Funny Misunderstandings

The /p/ and /b/ sounds cause problems for a lot of learners, who cannot hear or produce the difference between pairs of words like crap and crab.

1. Get students to read the dialogues and identify the cause of the misunderstandings.

2. Ask them to read it out in pairs. Get them to dramatize the situation as in a comedy sketches.

3. Pairs perform their sketch to the rest of the class. The rest of the class must produce the ‘canned laughter’ sound effect.

Students usually enjoy this activity, and it really forces them to make a difference between the pairs of words – because if there is no obvious difference, then the comedy sketch isn’t funny any more. As a side benefit of the activity, students get to see and practice repair strategies. Despite any amount of pronunciation work they do, there will always be misunderstandings, and it’s best to be ready to deal with these effectively.

The Sound of Silence

In my last class, a South Korean student told me about his weekend visit to Liverpool. He said it wasn’t easy to understand the local way of speaking, and gave the example of the question word What? He demonstrated how this word had been said, with the final ‘t’ replaced with a silence, or glottal stop, so it sounds like wha’?

The rest of the class agreed that this was indeed a familiar difficulty, though few could express it as clearly as the South Korean student. The problem is that there is a conspiracy of silence surrounding the glottal stop. Since it is not a phoneme of English, it doesn’t appear on phonemic charts, and since it is not on the charts, it is not on the syllabus. Since it is not on the syllabus, it remains under the radar for many teachers and their students. This makes it impossible to talk about. Students in a UK environment are subliminally aware of it, but often can’t put their finger on what it is – it just seems to make the speech of some of the locals sound jagged like broken glass. I don’t know why students should be left to cope with this common feature of English speech with no guidance from teachers. No doubt they can grow accustomed to it on their own, in time and with enough exposure, but the same could be said for many other features of English, such as the schwa, for example. A language class provides an opportunity for focused noticing and accelerated exposure. We should use it. (A glottal stop symbol is included in the PronPack sound chart for this reason)

Ps. The glottal stop is nothing new for many students. For instance, the number eight in Cantonese is transcribed to English as bat, where the ‘t’ represents a glottal stop. There was no better option to transcribe this Cantonese sound (or lack of sound) than the English letter which is so often pronounced that way. Think of Batman for example, and try saying that with a fully pronounced /t/. Pedantic or wha’?

(See also my comments on the glottal stop on

PronPack published on iBooks and Kobo!

PronPack 1-4 are now available on iBooks and Kobo (ePub versions) we are still busy making other formats available, including Print on Demand…

Find PronPack on iTunes
Below is the link to: Pronpack 1: Pronunciation Workouts, on, where you will also be able to find links to PronPack 2, 3 and 4 with screenshots: Pronpack 1: Pronunciation Workouts .

If you have the iBooks app on an apple device just go to the iBooks Store and search for author: Mark Hancock or a specific title from the series, here you will find free downloadable sample pages, giving a ‘live’ taster of the books.

To view the fixed layout ePubs purchased from iBooks, “you must have an iOS device with iBooks 3 or later and iOS 4.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

The Kobo App gives access on tablets, smartphones, or desktop
We have used the Kobo App ourselves on iPad and Android phones during the development of the books and found that the functionality and appearance of the PronPack fixed-layout epubs was as intended. According to the Kobo website* the free Kobo Reading App is available for the following devices:

iOS users – Purchase feature not available on iPhone or iPad. eBooks can be purchased on web and synced to your Apple device.”

System Requirements: These apply only to PC and phones.
Minimum OS: Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 10 Mobile, Windows Phone 8.1, Windows Phone 8. Architecture: ARM, x86, x64″

*PronPack cannot take resposibilty for information provided by Kobo at the time of writing this post and recommend that you check their website for updates or changes.