Tips For Improving Your ESL Students’ Pronunciation

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English pronunciation is possibly the most difficult hurdle your students must overcome. Although your students may be well-versed in English grammar and spelling, it is one thing to excel in writing English and it is another to excel in speaking it. If your students cannot pronounce clearly and correctly, implementing the language rules they studied becomes a challenge when they try to communicate verbally. This is the case when learning any new language. But English is a unique case because of all the special pronunciation rules and exceptions to those rules.

Like practicing everyday for a sport to be in tip-top physical form for the next game, perfect pronunciation demands physical practice. Your students must hone their pronunciation like it was a tennis serve or a butterfly kick⁠—they must define, practice, and polish the way they say English words. There are plenty of activities to play that will help your students improve their English pronunciation, but here are a few questions to ask yourself and tips to remember in your efforts.

What’s Happening With The Mouth?

Native English speakers may not notice the physical intricacies involved while speaking, but the mouth is doing a lot of work in order to form words and sentences! Every aspect of how the mouth moves affects word pronunciation. The lips can be rounded or pulled slightly outward by the corners. Teeth can be barely parted. The tongue can be resting flat or retracted back towards the throat. These are just a few positions the mouth takes (sometimes at the same time) to say a singular word. The slightest difference in these positions can completely change the sound, which is important for words that sound similar. You don’t want your students to say “crime” when they really want to say “time!”

Pro Tips: Have your students look in the mirror as they practice some of the class material they’ve learned. They need to become familiar with how their mouths move as they speak. In class, slowly go through the alphabet and have your students mimic you. Don’t move on until your students produce the correct sound.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

As you’re teaching your students to listen carefully to you and English audio examples, it’s valuable to also instruct your students to listen to themselves. They may know exactly the right sounds to copy and say, but proper verbal delivery requires self-evaluation. There is a lot that your students are trying to learn as they strive to become English speakers, so they might not have the time to listen to themselves. But if they listen to how they talk in English, they can be better at correcting themselves.

Pro Tip: Ask your students to record themselves as they speak English. It can simply be the audio, but it can include video. Have your students listen to what they recorded and let them figure out if they said anything incorrectly.

How Should These Words Be Said?

The phonics of the English language are quite tricky for ESL students. It’s perhaps the reason why English pronunciation is so difficult: depending on the combination of letters in a word, the sound may not be the same as another word with a slightly different combination of the same letters. Even more so, your students may not know where to put the stress in a word as well as how many syllables there are in a word when looking at it on paper. Translating written English into speech isn’t easy. But it’s not impossible. There are many rules to teach your students so that they can communicate well in English, so be patient as you walk through these nuances.

Pro Tips: Make sure to be familiar with the phonetic rules so that you can properly explain them all to your students. Compile numerous word examples to depict and break down with your students. And then have them repeat the words. Repetition is necessary here.

Don’t forget to have a little fun and keep up the levity, even if your students pronounce something wrong. With a little time and practice, your students will conquer their pronunciation problems.