A bit of Pron 2

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A while back I asked teacher friends on Facebook to post a tip or suggestion relating to the teaching of pronunciation, as part of a Delta (Diploma in English Language Teaching for Adults) project. Thank you very much to everyone who contributed.

Here is an incomplete summary, a mere plop in the ocean of pronunciation, along with some more advice gleaned from various pronunciation workshops and seminars I’ve attended over the past few months. It is in no particular order, because right now I’m not capable of orderly thought. I hope it might be of use in your English language teaching, or as an English language learner. One day there will be a more orderly sequel when the wave of Delta Module 2 poopedness has abated. I have loved the learning; it’s the reflecting that’s just beginning.

Some of the activities I have listed are well-known and have been suggested by a few people, so unless I have a definite source I’ve not added a credit. Please feel free to let me know if one should be added. Please also do comment if you have any more suggestions. In our hidden-away world of teaching, it’s nice to share 🙂

This is not an academic-style Delta LSA (Language System or Skills Analysis) with carefully structured prose and cross references. This genre I am labelling post-delta mush:  characteristics of which are normal words, a couple of neologisms like poopedness,  and some fancy technical word thrown in because I learnt them all on Quizlet.

Anyhooo here they are:

1. PRONUNCIATION JOURNEY (unstressed final syllables/minimal pairs/syllables…)

Mark Hancock has produced a “map” which can be used in a variety of ways to practise pronunciation. A list of cities appears along the top and learners make left/right choices depending upon what they hear, to work their way up the map and reach their final destination. Note though that it was printed in 1995 so Bombay should now be Mumbai.

The map is in his book Pronunciation Games, and is photocopiable.

(a) some learners reduce unstressed final syllables to the point where they disappear (taxi becomes tax). For me it would be quite a serious problem not being able to convey the word “cookie”. Use the pronunciation journey map to help learners notice and practice these word ending.


(a) (Ship and sheep and all that)

These minimal pair activities tend to form the basis of most pronunciation teaching at segmental level. They can be used for diagnostic purposes and listening and speaking practice. We should, however, bear in mind the (un)likelihood of a real communication error if minimal pairs are mixed up – usually it’s not a problem, particularly if they are not even of the same word class (peg/beg for example), or if they are not of the same frequency (one is so rare it’s highly unlikely that it will be confused with the more frequently used word).

The map can be used for this too – turn left for all the words you hear which are written up on the board in the left column, and right for all the matching minimal pairs in the right column.


(c) The same map can be used for, say, deciding whether a word has two or three syllables e.g. chocolate, or where the primary word stress lies e.g. personnel/personal

2. JAZZCHANTS (rhythm)

The idea behind a jazz chant is to use the rhythm of music to improve learners’ stress and rhythm when speaking English.

Carolyn Graham’s original  http://jazzchants.net has had an exceeded bandwidth warning the last few times I’ve tried. Alternatively try


created by Miles Craven, with a guide to how to use the chant in class and MP3s of ready made chants. There can, for example, be a focus on a particular grammatical structure, or on particular vocabulary, or simply on the stress/rhythm itself. I think you might want to have a go with people you are comfortable with, to avoid feeling a bit of a dodo the first time. Also, read 10 below with some whys and wherefores which may give you the confidence to see pronunciation in a new way.

3. TONGUE TWISTERS (minimal pairs)

Find a tricky sound or combination of sounds e.g. /v/ and /w/ in German, and have learners create tongue twisters “William visited Washington with very wet wellies” to practice jumping from the rounded to spread lips position. They can create and practise in pairs and then swap with others in the class (pass the slip of paper with the tongue twister to the pair or your right, and repeat). Agree which was trickiest.


4. LIMERICKS/POEMS (rhythm, connected speech)

– choose a limerick or poem
– check for meaning
– read aloud, have learners notice connected speech/prominence, one thing at a time:
e.g. Find the stressed words, the 4 contractions, the 16 schwas, the 12 catenations.
– after each “find”, practice aloud.
– it’s great to record learners reading the poem/limerick aloud for the first time with no guidance and then after the activity to compare.

(Learners would have been pretaught schwa, catenation etc – I use Adrian Underhill’s “It’s ME and then it’s YOU and then it’s HIM” activity to do this – Sound Foundations p178).

I’m doing this in business classes where there’s a focus on a presentation at the end. It’s not a case at all that rhymes are just for children. It just so happens that rhymes and repetitive song with set rhythm are how, in part, we learn our L1.


A,E,I,J,G,K (amongst others) are tricky.

Teach USA, ET, DJ, GI (Joe), OK as reminders of how these letters are pronounced. A further suggestion is to attach pictorial representations of these around the room (A pic of ET for example) and point to them for the learner to self correct. Thanks Chad for this one.



