Published 9th March 2018

When speaking, pronunciation matters, no matter the language. Pronunciation can be the difference between comprehension and confusion on the part of the listener, so it is obviously something we want to work on in our classroom to ensure our students communicate as clearly as possible.

Which pronunciation is best?

Now this doesn’t mean that we’re saying that there is a correct way of speaking. Native speakers are notorious for having different accents and ways of pronunciation, some of which can be hard even for other native speakers to understand. There is no “correct” way of speaking and there is no one way in which all English speakers speak. However, what we are saying is that it is possible to help our learners speak as clearly as they can to avoid any miscommunication.

Here are three activities to help you do just that.

Minimal pairs

The first step to being comprehensible is to be able to produce the individual sounds of a language. English has forty-four sounds and these can cause difficulties if they are not part of the learner’s first language. One way to tackle this issue is to use minimal pair activities to bring certain problematic sounds to your learners’ attention and spend time polishing their pronunciation.

A minimal pair is a set of sounds which differ by one sound. For example:

/bɶt/ – bat

/bɅt/ – but

Practising with minimal pairs will train your learners’ ears to distinguish between the two sounds and so be able to pronounce them better. Minimal pair activities include comparing pictures which include the different sounds, and choosing the correct option from an audio of the minimal pairs.

Face aerobics

It may sound silly but it works. If your mouth is not used to saying a certain sound, the problem may be down to mechanics. You need to teach your mouth how to pronounce a particular sound by showing it how to move in order to make the sound. This involves the lips, teeth, palate and nose. You can do this with your learners by showing them videos, demonstrating yourself, or letting them practise in front of a mirror.

International Phonetic Alphabet

Though it may seem a little confusing, the IPA is a very helpful tool when it comes to learning pronunciation. The IPA is an illustration of all the different sounds in English. There are a number of apps your learners can download to help them get to grips with the IPA. We don’t recommend teaching the entire alphabet, but rather introducing problematic sounds one at a time. Once your learners have a handle on the IPA you can bring activities which use the IPA into your classroom to help them practise making use of it.

Pronunciation is an important aspect of learning a language and should not be ignored in the EFL classroom. Using these three ideas can help you make pronunciation activities in the classroom more effective for your learners.