When teaching English pronunciation in ESL Classroom, how many times have you heard “I want to sound like a native!”? They are words that strike fear into the heart of any English teacher and, while accent and pronunciation in the ESL classroom are a huge part of a student’s journey when learning the language, we all know that there are lots of very important elements that contribute to great English speakers.
As an ESL teacher, however, pronunciation is an essential skill that we must be able to help our students with, and the best English teachers will be able to really push students to improve.
Here are some helpful tips to help your students improve their pronunciation in class!
We all remember the sheer dread of reading aloud in class when we were kids! When teaching ESL, we must make sure that there is a clear objective for doing so, and instead of a whole text, try reading short sentences with difficult sounds, word combinations, or practice stress and intonation by highlighting and emphasizing content words.
Make sure to correct pronunciation every time, repeat part of the texts yourself if you hear that it’s particularly difficult, and keep positive so the experience isn’t so daunting!
Schedule it in and make it fun (and short!)
When creating your lesson plans, it’s important to plan in at least a little pronunciation practice for each class. You don’t have to dedicate a whole class to it (although you can) but offering a short, fun, dynamic pronunciation activity can be really great for your students.
Fun things like word pronunciation challenges, fun activities with homophones, tongue twisters, short sentence reading, connected speech drills can all be really fun ways to have your students work on pronunciation without even realizing it!
Correct and drill it!
Students, especially higher-level ones, expect the teacher to offer corrections consistently and correction is an essential part of learning pronunciation and reducing accents. When doing speaking activities, take notes and pay special attention to pronunciation. Depending on whether an activity is fluency or perfection-focused, correct appropriately and be sure to repeat it until the student is able to remember how to pronounce it.
If you have a group during a long period of time, keep a bag of commonly mispronounced words for each of your classes and use them during speaking practice for extra drilling and recycling of vocabulary.
Depending on where you’re teaching (i.e. just teaching Spanish students) you’ll be able to anticipate words that are difficult to pronounce for students from a specific country and so you can get a list of commonly mispronounced words across all your classes! This allows for constant practice and gives the students an opportunity to master these challenging words.
Phonetics, eek! Even if you aren’t a linguistics pro, having a basic understanding of the sounds in English can be super helpful when teaching pronunciation.
English is a funny language and pronunciation has zero to do with spelling and that can really throw our poor students off, so breaking words down into sounds can be really helpful.
Try doing activities with minimal pairs i.e. /p/ and /b/; have the students play with the sounds, think about the movement in the mouth, face and throat and bring a little kinesthetic learning into the classroom by having them watch your face and mouth as you produce sounds and have them touch their own faces to see what they notice.
If you haven’t taught these concepts before, check out some videos online on how to start bringing this into your classroom.
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Most people feel strange when they listen to themselves after being recorded, no one really likes the sound of their recorded voice. When we are teaching pronunciation, however, it can be a great exercise to have your students record themselves speaking and play it back so that they can hear what they sound like and analyze what needs improvement.
This kind of activity can be useful when teaching pronunciation, as well as sentence and word stress, intonation, and connected speech. It is important that while progressing in their English journey, students learn not to take themselves so seriously and realize that making mistakes, regardless of what the skill they are practicing is, are moments to learn and can help them improve faster.
Along with recording, which could be incorporated into imitation activities, doing activities where students imitate a certain accent, speaker, manner of speaking, or emotion while speaking can be great for pronunciation practice.
This kind of activity is great for higher-level students who want to start “finding their voice” in English, add a bit of personality, emotion and stop sounding robotic.
Bringing in listening activities that are short, doing presentations imitating a certain speaking style, having students speak trying to convey a certain emotion, or watching short video clips for students to reenact can be super fun ways to have students practice imitation and improve their pronunciation.
If you haven’t tried one of these in class, I recommend that you do it immediately! Not only are they super fun, but they show the ridiculousness of the spelling in English and show students how even though two words are spelled similarly, their pronunciation can be completely different i.e. though and thought.
There are tons of these types of the poem online, both texts and videos, and they are great as reading activities, pronunciation challenges, class recitation activities, etc. Students normally get a kick out of these and it helps them to have fun while practicing pronunciation. Here is an example on YouTube.
Students are always keen to reduce their accent and improve their pronunciation so that they feel confident and secure using their English out in the world. It’s key that as ESL teachers, we make sure to work this crucial part of the student’s learning journey. Do you have any other tips for helping students improve their pronunciation in English?
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