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Teaching pronunciation

T E A C H I N G    P R O N U N C I A T I O N

Prepared by Olga Kochenkova (Novosibirsk)


The phonological system of English can be divided into five main areas:

·        the individual sounds;

·        word stress;

·        sentence stress;

·        intonation;

·        features of fluent connected speech.



Though a number of English phonemes are familiar to Russian, some are distinctly different. Getting students to produce the sounds themselves can be difficult; it is necessary to raise their awareness of the fact that there is something to work on, and the first step is to get them to hear the difference. Receptive awareness comes before productive competence.


Some ideas for working with phonemes:


ü  Integrate phonemic work into your teaching of grammar and vocabulary. Always work on helping the students to achieve good pronunciation and encourage them to make a record of the phonemic transcription as well as the spelling of new items.

 ND1 Rhyme.

The rhyme gathers speed in time with the train going up, over and down the mountain. The words – on OHT/board.

The train comes near the mountain.

(say at normal speed)

I think I can do it.

I think I can do it.


The train climbs up the mountain.

(say very slowly, with stress on ‘can’)

Can I do it? Yes, I can.

Can I do it? Yes, I can.


The train goes over the mountain.

(gathering speed)

Of course I can do it.

Of course I can do it.


The train goes down the mountain.

(say very fast)

Of course I can do it.

Of course I can do it.


ü  Observation of mechanics. Let students watch how you and they make particular sounds.

ü  Ear – training. Get sts to listen to and distinguish words which have sounds that seem to them very similar (hat/hut; thin/tin: minimal pairs).

Go!2 Unit 5. Listen and write the word you hear.

1.   a) they       b) day

2.   a) things    b) sings

3.   a) mouth    b) mouse

4.   a) three      b) free

5.   a) through b) true


ü  Tongue twisters – to work on particular sounds, or to contrast sounds (three thin trees/ three tall trees).

ET1 Tongue twister. Unit 7

Finnish fish is fresh fish… Finnish fish is fresh fish…

Go!2 Unit 5 Tongue twister

I think my mother’s  birthday is on the third or fourth of this month.

ü  Transliteration. Get sts to write out a word or sentence in phonemic script. Jokes seem to work well.

ü  Using a dictionary to find pronunciation.

ü  Phoneme bingo. Hand out bingo cards with phonemes instead of numbers; call out sounds rather than numbers.

ü  Tap out words on a phonemic chart or using phonemes written on the board – sts say the words.

ü  Try a phonemic crossword.


Word stress


A stressed syllable in a word is usually noticeable by being slightly louder, slightly longer and slightly higher in pitch than the syllables next to it.


There are a variety of ways of marking stress in a written text. Choose.


Formation            unhappy             delightful              cassette     


`window               imposter              waterfall              magaZINE


WC3 Unit 4 G Copy the words and then listen and mark the main stress.



Sentence stress


Although individual words have their own stress, stress is also an important feature of sentences. Changes in sentence stress make substantial differences to meaning.


Task:  Consider the effect that changing stress has on the meaning of a single sentence.

a)    Michael wanted to buy the red shirt.  (not the red jumper)


b)   Michael wanted to buy the red shirt.


c)    Michael wanted to buy the red shirt.


 d)   Michael wanted to buy the red shirt.


e)    Michael wanted to buy the red shirt.

 We can demonstrate the patterns of sentence stress on the board etc. By getting the sts to work out the patterns themselves we can help to make them more aware of the importance of stress. Poetry and songs are good for focusing on stress. Shadow reading (reading simultaneously with a tape, trying to keep up with the speed and follow the rhythm) is a useful language laboratory or classroom activity.


Blueprint 2 Unit 38 The Leg of Lamb Shadow reading.

 Go!2 Unit 5  Rhythm Rap




Intonation is sometimes referred to as the ‘music’ of the language, and we use it as a kind of oral equivalent of written punctuation. It is closely connected to sentence stress, for the main movement of intonation begins at a stress. This movement is either upwards (a rise), or downwards (a fall), or flat. Intonation has a definite effect on meaning and also gives us information about the speaker’s attitude.


It is hard to teach intonation systematically because, although there are some common patterns, there are few clear rules, and many people with an ‘unmusical’ ear find it very hard to recognize or categorize intonation patterns. It is, however, so important that it is essential to include work on intonation on most courses. Many learners speak English with a flat intonation, which can sound boring, bored or uninterested. Using wrong intonation can also give offence.


Some ideas for working on intonation:

ü  Get sts to mark intonation patterns on dialogues. (arrows? Lines? Music? Words written in a wiggly way?) all the input dialogues

ü  Get sts to say the same single word (e.g. hello) with different intonation to convey completely different meanings.

ü  Hum/ whistle/sing the sentence without words before you say it.

ü  Indicate intonation with hand gestures, waves, etc.

ü  Exaggerate intonation (this can be very funny).

ü  Exaggerate lack of intonation.

ü  Encourage sts to ‘feel’ the emotion as they speak. Emotions of anger, interest, surprise, boredom, etc can naturally power the intonation.



A song to finish the talk:


Go!3 Unit 4 Message in a Bottle

ND1 Funny Family Unit 30

ET1 Mr. Tate’s a teacher Unit 10


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