Try reading these lines aloud:
“Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,”
Too easy? Alright, now try saying this next pair, from the same poem:
“Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,”
If you haven’t slipped up yet, know that reciting the entire poem “The Chaos” by G. Nolst Trenité is a challenge even for native English speakers. Why?
Because English pronunciation is hard!
If you’re not convinced, go ahead and try to read that whole poem aloud. English pronunciation can be so baffling!
But pronunciation is an important part of learning any language.
While ESL students don’t need to acquire a neutral American or British accent, it is necessary for them to speak clearly in order to be understood.
Most ESL teachers will focus on pronunciation with lower-level students. And while it is more important to reinforce pronunciation with such students, even higher-level ESL students require a reminder every now and again. In some cases, students in higher levels haven’t had adequate pronunciation lessons and need more work than others.
Fortunately, there’s a technique that can be used for all levels of ESL.
Focus on a Specific Point of ESL Pronunciation
During a professional development seminar, my supervisor at a community college in the United States presented a simple and useful lesson to improve pronunciation in the classroom. Her lesson was geared toward the first few levels of ESL, but the concepts can be applied in higher levels.
For beginners, this exercise can and should be repeated throughout the course. For intermediate and advanced ESL students, this lesson should be applied less frequently, as the students are more likely to find it boring. It can, however, be used when an ESL teacher recognizes a specific point of mispronunciation in class.
The key to this lesson being effective at all levels is to have a focus on a specific point of pronunciation.
For my students at the time, the focus was on “-ed” for words in the past tense and words with “-s” or “-es” endings. For lower levels, teachers may choose to focus on soft and hard “g” sounds, or other commonly confused sounds.
After determining a focus for the pronunciation lesson, teachers need to choose an appropriate reading selection to use—a text that contains a lot of that focus sound will be necessary. If an appropriate text cannot be found, a teacher should be prepared to write his or her own (but with so many resources online, this shouldn’t be a problem).
If you would like to use multimedia resources instead, one great option is FluentU.
Using FluentU, students will be more engaged and learn better. Not only does FluentU offer video, but it offers scaffolding that isn’t available anywhere else; students will find authentic content approachable and within reach.
For beginner classes, a few sentences should be more than enough to practice pronunciation. More advanced students should use a paragraph; sometimes it’s better to use part of the required reading for the day’s lesson so that it serves a dual purpose.
Once you’ve selected the focus and text, follow this procedure to implement the lesson.
ESL Pronunciation Lesson Plan Procedure
1. Present the text to the students
Whether you’re using the course textbook or your own text, ensure that every student has a copy to read. You may need to check that all the students are on the same page and at the same place in the text before beginning the lesson.
2. Read to the students
Tell the students to follow along as you read the selected sentence or paragraph to them. Read the text slowly and clearly so the students can hear each syllable. Emphasize the sounds you want to focus on for the lesson.
3. Read the text again
It sounds redundant, but it helps. Read the text a second time, but this time read it a little faster with a more natural tone. The speed with which you read to the class is determined by the level; advanced ESL students should hear it the way a native speaker would typically speak, while beginners should still hear it read slowly.
4. Review difficult words
Ask the students if they believe they can pronounce every word in the text. If they have a difficult time with any words, they should ask you to repeat specific words. If you already know that some words will cause problems, repeat them individually and have the class repeat the words in unison.
5. Give every student a chance to read
This is the most time-consuming part of the lesson. Go around the class and have each student read the text. Sometimes it’s best to choose a volunteer to begin this exercise and move about the room at random. If you choose to have students read in order, there is a greater chance that students at the end of the line will doze off rather than pay attention and review the text as their classmates read aloud.
6. Correct the reading
Stop the students as they read. If a student mispronounces a word, have the student stop and try again. Do not move on until the student has read the text clearly. Some students may get upset or frustrated, but the attempts at perfecting the reading will reinforce the correct pronunciation.
With younger ESL students, you may want to move on to another student rather than have a single student repeat the text until he or she gets it right. Don’t ignore those students who aren’t quite getting it; go back to them after you’ve given the rest of the class a try.
If a lot of students are struggling with the pronunciation, begin the process again. Give the students a break and have them listen and read along to reinforce the pronunciation that they should learn.
7. Finish the reading
After all the students have read the short selected text, finish reading the full story you selected for class. Go around the room and have students each read a portion until it’s finished. Be sure to correct the target pronunciation as the students read the rest of the story. As with all reading exercises, it should be combined with vocabulary lessons and questions for discussion to ensure students understand the text.
A variation of this can be used either in class or as a homework assignment. There are many online resources for stories with audio; you must be careful, however, as just as many aren’t useful for learning English.
Additional ESL Pronunciation Resources
The best 100% free resource to give students to practice on their own is, unfortunately, intended for students at the intermediate level or higher. The Voice of America (VOA) has a website full of news with audio intended for ESL students using what the organization calls “special English.”
The special English on the VOA is spoken clearly and slowly; the speech is metered so students can understand it better. It also uses vocabulary that isn’t too advanced for most intermediate ESL students, making it a useful resource. The VOA website allows users to download MP3 files that match the transcripts posted on the site, which gives students the opportunity to listen to the stories anytime they want. Students can also stream the audio while reading the articles online.
Another great resource with many free videos is FluentU. FluentU has authentic videos (TV shows, music videos, news, speeches, etc.) leveled across six levels, and every word is carefully annotated so that learners have plenty of support. Every word comes with an in-context definition, image and multiple example sentences. You can even click on a word to see how it’s used in other videos across the site. Say goodbye to spending hours searching for good videos on YouTube and hello to focusing on actually teaching your students.
Perhaps the most interesting part of FluentU is its “learn mode.” Learn mode takes videos and turns them into English learning lessons. The lessons are fully personalized, so that the student’s learning history is taken into account when presenting questions. FluentU’s algorithm sets students up for success by teaching them based on what they know.
Another online resource for ESL students to practice pronunciation is the Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary. While this is mainly intended to be used for simplified definitions to aid ESL students, the website also provides an audio link for each word. It doesn’t provide as much pronunciation practice as the VOA website or the in-class exercise, but it is useful for students of all levels.
When used at appropriate times during an ESL course, this lesson will improve students’ pronunciation, which will also increase their confidence when speaking.
With tons of pronunciation practice and immersion, your students could even be able to recite bits of “The Chaos,” but it’s only fair that you master that beast of a poem first!
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you liked these tips, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities.
You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.