“Pronunciation is the way a certain sound or sounds are produced. Unlike articulation, which refers to the actual production of speech sounds in the mouth, pronunciation stresses more the way sounds are perceived by the hearer and often relates the spoken word to its written form.”

Richards and Schmidt, (2010).

When I first started teaching, which was right after CELTA, my idea of teaching pronunciation was basically individual and choral drilling. I thought that this practice was enough, until I started reading a couple of ELT books!

I delved deeper into the subject when I was studying for my listening assignment on the DELTA M2 course. In my background essay analysis, I focused on the difficulties learners have when they try to decode the acoustic signal; this research helped me identify a list of issues and find activities to address them.

Listening and pronunciation are closely connected. Field (1997) states that  extensive listening practice can help improve pronunciation but pronunciation practice also leads to better decoding.

In considering the relationship between pronunciation teaching and listening, it is also important to maintain a clear distinction between:

-those features of pronunciation which are essential to successful communication and which therefore need to be practised (productive pronunciation).

-those features of pronunciation which are not essential, but which may cause difficulties when listening to a continuous piece of native-speaker speech (receptive pronunciation).

Field, J. (1997)

In this post, I’m going to share 10 simple and useful pronunciation activities, most of which were taken from  ELT books. Authors/titles and page numbers are mentioned for your convenience!

Individual sounds

1. Find words containing this sound 

When focusing on one particular sound, for example /k/, tell learners to work in groups and come up with words that have this sound, like character, king, discuss, etc. By doing so, you raise awareness that one sound does not necessarily correspond to one letter. Ideas: run a whiteboard race or an elimination game.

2. Contrast response – Field, J. (2010). Listening in the language classroom. Page 169

After presenting a pair of sounds, e,g, /p/ and /b/ tell students you will read out a list of words. Some contain /p/ and some /b/. Tell them to put their left hand up when they hear /p/ and their  right hand up when they hear /b/ .

This is an engaging way to notice the difference between confusing sounds, particularly for young learners. Using gestures is more exciting for them.  You can also vary the response, e.g. sit down if you hear…jump if you hear…etc.

Word stress

3. Strong syllables as access cues – Field, J. (2010). Listening in the language classroom. page 176

This task can  be a warmer to review previously learned words, or a cooler at the end of class. It’s perfect for drawing attention to prominent syllables and it helps learners with frequently mispronounced words.

Tell students  to listen to the stressed syllables and  guess what the whole word is.

Example:

/ˈtwen/  (twenty)

/ˈvedʒ/   (vegetable)

/ˈkʌmf/   (comfortable, comforting)

Connected speech

Decoding  multi-word clusters can be very challenging for learners because sounds are often reduced, changed or dropped and words are mushed together.

e.g. what do you mean  is often pronounced /wɒʤəˈmiːn/.

4. Blurred form vs ideal form – Ur, P., n.d. Teaching Listening Comprehension. page 45.

Procedure: At the end of a listening or reading class, the teacher dictates chunks from a passage. She pronounces the blurred form and students say the ideal form.

Example:Teacher: /dəˈnəʊ/

Students; I don’t know

5. The botanic walk  – Cauldwell, R. (2018). A syllabus for listening

Draw three columns on the whiteboard: Write (or draw!) Greenhouse, Garden and Jungle. Explain the analogy of words to plants: separate and neat in the greenhouse, closer together in the garden, chaotic in the jungle.

  • Write the chunk which occurred in the recording, e.g. a couple of days.
  • Point to greenhouse and model the words in isolation /eɪ/ /kʌpl/ ɒf/ deɪz/
  • Point to garden and model the gentle contact between the words: /əkʌplɒvˈdeɪz/
  • Point to jungle and model rapid and messy speech: /əkʌpəˈdeɪz/
  • Stronger learners can try to predict how other chunks may vary across the three domains.

The main aim  is to provide receptive exposure to different sound shapes of chunks and train learners to decode them more rapidly when they hear them.

If learners are willing, they can also  repeat the “messy” form ; Cauldwell (2018) suggests, if they can say it, they can decode it. However, it’s not necessary as we aim for intelligibility. I always tell my students, you don’t have to say it like this but it’s good to know that you may hear it like this!

