1 Know your objective. Pronunciation is about being understood by people all over the globe. It’s not about pretending to be American or British. You don’t need to teach every small detail of the way they speak in the US or UK – very few learners will ever learn that, and there is no reason to anyway. English is a world language now – it doesn’t belong to any particular country.
2 I’m OK! Say that to yourself. Teachers sometimes feel they aren’t a good pronunciation model because they aren’t ‘native speakers’. That’s not true. If you are an intelligible speaker of English, you are a perfect model. When we think of English as a lingua franca, the term ‘native speaker’ no longer makes sense – we are all native speakers of it!
3 If it isn’t broken, you don’t need to fix it. There are many features of local accents in English which are fine as they are. Take for example the famous TH problem, pronouncing ‘think’ like ‘fink’. This is not so bad – lots of people say it like that around the world – Londoners for example – and it doesn’t make them unintelligible. I would tell learners about these things and leave the choice up to them.
4 Pronunciation is not about correctness, it’s about being effective. If your learner pronounces the word ‘very’ the same as ‘belly’, it’s not an error; it simply doesn’t work. The listener won’t understand. When you give feedback to your learners, keep this in mind. Discuss the problem in terms of intelligibility rather than correct or incorrect.
5 Pronunciation is physical. You and your learners will need to be aware of the vocal apparatus and how it works. That includes the lips, jaw, tongue, the inside of the mouth and the voice box. We can all speak our first language without being aware of these things, but when it comes to changing the way we speak, we need to become aware. We need to play with sounds and explore the possibilities.
6 Spelling is a difficult friend. A lot of the problems that learners have with English pronunciation are caused by its crazy spelling. However, there are patterns which can help. For example, write these words on the board and ask students to pronounce them: rat; pet; sit; not; cut. Then add an ‘e’ to the end of each one (making rate; Pete; site; note; cute) and ask them to pronounce them again. Point out how the final ‘e’ makes the previous vowel say its own name (ie, pronounced as it is in the alphabet).
7 Pronunciation makes meaning. You can demonstrate this to learners by showing examples where a small change in pronunciation can change the meaning completely. For example, this pair of sentences:
- I got a good prize for it.
- I got a good price for it.
You can make examples like this into a game, where one learner says one of the sentences and the other has to identify which one. If they both agree which sentence was said, then the pronunciation worked. If not, they’ll need to try again!
8 Pronunciation is for listening too. There are some features of pronunciation which learners don’t need to copy, but they will need to understand. For example, you don’t have to say ‘wanna’ for ‘want to’, but you should be able to understand it if you hear it.
9 Symbols aren’t sounds. Teachers often think that the phonemic symbols represent exact sounds, and they get stressed because their own pronunciation is different from the book. This is a mistake. The symbols represent a range of sounds. For example, the symbol /e/ represents the vowel sound in ‘leg’, whatever your accent.
10 Enjoy! Teaching pronunciation can be interesting, playful and a real joy. You can use games, puzzles, rhymes and raps, drama and pairworks. It can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be frightening. You may find that pronunciation becomes the part of your lessons that the learners look forward to most!