HomeGrammar, Vocabulary, & PronunciationFour more reasons you don’t need to feel worried about teaching English...

Four more reasons you don’t need to feel worried about teaching English pronunciation.




Robin Walker and Gemma Archer respond to some more common worries teachers have about pronunciation and offer practical solutions to improve your teaching.
In our previous blog, we tried to address the anxiety, lack of confidence, and unanswered questions many teachers have about teaching pronunciation; if you missed it, you can catch up here. In this follow-up, we’ll continue to discuss some of the most frequent concerns we hear from teachers, hopefully encouraging you to overcome any anxieties you may have and integrate more pronunciation into your lessons.

1) I know I need to teach pronunciation, but I don’t know where to start.

One of the most common comments we hear from teachers is that they know they should be teaching pronunciation, but they don’t know where to begin.  To make it easier to narrow down the features you should teach and provide practice on, begin by observing your students as they communicate in English over the course of one or two lessons.
Set them communicative tasks with partners and groups and observe their production, making notes on any sounds they struggle to produce intelligibly. Alternatively, for a homework task, ask them to record themselves on their mobile phone while reading a passage out loud, perhaps from a listening script used in a recent class, or describing a picture you provide.
Tell them to email you their finished recording. As you listen to the recordings, make notes on any features that are unintelligible or less clear. Use these as your starting point for pronunciation practice highlighting them whenever they appear during a lesson, or planning moments where you will integrate explicit practice.

2) My students can’t hear what I’m trying to teach them

Sometimes a pronunciation problem does not come directly from the mouth, but instead from the brain, by way of our ears.  If a feature of English does not exist in a learner’s language, they may have difficulty perceiving it in English, which in turn can make it harder for them to pronounce it. For some students, extra practice focusing on voicing, lip shape or tongue position may be enough help them overcome this challenge.
For others, however, the problem will not go away without some controlled listening practice, enabling them to practise hearing and distinguishing the features of English they are struggling with. An example of this can be seen in the difficulty some learners have in hearing and producing stress.
 In English we use stress to highlight important information in a sentence by making one word louder and by accompanying this word with a change in pitch. Native speakers and highly proficient nonnative speakers have become sensitive to this use of stress and rely on it to piece together a speaker’s meaning. But this system is not common to all languages. Learners from tonal languages like Chinese might find it difficult to perceive English sentence stress.
To support these students, try using simple physical gestures to highlight the stress visually. For instance, stretching an elastic band between your hands to demonstrate the greater length of a vowel in a stressed word. Tell your students to mark when they hear a stressed word by using a physical action, such as tapping a pencil or finger, raising a hand, or standing up from their chairs.
If you have a large classroom, you could even ask students to use their steps to symbolise the stress they hear. Tell them to take a big step to signify a stressed word and small steps for an unstressed word. Being able to hear and recognise the significance of sentence stress will improve your learners’ listening comprehension, and in turn, help them to produce good sentence stress in their spoken English. Given the importance of this feature for international intelligibility, it is time well spent.

3) My students only want to learn native English pronunciation

A common goal for many learners is to achieve native-like mastery of English and its pronunciation; this is unsurprising given that this is what they encounter most in their classroom resources and audio materials.
The frequency with which students encounter such native speaker models may lead them to mistakenly believe that this is the only goal they can work towards. But native-like pronunciation of English is neither necessary nor very achievable for most learners, especially in adulthood. It is also incredibly time-consuming trying to reproduce every single feature of English pronunciation to this level when internationally intelligible pronunciation is more efficient for successful global communication.
Be sure your students understand this. You can reinforce it with a homework activity, by asking them to find and research a famous person who has the same mother tongue as them and who is a proficient speaker of English. There are many examples for students to choose from nowadays, from musicians and actors to TV presenters and sports personalities, or even politicians.
The students should go online and look up videos of these people speaking English as well as try to find out more about the celebrities’ learning journey. In the next class, invite students to share their findings with the class and consider if this person’s level of pronunciation in English is a realistic goal for them. If it is, discuss with your students what steps they need to take to achieve this goal. These relatable models can be highly motivating as they show learners that success is possible in life with sounding like a native speaker.

4) I try to introduce international speakers into my lessons, but my students complain they can’t understand their accents.

As mentioned in point 7 above, both inside and outside of the classroom students are exposed to a lot of prestige model speakers i.e. native speakers who have a Standard Southern British English accent or a General American English accent. The reality of this is that the more they hear these accents, the more familiar they become and the easier they are to understand. But when a new accent comes along, suddenly listening can become challenging again as our brains take longer to process unfamiliar sounds.
This is the point where learners will complain that it is the accent that is at fault and that the speaker can’t possibly be using ‘good’ or ‘correct’ English, pressuring the teacher to return to the ‘normal’ accents they are used to. This is a cycle that will go on and on until we start regularly incorporating audio of all types of English speakers into our classrooms.
With the appropriate scaffolding, diverse accents can become an interesting and routine part of your lessons, providing teachable moments where diverse accents can be discussed and compared in a factual, neutral manner. These moments can help to raise students’ awareness of the reality of English as a global language and reduce the shock they often report on hearing new unexpected varieties for the first time.


We hope these two blogs have answered some of the questions you may have had about teaching pronunciation and encouraged you to try and integrate more into your classroom. If you’d like to learn more, why not grab a copy of our new book Teaching English Pronunciation for a Global World
or download a sample chapter. You can also follow IATEFL Pronunciation SIG (PronSIG)
for more advice, resources, networking, and access to pronunciation experts.


  1. Students are very excited to learn more on pronunciation especially showing the position of the mouth, tongue and where the tongue touches on the final sound

Leave a Reply

Recent posts

Recent comments