • Do you understand?
  • Check with your partner, “what did I say?” / Summarise what I said with your partner
  • Practice together
  • Any questions?

The example above came from my own book, however, the procedure still holds well if you use a great book called Pronunciation Games by Mark Hancock.

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