As ESL teachers, I think we can all agree that no matter what specific content we are teaching, pronunciation will play a part in almost every single ESL class. It's a vital part of learning to speak any language and one that can seem intimidating to teach for even the most seasoned ESL teachers. But teaching pronunciation doesn’t have to be difficult or boring (for you or your students!). Here are some tried and true tips and strategies for teaching pronunciation in your in-person or online ESL classes.
Teach Phonemes First
We have to start by recognizing that a student cannot produce a sound until they can clearly hear it and distinguish it from other surrounding sounds. In the very beginning, pronunciation lessons should revolve around listening and identifying phonemes (individual units of sound). Once a student can clearly hear and identify the phoneme, they will have a much easier time producing it. And, once students can easily produce individual sounds, it is a much smaller, and less daunting, step to putting two or more of these sounds together to create words!
Physically Model the Sounds
It’s important for students to understand how the mouth moves to produce a particular sound – especially if it’s a sound that is not found in their native language and that they’ve never attempted to produce before. To accomplish this, models or diagrams are particularly useful. Another option is to have students watch your mouth closely. Pay attention to the movement that happens in your own mouth as you produce each sound so you can not only model the pronunciation but also, if necessary, explain how the mouth moves to produce the sound.
Know the Mispronunciations That Are Common to Your Students' Culture
It’s common for students of the same culture to make the same pronunciation errors. For example, Spanish speakers often pronounce the English “Z” as an “S” and Chinese speakers will often substitute an “L” sound for the “R”. Do some research and find out what the common mispronunciations are for your students’ culture. This way you will be prepared ahead of time to help them recognize and correct these mistakes.
Have Your Students Mimic You and Other Native Speakers
Let your students mimic you and other native speakers. Find news clipping, stories, movie clips or recordings of other teachers and have students listen to and then repeat the dialogue. Doing so will expose them to a variety of native English speakers, hone their listening skills and give them loads of pronunciation practice.
Record Your Students to Show Them (and You) Their Progress
This is a great exercise to encourage your students and show them how far they’ve come. Record them during class or have them record themselves saying or reading a specific text. Record them saying the same text again six or twelve months later and compare the two recordings. Most likely, you’ll be amazed at how far they’ve come, and they’ll be proud of, and encouraged by, the results of their hard work.
Remember, pronunciation is not something that you will teach in one lesson and then move on from. It will be an ongoing part of your student’s English language learning journey. So, make it fun for them. Spend 10 or 15 minutes of each class on a fun and engaging pronunciation activity. You’ll see huge improvements not only in their pronunciation, but also in their confidence and overall language abilities.