Note: I used this when teaching listening on the Module 2 course and received excellent feedback from my tutor, colleagues and students.

6. Follow a written text –  Ur, P., (1984) Teaching Listening Comprehension. page 51

Very simply, students read a text as they listen to the recording. They notice pronunciation of new words or  features of connected speech that occur.

The writer cautions us not to overuse this task, as although it certainly helps notice pronunciation, it doesn’t train learners to rely on their ears.

Vague language

When our learners watch NETFLIX  or read articles and blogs online, they often come across vague language. This can be rather confusing for them. Although vague language barely adds any meaning, students get stuck trying to understand it. As a result, they might miss a part of the recording trying to figure out what sorta /sɔːrtə/ is.  

Willis (2004) lists these types:

  • suffixes -ish or -y: nineish, greeny
  • completers: that sort of thing
  • placeholders: whatsitcalled
  • generalisers: kind of

7. Throw-away words -Hancock M., 2012. English Pronunciation In Use. page 101.

 Use a recording that contains vague language. Tell learners they are going to hear a text/dialogue about…(topic). They have to write down important information and miss out throw-away words. This task helps them filter out vague language that is more of a “softener” and doesn’t have extra meaning. 

Flexiforms

In his book A Syllabus for Listening,  Cauldwell mentions that words have different sound shapes or flexiforms. For example the word privacy can be pronounced in two different ways:

British English

/ˈprɪvəsi/

American English

 /ˈpraɪvəsi/

8. Same text, different voices – Field, J. (2010). Listening in the language classroom. page 160

Ask two speakers with different accents, e,g, US and UK accent, to record themselves reading a set of sentences . Include words which have two flexiforms. Students listen and spot the difference.

Words with different sound shapes

  • vitamin /ˈvɪtəmɪn/ vs /ˈvaɪtəmɪn/
  • adult /əˈdʌlt/ vs /ˈædʌlt/
  • direction /dɪˈrekʃən/ vs /daɪˈrekʃən/

Sentence stress

A typical problem is that some students tend to pronounce all syllables equally and are not aware of weak forms. Hancock’s listen and tick is an ideal activity to draw attention to the weak form of auxiliaries.

9. Listen and tickHancock, M., 2012. English Pronunciation In Use. page 55.

Give learners a worksheet with a table like the one below: Tell them to listen to the sentences you read and tick the ones they hear.

A

B

I can come with you

I can’t come with you

Are you going?

Aren’t you going?

You should trust him.You shouldn’t trust him.

Intonation

Speakers use stress and intonation to emphasize what they consider important instead of simply applying rules (Cauldwell, 2002). When I say that my husband is on a business trip, my can be prominent to emphasize mine (not someone else’s), or business trip to imply he is not on holiday.

10. Identify important information – Richards, J., 2009. Teaching Listening And Speaking., page 6.

 Students are given a handout with a set of sentences.

The teacher tells them to listen and underline the word that carries new information.

Example:

Students hear :                        

  • This museum is open on SUNDAY.      
  • The bank’s DOWNTOWN branch is closed today.  
What about you? What are your go-to pronunciation activities?

References

Cauldwell, R. (2018). A syllabus for listening. Birmingham: speechinaction.

Caudlwell, R. (2009) The functional irrhythmicality of spontaneous speech:  A discourse view of speech rhythms. Apples – Journal of Applied Language Studies, 2(1), pp. 1-24.

Field, J. (1997). Current Issues -Notes on listening: listening and pronunciation, 6(2), pp. 60-61.

Field, J. (2010). Listening in the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press

Hancock, M., 2012. English Pronunciation In Use. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, p.101.

Richards, J. (2008). Teaching listening and speaking. Singapore: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, J. and Schmidt, R., 2010. Longman Dictionary Of Language Teaching And Applied Linguistics. Harlow: Longman.

Ur, P. (1984). Teaching listening comprehension. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

White, G. (2010) Listening. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Willis, J. (2014). Lesson 3 Vague Language. [online] Willis-elt.co.uk. Available at: http://willis-elt.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/3VagueLanguage.pdf  

Wilson, J. (2008). How to teach listening. Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.