Published 19th October 2017

Teaching pronunciation seems to be one of the more challenging aspects of teaching English as a Foreign Language. Even though it may feel like it should be pretty easy considering the fact that we can speak English and we all know how to pronounce English words, teaching pronunciation is a whole other issue.  

So here are 6 pronunciation terms you should know about before stepping into your TEFL classroom and trying to teach pronunciation.


Assimilation is when a sound at the end of a word changes because of the sound after it. For example,

I’ve never been to Green Park  = I’ve never been to Gree/m/Park.

Other phenomena similar to assimilation are intrusion and elision. These are aspects of spoken language which result from the rate at which we speak. Consequently, it is important for our learners to be aware of these not necessarily for their own speech but for their listening skills.


Intonation refers to the melody of speech. It is the ups-and-downs of your voice. Your intonation expresses more than the words that are spoken; it helps understand the thoughts and feelings behind the words. If you’ve ever heard a person speak in a monotone, you’ll realise the importance of intonation, not only to interest the listener but also to convey meaning.


A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a language. A word such as much has four letters but only three phonemes: /mɅʧ/.

If you have no idea what /mɅʧ/ is, then you need to introduce yourself to the International Phonetic Alphabet. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is what we can use in class to show our learners the phonemic transcription of sounds. Of course it’s not necessary for your learners to be able to identify or write all the phonemes in the IPA, but it is helpful if they become familiar with the ones which they will encounter the most and which will be the most problematic.

Minimal pairs

A minimal pair is a set of words which differ by just one sound, for example bat /bɶt/ and but /bɅt/. Minimal pairs are a useful tool to teach contrasting sounds to our learners. Especially if you have learners who all speak the same first language, it can be beneficial to draw attention to these sounds in order to draw their attention to the differences; this will help both their listening and their pronunciation.


The schwa is the most common vowel sound in English. It is the vowel sound in a non-stressed syllable, for example, mother /mɅƟƏ/.

There are many, many more terms related to pronunciation which are necessary to know if you want to be able to teach pronunciation effectively. Are there any other terms you are confused about?