A bit like a jazz chant….. thanks Sally for the description below:

1. Divide class into 4 groups and get them to stand together (like 4 choirs)
2. Get everyone clapping/clicking a beat
3. 1st group start chanting – APPles PLUMS and PEAAAARS, APPles PLUMS and PEAAAARS. Get them to keep practising together.
4. Go to 2nd gp – CHOColate CAKE and ICE CREAM, CHOColate CAKE and ICE CREAM. As above.
5. Go to 3rd gp – ORange JUICE and COca COla. As above.
7. Now do as a round – 1 starting first and others layering on top. Keep clicking going. You act as conductor bringing each gp in on time.
8. Use arms to show ‘go louder….louder….louder….’ and so on. Then quieter, slower, faster etc.
9. Finally get gps to stop one by one until gp 1 does their line alone and finish!

I have gotten over the fear of thinking – oh I can’t teach that in class – by realising that when I have my “French-learner” hat on, I’d like to be one of these learners and repeat words like this. It’s all about “letting go”. Unless you feel tormented by the chorus of Frozen, sing it, loudly. A language is an identity. We need to feel comfortable in that identity.

6. STRESS BUBBLES (word stress)

I like stress bubbles (banana = oOo), and write these up on the board as part of the process of recording new words (or elicit and check). It works well combining a gesture (o = closed fist, O = open fingers) to use in tandem with oral drilling. It also encourages deeper cognitive processing, doing and saying at the same time. Like saying a word, writing it, hearing it, seeing it, all helps retention.

As an activity put stress bubbles on the board and have learners match them up with words on a list. Do a rerun as a race. This can be useful for highlighting/noticing word stress changes in e.g. Egypt/Egyptian.

Or allocate each learner to a syllable. Put chairs at the front of the class, and have the learners sit (unstressed) or stand (primary stress) to represent the word (good for visual/kinesthetic learners). Create a race if you like, with two teams trying to show the syllables/stress first.

My whole apparent obsession with races has a rationale – motivation has been shown to have more of an impact on SLA (Second Language Acquisition) than aptitude. And I know the source for that one, Dörnyei 1998. There needs of course to be a balance with accuracy.  But in the main I find that when learners are awake it helps enormously with how much they take in.

7. PRONUNCIATION CONNECT 4 (minimal pairs)

Put a 6×6 grid on the board/reusable worksheet and fill with (problem) minimal pairs at random. Learner says a word, teacher marks the appropriate word with the team symbol. Aim is to connect 4 (can also be done as noughts and crosses on a 3×3 grid). For more details on activity instructions see http://blog.tesol.org/esl-games-connect-four-and-more/


Eek! It’s only a meme, it’s just a reminder, don’t get all antsy :). I loved the presentation of pronunciation “demand high” done by Adrian Underhill at the IATAFL conference in 2014. Here’s a similar clip (thanks for the link Ben) –


In a drill, we do often say “good” when it’s not. Try to bounce it around first – say it faster; does it sound natural?; do you agree?… Get as many “pongs back from the learners for each of your pings” as you can.  On the subject of guru worship, yes, Adrian Underhill is one of my heroes (I ate a bowl of cornflakes only 10 feet away from him in a guest house once), as well as David Crystal, a fellow elephant lover. There are probably more, I’m working on my list.


This pops up in my mind a lot. Because I am a geek. Abercrombie 1967:97/8 provided the original definition. There’s no concrete evidence to show that it is. But to me, although we should maybe take care about dividing languages in this way, stress is important. It’s the DIFFERENCE between the stressed and unstressed syllables that give English its rhythm, albeit that that can vary depending upon whether you are reciting a poem, a political speech etc.

10. IT’S A PHYSICAL THANG (physical v cognitive)

http://www.onestopenglish.com/skills/pronunciation/pronunciation-skills-with-adrian-underhill/ have a series of short video clips by Adrian Underhill which you might fancy a look at.

They explain about the “mother tongue grip” – we experiment as babies with all sorts of sounds but only retain those useful for our mother tongue. In order to teach pronunciation we need to find those lost muscle movements (this mother tongue grip affects what we hear too: an untrained Japanese ear really can’t hear the difference between /l/ and /r/ because those sounds are a mix of the Japanese phoneme in the middle). For my mouth, it’s the ‘ou’ sounds in French, in bĂ»che or bouche. My jaws were exhausted for the first year we lived in France trying to contort muscles into unfamiliar shapes to make unfamiliar sounds which I could hardly distinguish between.

Speaking is a very physical thing, which is why singing (easier to approximate the sounds) or playing with accents frees up our muscles.  The focus is taken away from the language to the sounds we are making. It’s a physical not a cognitive activity.

At a practical level, Adrian Underhill uses the concept of “muscle buttons” – he has four: the lips, the tongue, the jaw and the voice. The idea is to encourage learners to be able to use these buttons at will (with definite intention, which is not the same as automatically making the sounds of their mother tongue). Exercises help do this, see the videos. Mirrors help. Pictures of the shape of your mouth help. Learning the layout of the phonemic chart helps.  Watching a native speaker Slowly enunciate (or even better, a non-native speaker who’s cracked it) helps.

