Pronunciation For Teachers: 06 Hot Tips!

The following post was inspired by a session I attended at this years’ BrazTESOL conference in João Pessoa. The session was called “Pronunciation for Teachers” and we discussed about some technical aspects of teaching and learning pronunciation and also what a good course syllabus would be like. This session had a huge impact on me and I’m going to tell you all about it.

But first let me tell you my story with pronunciation: at 13 I was diagnosed with a severe case of stuttering. It usually happens when you’re younger, but as luck would have it, I “came down” with it later on in life. I went to several speech therapists and when I was 20 (and had been teaching English for three years already) I went to a therapist who said, “Why don’t you start studying the sounds of Portuguese and English more attentively?”. That’s when I started learning the IPA and the first draft of my pronunciation guide. By the way, I still stutter (there are good and bad days!).

I’m a “pronunciation freak”, if there is such a term, and I’ve always felt the need, as a non-native teacher, to be at the top of my game, pronunciation-wise. At the end of the session this teacher comes up to the presenter and bares her soul, she says , “My pronunciation sucks, I know this. I have an English school and I must improve it.” She said that in front of some people and it took a lot of courage to do that.

I was so darn proud of that woman, given that she struggled to say thats in English and so I kept thinking, “What do non-native teachers do to improve their pronunciation?” “Do they do the same as I do?”. Well, I asked some fellow teachers on Facebook for some tips on what they did to improve and keep their pronunciation good and here’s what I came up with:

01. Learn the IPA. Yes, this is going to help you a lot! If you haven’t, well, start right away. As a teacher you must know this in order to teach pronunciation more consciously and effectively.

02. Listen, listen and listen some more. Now it’s not only listening for the sake of it – it’s listening analytically. Whenever you’re exposed to authentic listening in English, don’t just get the message – try and see which of the sounds you can’t get right yet. Then practice them and if possible, ask someone for feedback.

03. Break it down into chunks. Some of you may know I’m also a singer and when I have to learn a new song that has a lot of lyrics – or has a faster spoken part in it – I break it down into little pieces. You can do that with longer sentences in English.

04. Imitate! As a teacher educator I’ve seen many, many teachers speak English with perfect grammar and vocabulary usage, but their intonation had a very strong influence of their mother tongue. One of them told me, “I don’t feel comfortable using the American intonation, it doesn’t sound natural to me.” Besides knowing the principles of intonation, you’ll see that “real-life English” is spoken in several ways, so pay attention and if you want to be really good at pronunciation, imitate!

05. TV series and movies. I grew up in the 80s and my only source of authentic English was movies. I was, and still am, a movie buff and I always felt so frustrated when there were some words and expressions I couldn’t understand. Nowadays movies and TV series come with their original version subtitles in English and that is invaluable. I watch most of my series and movies with the English subtitles and I usually watch them alone, so I can stop and take notes.

06. Podcasts. There are podcasts in almost every topic and they’re a great source of authentic spoken language (and free!). So if you like movies, car racing, knitting or cooking, there’s a podcast for you. They’re awesome because you will improve your listening skills, your vocabulary and you’ll be able to learn with something you like.

Over to you!

Do you have tips for teachers who want to improve their pronunciation? What do you do to improve your pronunciation? Please leave a comment because I’d love to hear from you!

See you next time!

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Adir Ferreira

Adir Ferreira has been an English teacher for 22 years. He is also a teacher educator, blogger and professional singer. Adir is based in Bebedouro (SP); you can access his blog at and email him

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