Teaching pronunciation

Teaching pronunciation in the English classroom is of great importance – it helps learners communicate better, convey their messages more effectively and sound more natural. Yet, this tends to be a rather marginalized area in EFL classrooms around the globe. Helping learners to sound better, to recognize different accents and varieties of English, and also to read phonemic transcript may contribute to their independence – and it’s perfectly ok to introduce them to the symbols even when they are at early elementary levels.

Making the teaching of pronunciation a visual, physical activity, as suggested by Adrian Underhill, may help learners “see” sounds and better understand how to articulate the phonemes of the English language.

Enabling learners to understand some of the differences between different varieties of the English language and Brazilian Portuguese, for instance, will help them become better listeners (being able to better understand different genres of the spoken language); will help them sound better (because they will be more aware of how to produce a range of sounds and of suprasegmental features of the language, too); and their interactions with both native and non-native speakers of the language should become more intelligible, as they will have developed a better understanding of the phonological system of the language.

Learners should also be encouraged to have plenty of exposure to the language so that they get more used to listening to the sounds of English and to the vast range of accents the language has.

All in all, when teachers raise their learners’ awareness of the importance of focusing on pronunciation in and outside of the classroom, they are preparing learners to become better communicators in the globalized world.

Catarina Pontes

Catarina Pontes is a senior consultant for Troika. She is an ICELT main course tutor, and Cambridge Assessment English Team Leader . A DELTA holder, and currently doing her MA with NILE, she is also a conference speaker and has published articles on ELT and EFL. She is the co-author of "Getting into Teacher Education - a Handbook", and is currently the coordinator of IATEFL's Pron SIG.

  • Ricardo França
    Posted at 18:08h, 26 fevereiro Responder

    Great article, Catarina!
    I totally agree with the idea of exposing learners to different accents in English.
    Thank you again!
    Ricardo França.

    • Eduardo Benazzi
      Posted at 19:37h, 26 fevereiro Responder

      Exactly, in my own experience as English leaner with plenty difficult in pronunciation, I had this background so following these steps made all the difference in my improvement. Working on learning the phonetic transcription and at the same time using the internet to watch interviews and lectures in English with natives and non natives speakers. Challenge for teachers is encourage students that learn phonetic transcription is not as difficult as it seems to be.

      • Catarina Pontes
        Catarina Pontes
        Posted at 14:11h, 01 março Responder

        Glad to know you’ve had support and were encouraged to work on pronunciation, Eduardo!
        Hope you’ve kept this study routine, too!
        Catarina 🙂

  • Catarina Pontes
    Catarina Pontes
    Posted at 21:40h, 26 fevereiro Responder

    Thanks for your feedback, Ricardo! 🙂

  • Ricardo Barros
    Ricardo Barros
    Posted at 23:00h, 26 fevereiro Responder

    Today I worked with the different TH sounds in my lesson and thought of the rubber band activity you taught was last year. 🙂
    Making pronunciation something more visual and physical is definitely something I’ve been thinking about lately.

    • Catarina Pontes
      Catarina Pontes
      Posted at 08:35h, 27 fevereiro Responder

      Glad to know you’ve encorporated that, Ricardo! 🙂

  • Adriana Salvanini
    Posted at 22:41h, 27 fevereiro Responder

    Well-done, Catarina! I particularly like the fact that dealing with pronunciation in the classroom help learners become more intelligible but not necessarily sound like a native speaker since our identity is still something we should preserve. Also, it can help them in their listening comprehension. If learners are aware of these two main reasons underlying the teaching of pronunciation, then it can become something relevant for them insde and outside the classroom.

  • Catarina Pontes
    Catarina Pontes
    Posted at 08:12h, 28 fevereiro Responder

    Thanks, Adriana! I agree it’s important for learners to keep their identity while being intelligible, too!

  • Rubens Heredia
    Rubens Heredia
    Posted at 10:42h, 01 março Responder

    Thank you for that, Cata!

    I do get the impression that teachers tend to shy away from delving into pronunciation, maybe for lack of formal knowledge, maybe for personal insecurities. As trainers, helping teachers better understand how to tackle such aspects more effectively in the classroom, thus feeling more confident to do so is of the utmost importance.

    • Catarina Pontes
      Catarina Pontes
      Posted at 14:12h, 01 março Responder

      Absolutely, Rubinho! It’s also the trainer’s job to help teachers perceive how pronunciation work is crucial and doable in their lessons!

  • Dylan Porter
    Posted at 11:41h, 04 março Responder

    Great food for thought!

    I find that sometimes students feel shy or embarrassed when we focus on pronunciation. However, if it’s something that’s worked with more often, it could become the norm and they might feel more comfortable. Also, the comments about exposing them to different accents were really useful- I think it helps students realise that there’s not always simply a “correct or incorrect” way of saying something, but in fact many different ways.

  • Catarina Pontes
    Catarina Pontes
    Posted at 11:11h, 22 março Responder

    Thanks for your comment, Dylan! Raising learners’ (and teachers’) awareness is certainly key!

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