Luke Meddings is also a big believer in the physicality of pronunciation. He advocates activities like this:

– choose a short phrase and say it naturally, then say it as if it were the most ridiculous thing you’d ever heard, or the saddest, or with an angry voice……. Our muscles are frozen in the unknown of a new language – remove the focus on the meaning and practise physically making the sounds. For more information on Luke, here’s his website. http://lukemeddings.com/learning/

11. ‘ALLO ‘ALLO (suprasegmentals)

This is a suggestion (again from Chad, heading towards pronunciation guru status) for French learners, but I’m sure it could be used on other L1s. Get the learners to read a french text but with a very Anglophone accent. They are pretty good at it. Now get them to read an English text with the same English accent. They know more about suprasegmentals (intonation, duration of syllables etc) than they realised.

12. HIDE THE FLASHCARD (word stress)

For difficult to pronounce words, one learner leaves the room whilst the others hide a flashcard of the word. The learner returns and tries to find the flashcard – as he/she get closer the rest of class say the word louder and louder, changing volume depending on the distance from the card. Thanks for the suggestion Yvette.

13. EXTREME ADJECTIVES (emphatic stress)

This is a full lesson to introduce or revise extreme adjectives, and then focus on the use of emphatic stress when using them in speech.


14. PAPER BLOW (bilabial plosive)

For /p/ (unvoiced bilabial plosive) and /b/ (voiced bilabial plosive) have learners hold a piece of tissue or paper in front of their face to see the difference in how the paper moves, when the voice is used.

15. WET FINGER (voiced /ð/ and unvoiced /θ/)

To help learners produce the difference between thin /θ/ and this /ð/:

– get them to overemphasise the movement of the tongue for /θ/. Hold your index finger vertically to your lips (like a sshhh be quiet gesture).  When saying “thin” touch your finger with your tongue – to wet your finger. Your finger stays dry with “this” /Ă°/ (thanks Steve for suggestion).

16. VIBRATING THROAT (general voiced/unvoiced)

/θ/ and /ð/ above (an alternative awareness-raising activity)
/s/ and /z/
/f/ and /v/

To help learners feel the difference between voiced and unvoiced consonant pairs, have them touch their throat to feel the vibration of a voiced sound, but no vibration with an unvoiced sound.

Now use words containing these sounds, and feel for the vibration.


Have you ever had the feeling that a guide to pronunciation can begin to sound like a chapter from Fifty Shades of Grey?

17. HARD G (I am now really sorry) and -ED ENDINGS

These guides were put together by a colleague, Bob, which may help with the hard /g/ sound and -ed endings:


(Adapted from fortunecity.com)

For a linguistic guide to the best in awfulness quotes from Fifty Shades, pop over here for a moment:



Back to deadly serious, even dead pan sometimes. Although intonation exists in every language, L2 speakers are often so busy processing the words they are using that they forget about intonation. This can affect how they sound to a native speaker. They may, entirely unintentionally and out of character, not sound genuine, may sound boring or abrupt, or may convey the wrong message.

Perhaps with ELF, intonation will become less important?

Our speech is divided into tone units – short phrases, either sentences or parts of sentences. In each tone unit, there’s a tonic syllable – the point where the pitch rises, falls, or both. The tonic syllable is usually a high-content word near the end of the tone unit. But the meaning of a phrase can change depending upon where we place it:

“Would you like to eat later?” Depending upon the stressed word, the meaning of the sentence completely varies. As an awareness raiser, learners can provide the meaning of each sentence, as the stress moves from word to word.


Primarily, it’s the context that’s important. The situation, the message you want to convey and regional variations will all change intonation patterns.

Your intonation is as much a part of your message as the words you use – ask a joke-teller how distressing it feels to not be funny in another language – so you want to be conveying the right meaning and the right “you” in an L2 too. I find intonation difficult to teach and would welcome more thoughts or suggestions.



This is a useful link on how to introduce the phonemic chart to your learners. It really does open the doors to autonomy if a learner gets to grip with these groovy little squiggles. From being relegated to the ignored and annoying heap when looking up a dictionary definition, they are now, in my eyes, coded little splashes of loveliness. I get more excited reading a phonemic transcript and being able to “hear” a French accent jumping out at me by virtue of these little symbols alone, than I did analysing Shades of Dull for academic purposes.


18. WHERE THE SOUND COMES FROM (place of articulation)

This advice was given by Akos, a non-native-speaking English teacher friend, who can see the pronunciation of English sounds from the other side of the fence. He said it was a helpful reminder:

“Someone told me that in some languages sounds are formed in the throat or closer to the throat but in English, they are formed closer to the front of the mouth, ie closer to the teeth. This affects the quality of the sounds that we produce.”

OK, that’s all for now.  Have fun with pron. Pron, I said, pron.


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2 thoughts on “A bit of Pron

  • Sally

    Ditto re intonation being hard to teach. I had my best success recently when I was teaching an English and drama course. The separate intonation activity I did flopped, but when it came to their lines in the play, the students responded well and started to bring in really expressive intonation. It’s all about context I guess.

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      Taylor Post author

      Yes, I agree drama works wonders. will need to come up with something for adult business learners too that they feel comfortable with.

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