Friday, February 16, 2018

What Language Teachers Must Know to Teach Pronunciation

Marsha J. Chan, Donna M. Brinton, and Judy B. Gilbert

How can language teachers prepare themselves to teach English pronunciation? Three pronunciation experts describe what teachers must know to teach students to pronounce English more clearly. We believe that any well-trained teacher can teach pronunciation. In a live presentation, which you may view here, we provide a training framework drawn on current theory and practice, engage participants in interacting with numerous points, and offer resources for further information. We describe and give examples of essential conceptual issues, basic oral language features, and fundamental instructional concerns. We offer practical suggestions for classroom teachers of English learners.

A. Conceptual knowledge: A basic philosophy of pronunciation

1.     Spoken language differs from written language.
2.     Pronunciation is a physical act.
3.     Awareness of vowel duration is essential.
4.     Listeners of English perceive the relative importance of information based on stress, intonation, and pausing.
5.     Learning how to “listen mindfully” is essential to any kind of pronunciation improvement.
6.     Pronunciation can be integrated in classes for all language skills.
7.     Some aspects of pronunciation are more important than others.
8.     Pronunciation work does not disrespect a learner’s L1, home culture, or identity.

B. Descriptive knowledge: The basic facts of pronunciation

1.     The smallest building block of pronunciation is the phoneme (unit of sound) and its allophones (variations).
2.     Pronunciation consists of segmentals (the individual phonemes) and suprasegmentals (stress, intonation, rhythm, and connected speech features)
3.     Syllables and stress are the building blocks of rhythm and intonation.
4.     Thought groups/tone units are the basis of all prosody/suprasegmental work.
5.     Pitch change occurs on the most important word (the stressed syllable of the key word/focus word).

C. Procedural knowledge: The basic skills needed to teach pronunciation

It is important for teachers to:
1.     have a working familiarity with both segmental and suprasegmental features of speech
2.     perceive intonation patterns/pitch changes
3.     perceive variable vowel duration that produces rhythm in English
4.     teach pronunciation in connection with listening discrimination skills
5.     use movement in teaching pronunciation
6.     prioritize pronunciation issues for communicative purposes
7.     provide useful feedback through demonstration and explanation
8.     integrate pronunciation into language teaching
9.     help learners develop automaticity
10. teach compensatory strategies

Click here to watch the video based on the live presentation given at the CATESOL 2013 Annual Conference in San Diego, California as the inaugural Teaching of Pronunciation Interest Group colloquium. Note: The sound during the introduction is difficult to understand. It becomes clear at the 4-minute mark, when the presenters begin speaking.

Click here to download the 6-page handout, which includes the pronunciation teaching framework, a selection of professional reference texts and resources, classroom textbooks (with suggested levels), and suggested websites for pronunciation and listening.


  1. This is great! I'd add that teachers should know how to visually model the physicality of pronunciation -- be able to explain and demonstrate articulator movement and placement.

  2. Nice summary! It is also important for teachers to develop an understanding of the L1 phonology of their students so they can provide a point of reference for the target language1

  3. Gee, I wish we did not have to address you as "Dear Unknown"! Consider entering your name in your user ID since you do have a relevant comment. Your remark about the physicality of pronunciation is well-taken. Read my other blogs for my approach to this aspect. Also look for my upcoming article on Embodied Pronunciation.

  4. Thank you, Michael Carey. You are right. The more you know about the phonology of your students' L1, in addition to the phonology of the target language, L2 (in this case, English), the better equipped you'll be to guide them. Do you teach students of the same language background? At my college, we have a very multilingual ESL population. My knowledge of Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, French, Italian, Vietnamese, and other languages is very helpful. Some I speak well, others less so, but even if I cannot converse in a language, I love learning about its phonology.