Question: I need to teach pronunciation to my ESL students, but I don’t know where to start. What should I teach first? Thanks, Vicki
Answer: English pronunciation is a big topic, but let me give you some starting points that are pretty simple to teach, and will make a difference in your student’s pronunciation right away.
Teach melody One of the most important things to teach first in English pronunciation is the melody, or intonation which is the rise and fall of English in phrases and sentences. Now if you’re thinking that your beginning students don’t know enough vocabulary or grammar, that should be considered. I would, however, start with teaching the melody in a name, address and phone number as well as other basic phrases. If your students were in an accident, and needed to speak to first responders, or police, being able to tell their name and address would be crucial. Teach the rise and fall of names and addresses in a sentence.
My NAME is // liU yang.
My ADDress is // 2188 WALKer ct. // san joSE // CaliFORnia // 95117 (Drop your intonation at the end.)
Some students may have difficulty learning the rise and fall of English. Teach about stress (longer, louder, higher pitch) by using multi-syllable words. Computer, for example, would be hard to understand with the stress in the wrong place: COMputer? compuTER? No, we say comPUTer.
Teach 6 mouth openings for English vowels English vowels are spoken with 6 jaw placements from very high [ee] to very low [ah]. Many languages do not open their mouths to the lower positions English speakers use. Students need practice opening their mouths when they speak English. Try this exercise with the 6 positions.
- Pete (very high jaw placement – the mouth is nearly closed)
- Putt (the mouth is open about mid-way, this is the most common sound in English, the schwa sound.)
- Pot (very low jaw placement – the mouth is open wide)
- ee (very high – nearly closed)
- ah (very low – open)
Learn more on the openings for English vowels here.
Teach the vowel sound “schwa” (sounds like ‘ah’) The most common sound in English, getting this sound right will make a difference quickly. Since we reduce many vowels to the schwa, a lesson on reduction goes well with teaching the schwa. Learn more on the Common English Reductions here. Be careful because it can be spelled many different ways. Practice with these words up. cup, nut, the, was, love, mother, above, son, police, president. Here’s a free printable for practicing the schwa sound in words.
Teach the TH You can see this sound (tongue between teeth) so it’s easy to teach, and thank you is an early first English word, so your students will have lots of opportunity to practice. Students from some cultures will not want their tongues to show, so teach them to make the TH by the tongue touching the back of the top teeth. Practice words: thank, think, thin, thing, thumb, with, math both, teeth, mouth. Learn more on teaching the TH here.
Best of luck, and have fun teaching!