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Overcoming the Pronunciation Barrier: 9

Great Tips for Teaching Phonemics


Can your students repeat the difference in pronunciation between live and leave?
Some cant.
For ESL students, particularly for adult learners, pronunciation is a big hurdle to overcome. It is
especially discouraging when they discover that thoughpronunciation can be improved greatly,
they will never lose their foreign accent completely. English phonemes also prove to be
particularly tricky as there is often no connection between the sound and the way it is spelled
(unlike other languages where the phoneme and its spelling are a closer match. !ere are some
tips to help your students overcome the pronunciation barrier"
How to Overcome the Pronunciation Barrier: 9 Great Tips
for Teaching Phonemics
1
One Phoneme at a Time
hile improving pronunciation as a !oal mi!ht seem unattainable" helpin!
your students improve their pronunciation one phoneme at a time is much more
doable. Instead of taking up most of class time practicing pronunciation, practice a
different phoneme every day, or every week.
2
Practice the Schwa
The schwa sound #$% is the neutral vowel sound that typically occurs in
unstressed syllables, for e#ample in words
like choc(o)late, sep(a)rate, cam(e)ra, elab(o)rate, etc$ %here are languages that
pronounce these syllables differently and students might be tempted to pronounce
them as they do in their native tongue (this is usually the case with Spanish speakers,
where the central o in &chocolate' is pronounced clearly. %each students to be aware
of the schwa sound and learn to identify it as it will be tremendously useful in
improving their pronunciation.
3
Same Spellin! &ifferent Sounds
Students should learn that the same consonant combination may have different
sounds" for e'ample the ch in chicken and character. %he sound (k) in character, in
fact, may be spelled with a k, ck, c, ch or *ue. %he th combination is another e#ample"
it is pronounced (+) in this, that, these, those, but it is pronounced (-)
in thin, thank, think, theory, for e#ample. %he gh combination is yet another e#ample,
as it pronounced as a g (ghost or f (rough. .ractice each of these combos and others
one at a time.
4
Same Sound" &ifferent Spellin!s
Teach students to identify different ways to spell the same sound. E#amples of
these are the ai sound in mine, buy, pie, rye. !omophones are the perfect e#ample of
this" buy and by, pair and pear, cell and sell, etc$ %here are lots of games and
activities you can do with your class with homophones.
5
('plain the )a!ic *( rule
Show students how the addition of an *e at the end of a word chan!es its
pronunciation" bit / bite,dim / dime, pin 0 pine. See what happens in this set of
words" cut 0 cute, hug / huge, and so on.

Pair em up
Students will remember some contrasts much more easily if you present them in
pairs" live / leave,three 0 tree, slip 0 sleep, and so on. %hese pairs include words that
students often mispronounce, *uite simply because in some cases they won1t even
hear the difference, much less be able to reproduce it. %he more you practice them in
class, the better the chances for improvement. Introduce a few pairs at a time and
practice till all students can hear the difference and reproduce it. 2on1t forget to lighten
it up with humor every now and then. It is not unlikely for teachers who have Spanish
speaking students to hear a student say he drinks orange &shoes' in the morning. In
that case reply, &You drink shoes? Really? I believe you will obtain more vitamin C from
orange juice' %each students to laugh at their own pronunciation mistakes.
!
+se ,isuals
It1s hard for students to simply imagine the difference in spelling, not to mention
remember all the different phonetic symbols, try to use visual aids li-e consonants
flashcards or .P/ flashcards. 3se them for introduction and practice, and make sure
students become familiar with the symbols.
"
Play 0ames
&ont for!et to play !ames with them. 4emember that pronunciation is very hard and
very frustrating for lots of ESL students. 5ames will certainly lighten up a difficult
lesson. Some great options are 6ingo or 1our in a 2ow.
9
Teach Them to +se the &ictionary
7ou won1t always be around to tell a student how a word is pronounced. %each them
where to find the pronunciation for a word in the dictionary. %he best tool in this case is
a dictionary app with sound, so that the student can hear the pronunciation with a
simple click. %hese tools help students become more independent and more
responsible for improving their pronunciation.