Teaching pronunciation is usually done by two methods: “listen and repeat” and “correction.” “Say it this way” and “No, that’s not right. Say it this way.” Imitation works for some students some of the time, but for systematic work with correction, it’s important to work on 5 essential principles consistently!

The key concept in teaching pronunciation is comprehensibility – being understood by other speakers of the language. (The goal is not to sound like a native speaker!)

Essential Principle What it isWhy it is important 
Speak in Pause unitsWe speak in short bursts of speech – in intonation units or pause units (not sentences!). For teachers to develop an understanding, learn how to transcribe speech as pause units:  Syllables in CAPITAL letters indicate stressed syllables. Underlined syllables indicate prominence.  A slashe  (/) indicates boundaries of the unit, the pauses between bursts of speech.   Help students speak as: burst + pause, burst + pause. Pauses can be relatively long. If the speaker can learn to use pause units, he or she will be much easier to understand.  Pause groups help connect with the listener!
Give one word prominence in each pause unit.The focal point of the pause unit – the main word, the “new information.”   The prominent word (or main syllable in that word) is louder, longer, and stronger. If the speaker can learn to make just one syllable prominent in each pause unit, pronunciation clarity will improve dramatically. Prominence helps the listener understand what is important for the speaker.
Exaggerate Tones There are three basic tone directions in English.   To transcribe:  Arrows indicate the pitch direction: r = rising (or ‘referring’), l = level, f = falling.  If the speaker can learn to control tone and even exaggerate tone differences, overall pronunciation will be easier to understand.  Tone guides the listener to know the speaker’s intentions!
Use Paratactics  The speaker consciously makes decisions about: Timing, pitch span, tempo, loudness, looseness/tightness of articulatory setting, precision of articulatory position, lip setting.   All of these affect intended mood, such as importance-relevance, formality-informality, excitation mood, relaxedness-nervousness, warmth-coldness, frivolousness-thoughtfulness Control of articulation is a major factor in pronunciation skill!  By experimenting with these “settings”, the speaker creates a more pleasing melody – and improves comprehensibility. (We all have problem areas we need to improve.)
Project, project, project  Projecting your voice is an essential concept. It’s not about loudness: it’s about breathing from the diaphragm, lifting your lungs and chest and face, and “aiming” your voice at a target. Confidence can build from using this physical action! Loudness is a key factor in intelligibility. And when speakers speak softly and are misunderstood, they lose confidence.

About The Author

, 5 Essential Principles to Teach Pronunciation, Lateral Communications
Michael Rost, principal author of Pearson English Interactive, has been active in the areas of language teaching, learning technology and language acquisition research for over 25 years. His interest in bilingualism and language education began in the Peace Corps in West Africa and was fuelled during his 10 years as an educator in Japan and extensive touring as a lecturer in East Asia and Latin America. Formerly on the faculty of the TESOL programs at Temple University and the University of California, Berkeley, Michael now works as an independent researcher, author, and speaker based in San Francisco.

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