Most TEFL teachers don’t know where to start when it comes to teaching phonetics and pronunciation. Firstly, it’s important to remember that most of your students will love learning phonetics. It is as if you’ve given them the secret password to the complexities of the English spoken language!

Over the next few blogs, we are going to cover the following:

  • Getting started with phonetics
  • Establishing your goals as a phonetics teacher
  • How to introduce phonetics to lower levels
  • How to introduce phonetics to higher levels
  • The erotic sound of rhotic (American and Canadian English).
  • Activities for lower levels
  • Activities for higher levels
  • Schwa
  • Voice and voiceless sounds
  • Past ‘ed’
  • S or Z


Stage 1 – get to know the squiggles

You need to know your phonetic symbols if you are going to teach them.  The phonetics symbols represent what we say and not what we write:


Written spelling:              Eight                     Ate

Phonetic spelling:           eɪːt                      eɪːt

You can see from the two examples that the written spelling is vastly different but the phonetic spelling is the same because we pronounce both words the same.  Most dictionaries have the phonetics spellings of each word.

Try writing out words to start with and looking them up in the dictionary.  You will get the hang of it really quickly. It is impossible to teach phonetics without a strong command of the phonetic chart.

Things to remember:

  • There are no capital letters in phonetics (they are symbols)
  • Listen to the word in the context of a sentence. Our brain tries to trick us with what we see which is often not what we say. We don’t say AmericA, we say uhmerikuh (phonetic spelling: əmerɪkə).
  • Double letters in English don’t change the sound ie little (we don’t say the ‘t’ sound twice).
  • Americans/Canadians you have more ‘rness’ when you speak (think managER, gERman, etc).  American English is a rhotic language meaning you have more ‘r’.  This is a whole new ball game and we will deal with this in a different post.
  • You teach as you speak. There is no point in suddenly developing an accent like Prince William if you are from Liverpool. Your students will need to be able to understand all accents and ALL accents are valid forms of English.  Tell any pedant to bugger off!
  • Spanish people lʌv phonetics as their language is phonetic. It gives them the key to decoding the erratic nature of our non-phonetic language. All the examples below can be made sense by using phonetics.
    • Debt
    • Flour/flower
    • Through
    • Hop/hope etc



There are many versions of the IPA that range in complexity. These are two nice simple charts that should work with your students:

To build your own handouts, you can use this website that has an IPA keyboard

Next time we will look at setting realistic goals for your pronunciation classes.