Five simple steps to engage your students in your pronunciation lessons

(Para português, clique aqui)

A frequent difficulty learners and teachers stumble upon is finding a way to make pronunciation more than just listening and repeating words and sentences or trying to suss out the international phonetic alphabet. As a matter of fact, ALL my students have reported that they found lessons like that to be boring and ineffective.

Bearing that in mind, I developed a couple of strategies to avoid these problems, with the aid of technology and creativity:

Choose the words you want your student to pronounce on the board

This is where most pronunciation slots go wrong. If you take something out of context, it is very likely your student won’t retain it. It is always best to have a theme for your lesson, which preferably should be attached to circumstance where language is used, rather than to linguistics. What I mean is, it will probably be more effective if you teach how to pronounce things bearing a real life situation in mind than if you think of the sound per se.

In my case, for instance, I have quite a few students who have conversational lessons, which means we always start with them talking about a topic of their interest. In more basic lessons, I focus on specific things we covered in the lesson, like names of objects or places, for example. While they speak, I take notes on pronunciation errors. Unless it’s a major error that hinders understanding, I let them continue. As I work online and do not share my screen at this stage, students do not see my notes until they are finished speaking. This requires a bit old multi-tasking on my behalf, but I am getting better and better at it with practice. Here’s an example from a class:

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Tip: students who are constantly interrupted tend to become more self-conscious and less fluent in the speech.

Allow them to make mistakes

I can totally understand the temptation of giving them the correct answer. I actually think it’s a human tendency to want to point out the correct answer to something when we know it. Well, don’t do that. Immediately showing them what they are supposed to do keeps them from becoming aware of their own mistakes and less independent too. Besides that, unlike neo-latin languages, pronunciation in English isn’t regular, which means, as non-native speakers we often have to try pronouncing words more than one way until we get it right. I find this to be an important humility exercise for us. Letting your student have a go at trying means you are mimicking something they will probably be confronted with in real life.

Show the problem and let them have another go

Oenc they try and make mistakes, resist the temptation again and simply mark where the mistake is:

- if it’s stress, you may underline the syllable or draw an upward arrow on top of it;

- for vowel or consonant sounds, highlight / underline the problem

Have them try again correcting it without your help

Show them the correct pronunciation and record it on Whatsapp

After you made sure they are aware of the issue, give them the correct answer. At this stage I like to also record the correct answer as a WhatsApp message so they can refer to it later if they want to. Sometimes, to expand practice, I show a few more words with the same sound.

I tend to avoid using the phonetic alphabet, especially with beginners whenever I can. I can’t speak for every single teacher and student, but with the pupils I have worked with learning the symbols caused more frustration than improvement. In a way, to them, it was a if English was an even more difficult distant thing. I do have them learn what’s a schwa and other main key sounds specific students struggle the most with.

Have them use it in a sentence

A very important thing we must not forget is that pronouncing words in a sentence is different from pronouncing them individually. Therefore, have them try adding the word to a context. I usually rewrite the word without the highlights/arrows/underlines and ask a question that will lead them to using it in the answer. This is often an easy thing to do, as we start the lesson with a short conversation, so I just go back to the initial topic. You may also teach some useful clusters/word combinations. If I’m out of ideas or I don’t succeed, I simply write a sentence including that word.

Here’s a snippet from a class where my student Felipe and I discussed the challenges of being a sole trader. At this stage I gave him feedback on pronunciation and was really pleased with the improvement he made by the end of the slot. I have since noticed he has tried to use these words a couple of times again, and is now much more aware of what’s correct and on a sure route to excellence:

Wish you very successful pronunciation tips,


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