Teaching Abroad – Pronunciation

Pronunciation. It’s one of the biggest challenges for any English learner, and it is a difficult area to teach. Here we have put together some ideas to help English teachers take on these challenges (or at least start to chip away at them).

Here is one exercise that helps you practice differentiating sounds in English by using minimal pairs (for example the difference between /r/ and /l/ in “rice” and “lice”). This activity has been adapted to reflect sounds that Thai-speakers often struggle with, but feel free to adjust the exercises to reflect the nationalities of your students and/or words they have been struggling with pronouncing correctly. This exercise does a nice job of including the “target sound” at the beginning, middle, and end of words to make sure they get plenty of exposure and practice.

One of the keys to learning to accurately pronounce any language is to watch the speaker’s mouth. It can be a bit awkward to do this at times, however, it can make a world of difference. As an English teacher, it is also important for us to be aware of how you shape your lips and tongue in order to accurately explain to your students how to replicate your pronunciation. Prior to class, take note of these subtle differences of how your tongue curves, where it rests in your mouth, and how your breath flows over it.

For example, the difference between the /sh/ and /ch/ (also denoted as / ʃ /and /t ʃ / ) is particularly challenging for students. It is helpful to start by teaching students the classic librarian “Shhhhhh!” motion and asking them to repeat after you. You then introduce the /ch/ sound by having them repeat “Atchooo!” (sneezing sound) or “Choo, choo!” (train sound). You may also think of other words they may have in their language (i.e., in Thai, they use cho, chang” for elephant, which makes a “ch” sound).

In order to make the /sh/ or / ʃ / sound you must pucker your lips and curl the tip of your tongue slightly, without touching the roof of your mouth like this:


In order to make the /ch/ or / / sound, however, you let your lips relax. Then you touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth as if you are going to make a /t/ sound. You quickly move the tip of your tongue forward like this:


If you were to hold your hand close to your mouth, you can also feel how the air coming out of your mouth hits different parts of your hand:

The /ch/ will feel like a short burst of air hitting the upper-middle part of your palm whereas the /sh/ will feel like a sweeping breath moving down your palm.

Pronunciation - hand

Here we’ve put together some other resources to help you in the classroom:

American English pronunciation. Videos do a great job of explaining how you should move your lips, tongue and breath, as well as intonation and word stress.
Website includes audio and video.

British and American English pronunciation. Various resources, videos, games, worksheets and other resources to practice pronunciation.
Website includes audio and video.

British English pronunciation. Type in the word you would like to hear pronounced and hear how to accurately pronounce it.
Website includes audio.

British and American English pronunciation. Type in the word you would like to hear pronounced (also includes the definition). You can switch between American and English pronunciations to hear the differences.
Website includes audio.

American English pronunciation. Type in the word you would like to hear pronounced (also includes translation and audio for other languages).
Website includes audio.

Includes games to interactively practice pronunciation.
Website includes audio.

List of additional minimal pairs to practice pronunciation, including vowels and consonants. Website includes audio.

Great website for children’s classes. This website allows you to create your own flashcards, bingo games, and worksheets depending on the sounds you would like your students to practice and the vocabulary you would like to cover. Practice long and short vowels, consonant pairs, first, middle and last sounds, as well as blending. Also great for letter recognition for elementary level students.

We hope these resources have been helpful. Check back here for other ideas and resources as we will continue posting other resources and classroom ideas in the Teaching Abroad section of our blog.

The ATMA SEVA team




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